Send me your track

Wednesday
Apr142010

Unveiling the Secret - The Roots of Trance

Unveiling The Secret - The Roots of Trance

by Dave Mothersole

So there we were, three fresh faced, south London former soul-boys in bashed up Armani jeans and Converse, huddled together on the back of a motorbike taxi, heading off to our first party.  “We’ll show these hippies what it’s all about” I thought as the driver, perched up on the bike’s tank, deftly negotiated the pot holes and a million insects buzzed away in the warm night air.  It was late August 1986 and still monsoon time.  As we grew closer I could see dozens of Royal Enfields haphazardly abandoned on the pathway that lead to the carcass of the old Catholic church where the party was being held.  Groups of people were sat around outside smoking chillums.  Some looked up and stared as we passed by and it began to dawn on me that this might not turn out quite as I’d expected.  Nothing though, could prepare me for the shock I got as we walked inside. 

It was like stepping into another world.  UV pictures of blacksploitation babes and leather clad joy boys hung from the walls as the speakers pumped out these dark, synthetic beats.  Wild eyed loons in flip flops and rags leapt about next to girls who looked like they had just walked in off some Milanese cat walk.  An American kid in his late teens dressed in a Mickey Mouse tracksuit and sporting the best Billy Idol haircut I’d ever seen, walked up and offered us some liquid acid. “Full trip or half trip” he leered, pulling out a whacking great needle-less syringe and gesturing at us to hold out our hands for a dose.  “Could change your life” he said with a sly chemical grin and an air of overbearing superiority.  I went for half, holding out my nervously clenched fist in a mixture of curiosity and fear. 

Outside Indian chi ladies from the local villages had set up little stalls selling tea and cakes and all around people were dancing like it was their last night on earth.  Clouds of pungent Manali smoke filled the air as the incessant, narcotic groove chugged away like a runaway train.  It was like Lord Of The Flies and H.G. Wells’ Time Machine in a blender with an acid fried version of Miami Vice.  A post apocalyptic Monte Carlo, reclaimed by nature and inhabited by a tribe of wild, decadent, jet set gypsies partying their way into some new collective consciousness. 

 Far from showing them what it was all about, we looked on in a mixture of horror, fascination and wide eyed disbelief.   Passive observes who’d stumbled across this weird bacchanalian scene.  In a church, at the end of a dirt track.  A few thousand miles from where we from, but a million miles from anything we knew.  As defining year zero moments go, this was a major one for me.  I’d expected to find a few burnt out pot heads singing Bob Marley songs around a campfire.  Not this.  That American kid was right - life was never quite the same again.

 

To understand how a bunch of western misfits, searchers, junkies and fugitives ended up dancing to a mutant strain of proto-techno on a beach on the Arabian sea, you have to go back to the late 60’s.  The story of how Goa became a magnet for freaks the world over, can be seen in the excellent Facebook documentary, Goa Hippy Tribe.  Suffice to say though, by the mid 70’s, the full moon parties were in full swing with bands playing all night on big four way speaker stacks.  Come the early 80’s, the original crowd of hedonistic settlers had been joined by a new generation, many of them European, who brought their own music with them. 

It’s unclear exactly who set up the first electronic music parties in Goa - some credit a character called Dr Bobby (father of Tiga) - but it is known that many of the new arrivals would frequent clubs in Ibiza, London, Berlin, Rimini and Riccione when they returned to Europe for the summer.  It’s also clear that they had little or no attachment to the 70’s rock favoured by the original crowd.  Initially they were met with some fierce resistance, but by 1983 electronic music had pretty much taken over.  And so it was that at the same time that Chicago was creating House and Detroit was forging ahead with what would become Techno, the roots of Trance were being sawn on the beaches of Anjuna and Vagator.  And just as Chicago had Ron Hardy and Detroit had The Electrifying Mojo, Goa had a DJ called Laurent.  If it wasn’t for him, it’s quite possible that the music played at parties in Goa would have been little more than a carbon copy of what was going on back in Europe and America.  But like all true pioneers, Laurent made it much more than the sum of it’s parts and in doing so created a whole new style of music. 

 

Legend has it that when he left France for Goa he told his family he’d be back in a couple of months, never to return. Whether this is real or not is anyone’s guess. * Goa has always has been a place that lives on rumours and half truths and separating fact from fiction has never been easy.  For his part, Laurent credits fellow Frenchman Fred Disko with being the first person to play electronic music in Goa.  And there were of course others like Swiss Rudi, Stefano and the now ubiquitous Gil.  But it was Laurent who defined the style and set the parameters for what would become Trance. 

