Cultural essays from Helen Donlon, Kris Needs and guests
Issue two: Autumn/Winter 2017/8
Issue one: Spring/Summer 2017
Cultural essays from Helen Donlon, Kris Needs and guests
Issue two: Autumn/Winter 2017/8
Issue one: Spring/Summer 2017
Martin Glover aka Youth was one of the people I was most interested in when it came to recalling, both subjectively and objectively, the early days of Acid House and trance parties in Ibiza when I interviewed him for my book Shadows Across the Moon. I was already aware that he’d been visiting the island more than a decade before I went to live there, and I therefore suspected that his widely cultured and open hearted perspectives on Ibiza/Formentera and indeed on Goa (Ibiza’s spiritual twin in several ways) were going to be a key barometer of the link between the two electronic trance cultures. They were…
Youth: I started going to Ibiza and Formentera in the 1980s and I took Zodiac Mindwarp (Mark Manning). I was about 24. We actually came up with the concept of Zodiac Youth in Ibiza. He’d never been on a plane before. We’d had to swallow a load of hash at the airport because we inevitably got searched going through security, and the rubber gloves were coming out…Anyway we ate this hash we had on us and when we got there we just passed out on this beach for two days and then found ourselves in this hostel. But it was fantastic. It was the early 80s and it was still the epicentre of the hippie ideal. It was really chilled out, there were hardly any roads, just a few bicycles, all the beaches were nude, and there were a few freaks who’d have parties in villas with a few of the rich hippie bohemians. We ended up living in a cave there, in Formentera. I remember Mark phoning up Nina Hagen who was playing at Ku to see if we could get on the guest list. So I made some friends then.
As well as being a founding member of and bassist in the band Killing Joke, Youth is today a member of The Firemen with Paul McCartney. He is also a famed record producer and record label founder. Zodiac Youth was another early venture, with graphic designer Mark Manning/Zodiac Mindwarp.
Youth: Then there was the whole ‘Balearic’ thing that really came to the fore later, in 1987/88, with Acid House and Oakenfold and those DJs going out there to hear Alfredo do his chill out sets, and that was hugely important. I was popping over around that time as well. We ended up doing a Zodiac Youth video for Fast Forward the Future in Ibiza around 88/89 and we took this film crew and we reset the last supper in this villa, and then we ended up getting into a club and playing some mixes. It was an amazing time and it was still pretty underground, the scene, even though it was really kicking off in London it was still a little unchanged in Ibiza up until the 90s.
After the Acid House movement peaked in England the scene became more attuned to rave in large warehouses, abandoned hangars and then ever-changing farmland locations at the tail end of Thatcher’s reign. The powers that be were forever running to keep up with the canny and hugely innovative promoters and draconian laws were put in place to eventually shut down these amazing events. By this point Youth was working with Spiral Tribe.
Youth: Spiral Tribe were doing the free festivals, and really what I found was a lot of the heads from the Acid House scene in London and the Ibiza heads were all very quickly disillusioned with the scene in England, so a few of them went to India where of course there’s a long connection of hippies living in Goa in the winter and in Ibiza in the summer. I’ve still got a few friends in Goa who do that. In Ibiza the psychedelic trance community is intrinsically connected to Goa; the very first Goa trance parties outside of Goa itself were in Ibiza, usually in the form of private parties and even when the rave thing was kicking off in the clubs in Ibiza there was always this countercultural movement with trance parties. That connection really was, and is, I think, the heart and soul of Ibiza, because these people are sort of 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year hippies, you know, they’re not part-timers. They’re freaks all the time, and if they’re not in Goa they’re in Ibiza. They live outside of society, outside the system, and they find their way through from DJing, music, cultural exchanges of arts and crafts…they find a way through.
