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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)

@Meltdown from that response one can only assume you haven't spent that much time in the company of "freaks" cos if you had, you would know the answer ; ) BTW I "get" the music and its roots in pristine clarity thank you very much.

April 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdooby

@ Dooby, i have spent many years with freaks and their zero rhythmic music almost 20 years in fact, and have been involved with music production for that amount of time also, i was just wondering why you would comment on music you clearly dont like or get, in fairness to you i havent listened to the music examples attached to this story, but dont need to, because i have all this music stashed, if you would like some track names that would be more appropriate to this story i would happily supply you with some, because even for me some of the late 80,s stuff is hard to digest. P.L.U.R

April 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeltdown

the music in the mix is a snapshot of the morning sound at parties in goa - as played by laurent and others - from the mid to late 80's. as such it's ''appropriate'' to this story, because that's what this particular story is about : )

it's not for everyone - that's fine. but i'm glad that dooby and are continuing to find the article of interest, pretty much a year after i wrote it.

cheers,

dave

April 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdave mothersole

That is of course true Dave, and actually what i had meant to say in my previous post was the mid 80,s music was for some people hard to digest, so i thought i would offer to supply some late 80,s to early 90,s examples of music, and in no way did i mean to detract from a very well documented and insightfully written and in depth story..

April 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeltdown

@meltdown: why comment? because that's what comment boxes are for! : )
good bad or indifferent, the comment box exists, ideally, for the purpose of furthering discussion. You don't have to like someone's opinion, but nor should you feel they have no right to comment unless they have something "posivitive" to say.

Clearly, ones opinion is conditioned by personal musical prejudices, surely that's a given? I think a lot of the music in that mix is shit. I thought a lot of New Beat was shit back in 1988, and I still think it's shit, but not all EDM was shit back then, just as all EDM is not shit now, however, there IS a lot of shit out there, and of course you are free to disagree. I was raised on first wave psychedelia, so believe me, I "get" the music, and I "get" the sub-culture, for you to suggest that I am ignorant of such matters - based on your reading of my appraisal of a retro-dance mix - is kinda condescending to be honest, and I'm not going to get into trying to qualify my opinion on this, because it doesn't matter what my background is, people have opinions, if mine offended your sensibilities that is regrettable, it was just a bit of banter : )

April 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdooby

@Dooby my friend, i know it was banter, that why i was offering you some alternative to the inclluded mix !!! who said anything about your background? you can have whatever opinion you want !! and in fact it was you who started with the sarcasm, saying for example i cant have spent anytime with freaks !!! in fact it has been you from the word go who has been condescending, you need to lighten up dude, or is that too ignorant, you havent offended me at all otherwise i would not have offered to furnish you with different music, have you smoked one too many doobys, anyway i expect you have some more verbal for me?, But to be honest life is too short for such exchanges, live long and prosper, i ended my last message with good vibes but you have still felt the need to put words into my mouth that i never said or implied, so lets see what new angle you come up with now !!!

May 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeltdown

nick, it's always a pleasure to converse with you on these matters. i know you know your stuff and have a real love for the goa sound.

the music always changes, but the feeling remains.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdave mothersole

Dave its my pleasure, but many thanks for your words, likewise i enjoy our chats also, great article great research and i look forward to hooking up one day at a party, and as and when i produce some new music i will for sure aim it you way
:-))

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeltdown

SOOOOOOO WHAT

September 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMIC FLIP

Nice writing (I was there),big respect to the Grand Bastardo who filled our nights with madness-and some of our days too...Hi,LAURENCE!...Good to see
SOME of the right people taking credit...Laurent is absolutely right about what he says above (though I'd like to know who helped him with the english text...).It was all about FUN-and backgammon.

September 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterniko vagatorro

The best times ever '87 Disco Vally, Chapora Fort, South Anjuna. Thanks Luraunt, Sefano and my beloved dancefloor family. Yes it changed my life!

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commentershannon

There is a feeling of loss after reading this. It just seems so impossible. A tribe of people living in a bubble(paradise).. hidden from the world. It is surprising it took as long as it did before it was consumed. Can anything like this incubate again? Where on earth can it happen? There are only so many beautiful beaches, with a culture and history of spirituality, where the locals have not been completely exploited, oppressed or assimilated by or into the borg.

A new planet is needed because i am pretty certain this is impossible here on earth. Novelty is possible of course.. but to have it expressed in a comparable way is unlikely.. Oh yeah and nice tunes but honestly the acid helps. But was included of course, another ingredient that shouldn't be understated. Thanks for writing this, but again you made me sad.

October 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrwfresh

So beautiful memories come up when reading this. I was in Goa in the early 80ties and met Laurent, the best DJ I ever met. It was not only his music, it was also his spirit and his natural way which made him so popular. He never wanted to be somebody else than "Laurent" he just showed himself the way he was, and that was what made him loved by everybody.
Reading the above list I remember some more great artists from that time: Marianne Faithful, Broken english; Sakamoto, Warhead; Torchsong; Bollock Brothers....
Trix, Swiss

November 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTrix

thanks for all the recent comments. i'm really pleased that the piece has had an impact on some of those lucky enough to have lived through those magical times.

@ trix - my list is far from complete i'm afraid - it's very subjective and covers some of my personal faves during the two seasons i was there.

the discogs thread bellow has a far more comprehensive list complied by the man himself. it centres around the maharashtra video and covers various things, including my piece, before laurent himself turns up and joins in for a while. very interesting thread and like the one here a very rare chance to hear from laurent in person.

http://www.discogs.com/groups/topic/159529

cheers,

dave

November 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdave mothersole

thank you !

April 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterchris

im from goa born in 1985 i still remember those day i hope they will come back not the exp. indians with no manners

March 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersavio

Great article. I was there from '86 to '91 and have written a short story about it, if anyone wants it please email me and I`ll get back to you.

December 31, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergorseman

Nice article, thank you very much for sharing!!

March 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterUniversal Religion

Thanks for the amazing stuff

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterWhatsapp Status

This is really cool I never seen Like this before

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterWhatsapp Status

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