Do You Need to Trip to Trance?
Trance music may be a branch on the massive tree of dance music genres, but imagine for a moment that we can put all dance music into that category. Consider if you will that all dance music, when experienced in a live setting, is meant to put you into a semi-conscious state of being. In a trance state you are being led by the person who has induced the trance, and in the case of dance music that's the DJ.
Electronic dance music fills fields of festivals, reverberates through nightclubs, and influences musicians of all genres today. It aims to catapult the dancer into an elevated state of consciousness. Be it one experienced through psychedelics or one mirroring the experience of psychedelics. This begs an important question: do you need to be in a trance state to enjoy the music?
How Did Psychedelics Find Their Way to EDM Culture?
Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman invented LSD in 1938 while experimenting with Ergot (a fungus found in grains) in the desire to find new medicines. Five years after LSD’s inception, Hoffman accidentally inhaled the chemical and embarked on an acid trip.
In the 1950s, the CIA targeted innocent or unknowing citizens with doses of LSD during a mind control experiment known as MK-ULTRA. Americans discovered this trial and rebelled by injecting their own doses of LSD in the 60s.
The rebellion and the first wave of psychedelic music coexisted. However, the two did not coincide at first.
The idea of achieving an altered state of consciousness enthralled citizens, but those who chose not to partake in drug use navigated these brief periods of enlightenment through varying mediums of art, including dancing, painting, music, and yoga.
Psychedelic rock crashed into the music scene with the 13th Floor Elevators and in the mid-60s bands like The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, and The Grateful Dead popularized the evocative genre. For electronic music, the 90s were the most influential period, creating trance, techno, and other popular rave genres.
If you indulged in the substances, the experimental sounds, trippy solos, and referential lyrics, you enhanced your listening experiences. If you stayed away from the drugs, the musical techniques mimicked the experience of psychedelics.
A source that chose to remain anonymous shared her experiences. We will call her Carla.
“The actual psychedelic experience itself varies every time I do it, but overall it definitely enhances my experience in a positive way. For example, I have a deep love for music sober as well as not sober, but when I’m tripping, everything is funnier, colors and visuals are more vibrant and visible, and I can almost feel the music more,” Carla said.
Carla also stated ingesting psychedelics helps decrease her social anxiety at festivals.
While psychedelics remain a popular staple in rave culture, those who do not partake in substance use also enjoy the electronic music scene.
Don Solo, an ecstatic dancer (sober dance centered around the trance-like state you can only achieve through dance), chimed in to share his thoughts on psychedelics and their relationship to music. He prefaced the interview by acknowledging that he is not against natural substances such as psilocybin or marijuana. He just chose to approach nightlife in a sober fashion.
“I had finally found the culture and the community [ecstatic dance] that was 1000% about dance as a means of spiritual practice and totally sober,“ Solo said.
Solo claims the reason for so many to revert to drugs instead of natural dancing is to attempt to achieve a peak state of being and ease into comfort within society.
“They’re trying to achieve that peak state again, and they can’t. They’re not able to do it naturally once they’ve discovered, say MDMA, or some other hard drugs,” Solo said. “Whereas with ecstatic dance, all the drugs that you need, and scientists back this now, the research has shown, all the drugs that you need are already in your brain. And those four drugs make up the acronym DOSE: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins.”
Researchers at the University of Berkeley, California did find dancing releases these four chemicals responsible for mood-boosting and health benefits.
“You can dance every single day of your life and trigger those happy chemicals and not face any, you know, come down and or any kind of depressive phase. So, in that regard, I think yes. Ecstatic dance and conscious dance are the future,” Solo said.
According to the company’s website, “DanceSafe is the oldest and only nonprofit drug checking kit manufacturer in the United States.” DanceSafe originated in 1998 and dedicates itself to harm reduction and drug testing. The organization sets up booths at major festivals and raves in the US to minimize harm and educate the dance community.
Outreach coordinator for DanceSafe, Erica Darragh spoke to Festival Insider about the non-profit’s prevalence in the dance community today.
“It's hard to know if more people are testing their drugs than before COVID, but we do know that our kit sales did not substantially change during the pandemic. We do know, though, that way more people are using fentanyl test strips.”
Carla suggested COVID led to a rise in fentanyl use and purchasing the testing kits, as well.
“As a community, we should be looking at them as something to do every once in a while to enhance an experience or to reground ourselves, instead of as a party drug,” Carla said. “Whatever you are taking should always be tested because you never know what could be in it. That is the number one issue in the community right now is thinking your buying one drug and getting another, which has caused the community to lose so many beautiful individuals,” Carla said.
When LSD emerged in 1938, no one understood its mind-altering properties. After decades of use (and sometimes abuse) psychedelics have influenced almost every genre of electronic music and most aspects of festival culture.
Due to a high-profit margin and their steady popularity, those in the electronic music scene continue to use psychedelics to enhance their experience.
“We do know that psychedelics and music are synergistic and music has always played a major role in culture,” Darragh said.
But, just because psychedelics enhance the experience does not mean you have to trip to trance.