I first went to Goa in 89/90 and in that season there were a few people from Ibiza but I didn’t really know anybody. I hadn’t planned to go to Goa but when I found myself there it fulfilled the whole promise of Ibiza and Formentera and more because you were really in this psychedelic society that was kind of an anarchist society in that there were no real governing bodies. There were a few police that irritated you but they weren’t around too much, and the mayor and local people were very tolerant and let people do what they did. In India the culture, the hinduism, all of it is that kind of acid psychedelic culture anyway, it’s very Shiva, it’s very nature-oriented. Philosophically the locals in Goa can understand and accept the parties and everything in a context that’s been forgotten about in Europe, although it exists in Ibiza. It hasn’t been forgotten there.
Another thing Goa and Ibiza share in their history is the presence of pirates. Both places have rich pirate anecdotes in their evolution and both have a reputation, to some extent continued even today, as pirate hideaways or retreats.
Youth: And that comes through in the local people. You get it in London too – Portobello Road market used to be an old sailors market that pirates or privateers would come back to and sell their booty, and of course all the hippies from Ibiza and Goa congregated around west London and Ladbroke Grove, so there’s this big pirate thread to the whole story…
[Editor’s note: Indeed the contraband Ibiza-Formentera-Portobello Road link during the 1960s is also explored in exquisite detail in Damien Enright’s excellent memoir Dope in the Age of Innocence.]
Youth: And the other thing about Goa is that you were well upriver of course, where there was really very little authority, so people could really get into doing their social experimentation. You’d have a lot of international drug dealers, a lot of international models, rich kids from Europe, Eurotrash, middle class Bombay kids with money coming down and it all mashed up into the most fantastic recipe for a great party. They were some of the best parties I’ve ever experienced.
Added into the mix were also sannyasins and followers of Osho who’d come to Goa from Pune, and others who had been in India on yoga retreats. This crowd might not be so interested in getting high except from dancing, and their energy would add yet another dimension to the beach parties.
Youth: They’d be the ones dancing for eight hours, and creating a great synergistic energy with everyone else there. Then they’d go back to Ibiza and inform the scene there and things would evolve accordingly because of that. But all throughout, that culture has had no press, no exploitation in the media, or culturally, and in a way that’s probably why it’s had its longevity and why it still operates as a valid countercultural force.
Smitten by the trance culture in Goa, Youth set up Dragonfly, the record label that specifically aimed at capturing the best sounds of the scene he was now a part of.
Youth: Dragonfly was one of the first Goa trance labels. I had this amazing experience – I’d set up a label in England with Alex Patterson from The Orb, Wau! Mr, Modo which was a sort of British Acid House label. We were doing British dance music and then Acid House had happened and a lot of the Acid House DJs were playing our records and some did really well and some didn’t, but The Orb came out of that. And Blue Pearl. Then there were tracks we put out that were a lot more industrial, and when I got to Goa I was introduced to these DJs who had little books of their sets going back 2/3 years of all the music and the best parties and set lists and they were going ‘oh, we’ve been waiting for you! We’ve been playing your music here for like 5 or 6 years!’ They had all these records I made on Wau! Mr. Modo that had sold nothing but were big anthems there, records I’d done in 1982 with industrial American bands like Portion Control, Nitzer Ebb, Executive Slacks, pretty obscure bands. These DJs in Goa had edited the tracks, taken all the vocals out and turned them into these instrumental acid sort of epics and they’d become been anthems. So I was really warmly welcomed by the community immediately. I felt very at home there, you know, and I loved the synergy, all the different influences in the music, and the different kinds of people and I thought, ‘yeah! This is what I’ve been waiting for all my life,’ and I got really inspired by it. So as a result of that I wanted to start a label that reflected that and put out music specifically for those DJs and that vibe in Goa and we started doing Dragonfly and very quickly it exploded.
By 1997 Goa’s reputation as a world class free spirited party universe had seen the resort become gradually inundated with bucket-listers as had been happening in Ibiza for a few years by then. The social mix was way less spontaneous and it inevitably lost a bit of its allure for a while. But those who’d been in early, and/or those who saw through the various stages of its evolution held firm.