He took all the new electronic music coming out of Europe and America, cut out most of the vocals and parts he didn’t like, extended the parts he did and stitched it all together into one long, constantly morphing psychedelic groove.  New Wave, Italo-disco, EBM, New Beat, Goth, Electro, Hi-NRG, Synth-pop, House – anything was up for grabs.  As long as it had the right vibe, it could be made to fit.  But unlike his DJ counter parts in the West, Laurent didn’t use records - the heat and dust in Goa made that imposible - he used cassettes. 

Tapes had been played at parties in Goa ever since the introduction of amplified music and by the early 80’s the Sony profesional walkman was the deck of choice.  It was hard wearing, sounded good and it had a pitch control.  It also had a mechanical pause button with a very precise action.  This was imperative, not just for playing live, but also as a way to re-edit and re-arrange tracks.  Many of the biggest hits in Goa during the 80’s were substantially re-edited, often to take out any unwanted vocals, but also to extend some of the rhythmic passages.  Laurent’s re-edits of  Blancmange’s “Living On The Ceiling”, Boytronic’s “Hurts” and Soft Cell’s “Sex Dwarf” are legendary examples, but many other songs had the same treatment. 

Removing the vocals was considered important as they would often distract from the dancer’s trip.  However, it did depended on what type of vocal it was.  Anything that sounded pop-y was out, but more abstract subject matter, especially if delivered in a “New Wave” style voice, was allowed. So acts like Depeche Mode, Psyche and Front 242 were often played with the vocals intact, whilst Den Harrow, for example, wasn’t. 

But whilst singing was often removed, newsreel and documentary style voices were used a lot.  And as LSD and Manali charas were the most prevalent drugs at parties, the audiences were very susceptible to the content of these soundbites.  Religion, re-birth, the cold war, drugs, time travel, mysticism, nuclear disaster and sci-fi were all popular themes and at times it felt like these messages were being beamed down directly from space. That we were God’s chosen ones; his disco dancing, cosmic flower children; ecstatically gyrating our way, shiva-like into new realms and  understanding.

 

That’s probably why Laurent’s style caught on.  By taking the psychedelic aspects of experimental rock and applying them to electronic dance music, he had created a sound that was both accessible and otherworldly.  It was functional too, which was important because like any other DJ, his success depended on his ability to make people dance.  The demographic in Goa at that time was quite wide, with the age range going from 18-50 and the male to female ratio being fairly even.  His skill was to get all these people on board whilst simultaneously pioneering a new style of music.  And like all truly great DJs he was able to do this because he had the ability to make records translate.  Tracks like Orient Affair’s “Classic Dance” or Hypnosis’ “Droid” may have sounded a bit camp or even pompous back in Europe, but they were given a strange poignancy as 500 people kicked up dust clouds under the coconut palms. 

Messing with song tempos was another Laurent trademark and you would often hear him slowing Hi-NRG tracks down to around 100bpm.  He really understood the importance of context.  How, because of the drugs, the mind blowing locations and the tribalistic nature of Goan beach parties, he could make tracks feel and sound different.   

Playing for anything up to 10 hours at a time he would move from dark, hard hypnotic beats during the night, to sweet, uplifting, sun kissed grooves in the morning.  From Skinny Puppy and Nitzer Ebb to Koto and Laser Dance; from 100 to 150bpm; from nightmare-ish and scary to blissed out and glorious.  It was a heady combination and one that had a tremendous impact on the lives of many. 

Three videos, the second of which contains the only known footage of Laurent DJing

After that first party I stayed in Anjuna for a few months as the season picked up, before travelling around India. I went back to Goa the following year and fully immersed myself in the freak lifestyle. It was a wonderful time and I was lucky enough to be a part of some truly amazing parties. When I got back, Acid House had started to happen in England, so I got involved in that and gradually lost touch with the Goa scene.

I’m not fan of what Trance became.  As soon as people started calling it Psy-Trance and making music with Goa in mind, it lost its way for me.  That’s fine though.  I’m not a fan of what Punk became either -  but that doesn’t stop The Clash being my favourite band.  Just because Trance became a narrow, soulless succession of drug triggers, that doesn’t take anything away from what  Laurent did back in the 80’s and early 90’s.  His legacy goes beyond way beyond such limitations.

Apparently he’s stil living in Goa, doing his thing, shunning the limelight and occasionally turning down interviews with visiting journalists.  The real father of Trance.  A true legend. 

Listen to Dave’s tribute mix to Laurent.

