What is Trance?

The Past, Present and Future of Psytrance

A Panel and Discussion in The Liminal Village, Boom Festival, Portugal

August 12th 2008 (8:30pm).

A Song. Tim Parish (undergrowth)


Participants in this international panel draw on their varied backgrounds and interdisciplinary research projects to address the vexing question: "what is trance?" With insights from history, musicology, evolutionary biology and anthropology, speakers discuss the mythological background, evolutionary history, and socio-cultural dimensions of psytrance. Accompanied by stunning imagery and ambient soundscapes.


Moderator : Graham St John

Dancing With Gods: Historical and Mythological Roots of Trance Parties

Chiara Baldini

The presentation exposes the historical and mythological roots of modern "trance parties", following the cult of nature and ecstasy through the ages, from the cult of Shiva in India, to that of Dionysus and Bacchus in Greece and ancient Rome, up to the more recent phenomenon of Sabbas . In this way, it underlines how there has always been one "religion of nature" which has been practiced through the millennia, across the world with almost identical rituals, beliefs and ways of living and how this cult is currently re-enacted, in a spontaneous way, within the context of our postmodern cultures. My intent is to provide an historical background for the anthropological analysis of these "parties", in order to increase the awareness of the participants and direct the evolution of trance culture towards a more conscious approach to the dynamics involved.

Trance-Cultural Evolution

Bel Liteman

Evolution is an hereditary change in information transmitted over time. Previously, academia accepted only the genetic level of information transmission. Now, evolutionary theory recognizes 3 other dimensions of information flow; epigenetic, behavioral and symbolic (human specific). My personal research studies trance phenomena that use musical tools during a group act, attempting to follow an evolutionary route beginning with ancient shamanistic ceremonies and ending with our own contemporary trance culture in order to infer the core hereditary elements that enable trancing. This new evolutionary perspective enables construction of the first comprehensible theory of the evolution of trance, which, essentially sees trance as a complex hardware-software integrative transposable element; it "jumps" from one culture to another, providing this culture can receive it.

This novel theory enables   multidisciplinary research on the phenomenon including all of it's hereditary aspects. Recent scientific findings in each field provide important keys pointing to the desired conclusion; unified consciousness (different kinds of information transmitted over time) during trance events is not only a group mental occurance, it involves our collective biological body as well. In other words trance is an embodied enactment happening within and because of dense cultural networks of knowing and feeling. Not fitting any of the previously stated evolutionary dimensions it inevitably leads to the "discovery" of the "5th dimension of evolution" where information becomes knowledge through individual experience".

Sonic Transcendence: Conversations Between Science and Trance States

Charles de Ledesma

How do various sciences enhance our understanding of electronic music and trance states? Concepts like convergence and synthesis help us detect the joins between new pathways in science, social formations and trance-patterned music genres, including psytrance, dub and percussive styles. Research among the Moroccan Gnawa and Pentecostal Christians indicate that elements in ritualised trance harmonise with breakthroughs in neuroscience, cognition and emotionality. Rhythmic entrainment (RE), for example, helps account for the fulfilment and well being described by dancers in various trance states. I also explore varied notions of the sonic, and suggest that it is through active engagement in musical flow that we deepen personal experience as well as re-tune communal spirit.

Psychedelic Trance Festivals as Modern Rituals?

Alex aka Soyouth

Psytrance festivals incorporate many elements of traditional rituals, as well as new elements. There are striking similarities such as: outdoor locations, natural cycles (fullmoon...), dancing for many hours to rhythmic music, specific artwork, use of sacred plants, references to other realities. These constitute archaic techniques of ecstasy that propel the participants into other realms of consciousness.

Modern psychedelic festivals can be seen as a hybrid of ancient spiritual practices fused with the most cutting-edge technology of today. A unique multisensory atmosphere is created, acting as a framework for collective ecstatic experiences,   sometimes referred to as "techno-shamanism".

Nevertheless, most modern trance parties lack ritualistic features that could maximize their positive impact and minimize the potential risks. As a result, those parties can be healing and mind-expanding for some people, whereas addictive and deceiving for others.

