This is a reply to a thread made in a Facebook group asking the question of “Why aren’t there more black people in psychedelic trance?”
Now this of course is a hot button item and difficult to discuss, but I wanted to try to reframe the conversation away from why aren’t there more of one particular group in this particular music scene to what things about the music and culture as a whole could be less inclusive and not as welcoming to individuals of a different background.
Before diving into this discussion about representation inside of the psychedelic trance scene, it’s important to recognize a potential issue that we even raise by asking the question: “Why don’t more people of X group like this specific thing that we like?”
This manner of thinking can be troublesome because we are assigning a prejudged assumption toward groups of people in a blanket type of manner. This is akin to assuming that because you are black you like rap music. This plays into the concept of a homogenized racial identity and can easily be viewed as problematic as we are now making assumptions about a person’s individual taste and aesthetic ideals based solely upon a perceived racial idea. This particular concept has been misused in the American political landscape for centuries. Once relinquishing the idea that all members of a particular group share identical viewpoints just solely based upon membership to a particular group, we can also address another common misconception.
This situation primarily involves general awareness of Africa as a continent, the idea that while a majority of the population of that continent might meet certain identifiable traits it will contain groups with vastly different cultural identities. There is also the lens of time that must be applied when thinking about descendants of African slaves. There are people of African descent in all parts of the world, some are recent immigrants within a few generations, some have been disconnected from their ancestral culture for so long that they adopt more aspects of the culture they exist in as opposed to retaining their cultural heritage that might have been passed down in other cultures. Black people born from the US arm of the slave trade will not have the same experience that black people in Brazil or Nigeria will have and vice versa.
Black American people (referring to those who did not emigrate from outside of the US until after the mid 1800’s) are faced with a situation where they do not have those deep genetic roots that many other racial or ethnic identities have. The family tree only goes back so far before there’s a giant question mark. Many African Americans have no idea where in Africa their familial lines hail from. Many times the historical records are non-existent and the only way to have this connection is by paying a nominal fee and submitting to a dna screening. The elements of African American culture that are present are remnants passed down and modified to exist in whatever landscape it is allowed to at the moment. Due to this lack of historical ancestral ties combined with a recent historical memory of subjugation, many members of this group choose to identify more with the cultural aspects of their ancestral continent of origin as opposed to the cultural aspects of the groups that subjugated them. This of course brings other issues of in-group membership and individual identity, but this subject is for another time. There are also cultural issues at play regarding psychedelics in the African American community, such as the comfortability to place yourself in a vulnerable place when your actions can easily be misperceived and result in dire consequences.
Rather than asking why X or Y group isn’t into this music or the culture, why not ask what is it about psychedelic trance that prevents larger groups of people from wider ethnic backgrounds from becoming interested?
There are many explanations as to historically why many people, including those of color, might not be as interested in this music and culture. Accessibility is indeed one of them. While it might be possible for certain individuals to find out about events, especially due to the internet, this is still a situation of privilege. Individuals who are far below the poverty line and are required to spend almost all of their time providing for their family’s survival simply will not be able to have the resources and time to attend events like this. Even this point is still based upon first-world privilege, as it contains the assumption that internet access is ubiquitous for all. Large international festivals are even more expensive, requiring more resources and time to make even possible. There are fewer individuals that have that particular ability to do this and many can at least avoid homelessness if they took a week or two off to go to a festival in Europe. I can speak from personal experience that I often don’t go to events unless there is a way for it to be at little cost to me or I actually can afford it.
Another possible issue is the exclusivity of the scene itself. This is a tricky subject to go into because there can be certain positive aspects of exclusivity, however these same aspects can also run amok. Because of the proliferation of spirituality and even sect like religious practices, this can create a lot of feelings of exclusion or even rejection of the music and culture altogether. Despite the projected radical acceptance that seems to be projected, there are definite stylized identities that are present within the culture and specific archetypes that are seen constantly that are synonymous with the musical culture. This can create a sense of identity politics and this can even be seen at times within the music itself. While I was very fortunate to be accepted at face value by my local community, not all are as fortunate, nor do all have the particular circumstances that allowed me to reach this point. Had I not had the close circle of individuals that helped me and guided me along this path, I am not sure that I would be writing this today.