A selection of the acts played by Laurent and others in Goa from 1983-1989

Acts Of Madmen, Alien Sex Fiend, A Split Second, Anne Clark, Android, Arthur Baker, Art Of Noise, BAD, Bappi Lahiri, Blancmange, Borghesia, Boytronic, Cabaret Voltaire, Carlos Peron, Cassandra Complex, CCCP, Chris & Cosey, Code 61, Cyber People, DAF, Decadance, Den Harrow, Depeche Mode, Devine, Dr Calculus, Ecstacy Club, Egyptian Lover, Electra, Fad Gadget, Fatal Attraction, Force Legato, Front Line Assembly, Front 242, FockeWulf 190, Giorgio Moroder, Hard Corps, Hashim, House Master Boys, Hypnosis, Icarus, Information Society, Ironic Remark, I Start Counting, James Ray and The Performance, Jellybean Benitez, Jean- Michel Jarre, John Carpenter, Karen Finley, Keith Leblanc, Koto, KLF, Kraftwerk, Krush, Lama, Laser Cowboys, Laser Dance, Liaisons Dangereuses, Man Parish, Manufacture, Mark Imperial, Mark Shreeve, Ministry, Mittageisen, Moev, Morton Sherman Bellucci, Moskwa TV, Neon, Neon Judgement, New Beat Express, New Order, Newcleus, Nitzer Ebb, N.O.I.A., Nux Nemo, Off, Orient Afair, Peter Richard, Poesie Noire, Portion Control, Public Relations, Psyche, Richard H. Kirk, Robotiko Rejekto, Sandy Marton, Severed Heads, Screaming Trees, Signal Aout 42, Simple Minds, Sisterhood, Skinny Puppy, Space Opera, Spectrum, Soft Cell, Syntech, Tackhead, Tangerine Dream, Tantra, Telex, The Maxx, Time Zone, Torsten Fenslau, Total, Tribantura, Two Of China, Vicious Pink, Voyou, Yello, Zwischenfall, 400 Blows, 4You, 16 Bit

There has been a fair amount written about Goa in the 90’s, but this is by far the best piece I’ve seen it contains the only known interview with Laurent

 *addendum made 30/04/10 following confirmation from Laurent himself - see below comments

Reader Comments (66)

I was there, same, soul boy bent on cynicism, a couple of innocent looking bits of blotter paper and an 8k rig on the beach, and i was a convert. Great amazing happy days.

April 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterirish adam

Thanx a million to Dave for that brilliant & skillful, truly massive work, incl. the both textual and musical parts (an incredible 2-hours retrospective Goa mix, combining the brightest Uplifting Morning jewels from 86-88 seasons)!

And of course - many Special Thanks to the Hero of that article and to the Guru & True Originator of the whole movement, Laurent himself, - for the great inspiration & fantastic vibe, which still opens the people's minds and lifts up their hearts [all around the Planet]!!

Great pleasure and honor that these links to the Dave's excellent "Goa piece / Tribute to Laurent" were so operatively forwarded by Gil to Laurent's email directly! :)


(Hopefully to get an Author's permission to re-post this wonderful and hella exclusive historical material on my own research blogsite, too (sorry for the perky ads!) - prototrance.blogspot.com, which is specially devoted to the reconstruction of Laurent's "Goa Special Sound" of 84-91 period!...)

Peace, Love & Respects to Laurent, Dave, Gil and all the old original Goa DJs, Techno-hippies and Shiva-dancers of the Golden Era!

April 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenya DurMan

I was there, same, soul boy bent on cynicism, a couple of innocent looking bits of blotter paper and an 8k rig on the beach, and i was a convert. Great amazing happy days.

April 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterirish adam

nice post, cheers.

May 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBill

Brilliantly evocative piece of writing

May 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBen Marshall

Amazing article.....felt the energy of the era!!!!!....thanx Dave and Laurent...ur da man!! Fantastic....thanx for your response too.....Peace

May 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAbhi

Hey man great article.. I loved it.. I envy you though after reading this piece. Goa has changed so much from what it was. I'm from bombay and have visited goa a few times but you have completely described a different lifestyle which is no more acceptable in goa.
Though manali is still a better place to visit these days and there are a lot of backpackers going there even today. Though its all changed now.
Thanks a ton
Boom shankar !

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterP.T

laurent,be assured that a LOT people remember!!!
a few years ago,in a beach shack in anjuna,we were sitting in a group of 15 -20 people;and someone asked into the round:what was the best goaparty EVER?
i stood up and said:LAURENT,discovalley93/94
a woman stood up,came over and hugged me,saying,yes,i was there too!!
now,after years an years of parties,to remember a single party,it truly must have been mindblowing.
the whole night sounded like one track(try that with cassettes!!!)and we hardly managed to leave the dancefloor to buy some water....THANKS A LOT;LAURENT!!!i am so glad i was there at the right time!!!