With proper design and awareness, modern ritualized trance celebrations can provide a new outlet for collective creative expression and spiritual development, that incorporates the fruits of the archaic as well as the futuristic technology. Under certain conditions, it could also provide grounding to disoriented youth and support a positive shift in society and individuals, tailored to the main issues of our times. 

Mobilities at the Interstices of the Trance Festival

Luís Almeida Vasconcelos

What if we were to turn our attention to the desire of participating in the Boom? And turn it to the travel of those who head towards the festival? And what if we understood Boom precisely as a consequence of the conjunction of many differentiated movements? A tentative answer to these questions, this presentation proposes an analysis where Boom appears as an articulation of different kinds of mobilities. Prior to the event itself, the mobilities of the producers and participants - without which the festival could not take place - articulate so as to build a sense of 'interstitiality' (i.e., ephemeral, both in terms of time and elements) to a given place. This approach will also discuss the role of dancing, as well as the consumption of psychoactives, whose effects are often described as 'trips'. Both are, in this sense, also expressions of mobility.

Celebrating the Divine: Samples of Trance from around the World

Sergi Ad Dharma

As the audio-visual background to the panel and discussion, through slides, digital pictures, and an ambient music set, Sergi offers a visual exposition of a global and universal culture expressed through the dance, to celebrate Life, Spirituality, Love and Freedom.


Biographies of participants

Alexandre (aka Soyouth) enacts his life as a good mix between art, science and spirituality, with a common focus on trance, consciousness and multisensory integration. He holds a PhD in cognitive science and is a board director of the Trance Research Foundation. Co-founder of Teratone-Vision, he's been VJ'ing, giving conferences and showing documentaries at various trance parties. He enjoys practicing taichi and meditation. contact AT teratone.org

Chiara Baldini was born in Florence, Italy, in 1975, and graduated from the University of Florence in English Linguistics. Currently living in Tuscany, Italy, she's working on a conceptual fashion project ( www.fuckyouverymuch.it ) and on various photographic projects. Chiara has followed trance parties all around the world since 1997 and has researched trance culture since 2004, with an extensive study of initiation rituals and mystery cults. chiara_baldini AT yahoo.com

Sergi Ad Dharma enjoys Life between his environmental assessment job, djing, travelling and experiencing Psy, Peace and Sustainable Events and Festivals around the world throughout the year since 2002. Sergi has completed several documentaries and exhibitions about psy-trance culture, and has been involved in Boom's oleo project and the Radio Boom Team. He operates a weekly radio program about psy culture, peace and sustainable development. myspace.com/sergibarcelona snogmon AT hotmail.com

Charles de Ledesma is a fifty-something author, journalist and teacher currently working on a PhD in trance culture. Based at the University of East London, Charles teaches undergraduates in the Music Culture and Journalism departments there. Formerly a fan and expert in world music, Charles has contributed to the Rough Guide to World Music, and an earlier volume on African Music, African All Stars (Quartet). He is author too of a travel guide to Malaysia , again published by the Rough Guides. Charles lives in northwest London with his Australian wife Karen, a veteran like him of all the Boom Festivals to date. charliedeledesma AT yahoo.com

Bel Liteman (aka belbelleza) is a small but powerful pixie-witch from Goa, now stirring up a PhD theory on "Trance-cultural Evolution" and coagulating a multidisciplinary research on the subject. For the past years she's been roaming the planet, closely examining the trance tribes' structure and function in Japan, Europe, USA, Goa and Israel. belbelleza AT gmail.com

Graham St John is a cultural anthropologist with research interests in countercultures, freak religion, speed tribes, shadow dancing and neo-trance. He occasions a blog at edgecentral. He was recently a research fellow at the School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, New Mexico and is a Research Associate at the University of Queensland's Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies. His books include the collections FreeNRG: Notes From the Edge of the Dance Floor, Rave Culture and Religion and Victor Turner and Contemporary Cultural Performance. He has two forthcoming books: Technomad: Global Raving Countercultures, and Global Trance Culture: Religion, Technology and Psytrance. gman AT wild.net.au

Luís Almeida Vasconcelos in an anthropologist at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon. He researches processes related to mobilities and the construction of place, and is completing his PhD on the Trance Movement in Portugal. luis.vasconcelos AT ics.ul.pt


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