Case in point: I started out as an epic melodic trance dj before I started buying my own records. I wasn’t too into that music after a while and got really into playing drum and bass. (primarily jazzy atmospheric stuff and jump up crossover music) While I still do enjoy many aspects of this music and will listen to it at home, I found myself not enjoying many events I went to and felt especially unwelcome in the drum and bass community as a dj. These feelings had almost made me leave electronic music as a whole. Now I had heard Goa before, but I didn’t like it. It reminded me too much of the epic trance records that I no longer enjoyed, and found it lacking something for me. It wasn’t until I was taken to an all psychedelic trance gathering and heard stuff the likes of GMS, Hux Flux, Logic Bomb, etc that I really became interested in the music. It was also the people there that made me feel welcome, safe, and desirable to be around. This situation was something I hadn’t felt in a while and one of the things that I’ve always cherished.
There are many other cultural things that could be seen as problematic and I do urge people to read the psychedelic whiteness essay that was mentioned earlier. I read these excerpts for a course that I took this year and found it to be interesting.
Now that we’ve discussed a few things about the scene itself and the culture inside of it, let’s talk about what it is about the music itself that could make it less accessible to a wider demographic.
4/4 + higher tempo : The 4 on the floor kick drum is the most rhythmically rigid groove in existence. It’s literally marking the meter. This means that everything else falls in relation to that meter and are constrained at times between the pulses of two meters. The higher tempo also means that there is less time in between those pulses and partially due to entrainment, one tends to synchronize their movements to said pulse. Add in the rolling bassline and you now have pulses every 16th note, further synchronizing movement and causing entrainment. Good for trancing out and inducing hypnotic states, not good for space for dancing in between the pulses. Basically if you’re not a fan of disco, you might hate this music.
Lack of leading vocal : A majority of the world’s music possesses vocals and most are driven by vocal performances. See pop music for reference. Due to his music being instrumental in nature, this can cause the listener to feel less connected to the music as there isn’t a human voice to provide context and familiarity.
English based music : Most vocal samples used in trance are done in the English language. There are dozens of reasons for this, but it also can potentially be problematic. In countries where English isn’t the predominant language, it could be off-putting for some to encounter phrases that they don’t understand in a language they don’t understand. But this also does present another issue…
Cultural appropriation in regards to sampling or instrument choice…. : This is a hot button item. Some individuals might be excited to hear that their culture is being presented in a certain manner to individuals who would not have been previously exposed to it, others might be upset that the shiny aspects of their culture are being passed off by people without a deep understanding of the culture. People get especially upset when there’s profit involved.
Sound design choices: Already electronic music can be polarizing with the types of sounds that are used, but when you also factor in the sound design used in psychedelic trance as well, it can be understandable that people might not like these strange sounds that are used frequently in most songs.
Long form song structure: Individual songs are at least twice the length of mainstream music and lacks the arrangement of traditional pop music or even mainstream electronic music at times. This journey style of arrangement serves a purpose, but should the listener not like that particular tune, they’re stuck listening to it for the next 7-10 minutes.
These are just a few things off the top of my head that I can think of.
Now that we’ve talked about some potential issues, let’s discuss ways to make the scene more inclusive…
I’m going to present something novel and something that I’m going to try to do myself.
Have diverse friends.
Have some diverse interests besides psychedelic trance that introduces you to new people. Venture out of your comfort zone from time to time, make good friends and bring them with you to a good trance party. Share with them the things that you enjoy and they will do the same. Even if they don’t like it, that’s fine. There’s no way to truly please everyone, but there is a way to give people the opportunity to be included if they wish to be.
So the next time you ask, why isn’t a member of group X into the same thing I’m into, ask yourself how many friends in that group you have. It’s probably not a cultural thing as much as it might just be a personal thing.