August 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterandreas

Hi There Dave, what you have written is for sure bang on, i 1st went to goa at the start of 1990 along with 3 friends who(well some at least) became big players of what was to become goa trance, or as we called it in 91 Trance Dance, which really was when the music started to crossover from new beat and techno it too something more repetive and melodic and dare i say it,? Trance like,lol, im also vey glad that you are giving the hats off to laurent, because i always felt him to be the most psychedelic of all the then djs, having said that, other djs also made big contributions also, the list is big, for me the djs there gathered similar music from all over europe and indeed the world and with careful editing and pitch controlled walkmans created unique mixes of sometimes established tunes, another thing they did was play a more obscure mix of a possibly more well known tune for eg System by force legato, 2 eps existed with in total 8 mixes but only one version was deemed paltable for the goa crowd, loved that tune so much that my friend opened a night in the gardening club convent garden on a tuesday called, System, great times. anyway im very glad that you are kinda putting the record straight regarding these earlier years and before the music became formulaic, my thanks. Nick Meltdown(Bomm Records)

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNick Meltdown

hey nick,

thanks for your message - glad you liked the piece. i know what your saying about 1990 being the year that things started to morph into the more orthodox trance sound. i stopped going in 1988 but i had friends who carried on - a few who also became big players on the global trance scene - so i would hear reports back every year on how things were progressing. i have a really cool tape from the 90/91 season - which oddly enough features 'system' right at the end. i can send you a mp3 copy if you like.

http://en-gb.facebook.com/pages/Dave-Mothersole/126764627374602

just leave me a pm on there if you're interested - i don't actually do the page as i can't stand facebook, so a freind has just started it for me and she looks after it, apparently it's important - but i'm gonna start checking it weekly. i have another great tape from (i think) swiss rudy - 88 / 89 season. morning sound.

and if you or any of your friends have any old goa mixes from that era i'd love to hear them. i'm interested in anything up to 92.

cheers,

dave

September 23, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdave mothersole

thanks again to all who posted coments - glad you enjoyed the piece.

cheers,

dave

September 23, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdave mothersole

Eye-opening and insightful stuff there. Informative and entertaining read likewise.

PS. Any idea of what the 2nd track is in the 2nd video?

October 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstealth

Thanks for writing this really insightful and inclusive article.
I enjoyed reading it and will be pointing our listeners towards this page.
Great work.
Mac

October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTrance Express

amazing

October 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterM

Dear Dave,
Thank you so much for your great and really well done article. I'm younger than you in the scene, but really interested to know about it real roots.
It's really important to find out that some names such as DJ Laurent are recognised from his work and not forgetten into some other stories or pop trance stars about where them movement began!
Love and Light,
Mariana Portugal

February 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMariana Macedo

thanks mariana, really pleased you liked the piece and found it of interest,

dave

February 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdave mothersole

Dave,
Wonderful Article! A incisive mix of emotion and narrative captures the flavor of this amazing historical period ( which most of us who were not there) missed out on. All the best to Jo and the little ones and I hope to see you again soon ( that probably should read 'hear you again' soon).

Best wishes
Johnny

London

ps.... perhaps a parallel dj / writing career is on the cards?

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohnny ( harrynjane)

thanks johnny. glad you enjoyed it mate. we're all well thanks. hope you and jane are well. all the best,

dave

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdave mothersole

enjoyed this read, but just listened to the mix associated with this story, holy crap, i can't believe how bad some of that music is, seriously, if i dropped acid, and had to listen to that all night, I'm pretty sure it would induce psychosis!
I never got New Beat (apart from Front 242, who rocked it), even back in the day, compared to what was coming out of NY, Chicago, and Detroit, in the same period, it really sounded amateurish, most of all, it didn't jack, simple as that, which has always been my biggest issue with trance, practically zero syncopation, you get generic chords, fluffy arpeggiations, and the straightest, 4/4, snare on two, hi-hats on &, beats you can imagine, zero rhythmic interest, OK, granted, some of the early TIP stuff was storming, and I occasionally hear some good "full-on" tunes, but that whole euro-trance thing, christ on a bike, save me....

April 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdooby

Hi Christ on a bike here !!! thank god (my dad btw) clearly not everyone gets this music or its roots, !!! i wonder how comes all them freaks were (psychosis permitting) dancing their feet off to music with no rhythmic interest ? makes you wonder !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

April 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeltdown

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>
« Line-up change 16 April - Surgeon | Main | Recue - Leftover Love »