Psychedelic style and embodiment in psytrance

Farrell, Gemma L (2019) Psychedelic style and embodiment in psytrance. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

Psychedelic trance (psytrance) is an electronic dance music (EDM) genre characterized by fast, repetitive basslines set against immersive, textural soundscapes of strange noises and media samples. Originating from the music that accompanied outdoor parties in Goa and other key locations during the early 1990s, its culture has much in common with the psychedelic music cultures of previous eras. The music has evolved with the development of technology over the last 30 years and is now most often produced using computers and shared in digital formats. With the development of the internet, psytrance music and the complex, vibrant culture that surrounds it (psyculture) has come to have a global reach.

A multitude of psytrance substyles have arisen over time, some of which are anchored to psycultures in specific geographic locations. My primary research question is how local psytrance styles emerge from these local cultural contexts. I investigated this using a mixed methods approach which included an online survey with DJs and producers, one-to-one interviews with producers and other scene insiders, musical analysis, and participant observation at a number of UK parties culminating in a set of short ethnographies. In response to existing literature on the global and local in psytrance culture and using UK psytrance as a case study, I contend that the factors that have the most impact on local musical style are embodied experience, identity, space and place.

Secondly, I ask what theoretical and methodological approaches are best suited to the study of psytrance. Responding to electronic dance music scholars’ call to ‘write the body’ into academic works, I make a case for approaches from embodied phenomenology and mixed methodologies which can capture the richness of psytrance culture. I reach a similar conclusion to Charles de Ledesma in his recent work, regarding the unsuitability of Michel Maffesoli’s neo-tribe paradigm and the spiritual and ritual comparisons so often made in work on psytrance, in analyses of the UK scene. I argue instead for theoretical paradigms which are less rigid and more open-ended than neo-tribal theory, allowing for multiple theoretical readings of psytrance which can better apprehend its complexities, such as Peter Sloterdijk’s spheropoiesis. I advocate for theoretical approaches that are mindful of scene participants’ view of themselves, in order to more truthfully reflect the reality of their experience in academic writing. For example, steering away from ritual and spiritual comparisons when many people in the UK scene do not ascribe to a spiritual worldview.

The main insight I offer here is that psytrance style, in addition to being spread through means which are easily recognisable like language, performance and collaborations between artists, can be communicated in more subtle ways between listeners on the dancefloor, like affect, gesture and bodily comportment. The contributions to knowledge I make include: the new data I have gathered on the UK scene through my mixed methodological approach and my analysis of this; the phenomenological analysis of psytrance found throughout but especially in chapters 2 and 3; my use of spheropoiesis theory to connect the inner psychological experience of psytrance, revealed through embodied analysis, to group experiences, spaces and places, and how I combine the notions of cultures of circulation and feedback (Novak), milieux cultures (Dürrschmidt, Webb) and spheropoiesis, to conceptualise how cultural information flows through networks of scenes in different geographic locales.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > Music
Subjects: M Music. Literature on music. Musical instruction and study > ML Literature on music > ML0159 History and criticism > ML3469 Popular music > ML3529.9 Psytrance
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 07 Nov 2019 12:20
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:48
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/87471

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