Youth: That core element to the Ibiza/Goa personality – they’re more freaks than hippies because there’s a distinct individuality to them, they’re very individual personalities and characters who are living, still, on their own terms and by their own rules, and they’re getting away with it. They’re very determined, tenacious people. They weren’t just like the stoned hippies in their hammocks doing nothing all day, there were some great photographers, filmmakers, artists, writers, creatives…there still are, and they just really enjoyed the whole either hedonistic or shamanic element of a 20 hour party outside with a big sound system and electronic music. They were the glue that held it all together. And many of those people were already there anyway, so the music really came about as a kind of facilitation for what their needs were, and it became defined and distilled very quickly.
One of the other elements that held it all together, since even before the beach raves, is of course the community’s use of psychedelic drugs, felt by many to be an absolutely integral part of the trance experience.
Youth: I did ayahuasca recently and had a fantastic experience on it. I did it in England, but 25 years ago I had travelled to the Amazon to specifically do it there in Peru or Ecuador and I just could not find a decent shaman. They were all dodgy. So the right one turned up last year and I had the most incredible experience with the ayahuasca. It fulfilled all the sort of shamanic experiences that I’ve done before in a really good way. With a lot of the Goa heads I know from the past, and from now actually, that’s become their scene, ayahuasca. I think because it’s got this very strong, shamanic spiritual side to it, as well as being psychedelic and hedonistic in a way, but it’s also very anchored in a very ancient tradition and if you get a very good shaman it really is an incredible thing. It’s very different from taking LSD.
Psychedelics have always been a very big part of the trance scene because ecstatic trance in its original essence has hypnotic and psychedelic elements to it anyway. Electronic psychedelic music does the same thing in a different way, it totally facilitates the psychedelic experience which is why people take psychedelics with it. It’s been totally distilled down to work in an environment where there are people who are on psychoactive substances.
Since the 1990s the trance scenes created in Goa and Ibiza have evolved and influenced other social microcosms; the countercultural continuum…
Youth: Especially in America. All the kids of the Deadheads and stuff were suddenly going electronic and psychedelic trance, and prior to that the Deadheads would see electronic music as satan’s music, so that was a big shift. It also appropriated a lot of what was the New Age movement, people doing a lot of New Age things in California, whether it’s yoga or some alternative lifestyle/alternative energy thing it started to incorporate that culture too on an organic level. And the more sannyasin-y, Eastern spiritual type cats, you would also find there was a lot of connections there. The whole trance scene has definitely morphed and bled into all these other scenes. It’s been going on for decades anyway, with people who were into free culture and the hippie lifestyle. People have just got more determined with their lives and maybe more politically aware or active in lots of areas, and it has had a very positive effect which you can of course trace way back, to the hippies in the 60s, the Beats before them in the 1950s and Berlin and Paris in the 1920s and in fact it has always been there. It’s the Dionysian cultural thing, as opposed to the Apollonian.
Those trance parties do connect to ancient Dionysian rituals and ceremonies that were done in exactly the same spirit and even back then they were for outsiders, niche events. It’s so important for society to have these elements continuing to go on because otherwise you’d only have a very sterile, logical, rational world.
Around the time of our interview, Youth had recently completed work as producer on Pink Floyd’s latest album, The Endless River. Legendarily, the Floyd are deeply connected to many tales of Ibiza. And yet…
Youth: It’s funny because they’re not psychedelic people, but the music is and the band is totally associated with Ibiza and Formentera, and those late 60s albums like Ummagumma and More – those really did capture the essence of those times in the islands. They were the in-house band of that aesthetic, I think, and they still create the most sublime psychedelic music ever made, way more so than the Grateful Dead and any of those American bands who accuse them of being a bit cold. But I just think it is absolutely sublime, they’re just out there on total instinct. They don’t need to live it. It’s mysterious…
Interview by HD.