As a music genre name, Goa Trance didn’t gain proper traction until late 1994 or early 1995, after battling it out with competitors like "psychedelic trance" or "psychotropic trance." The sound at that point had already been evolving for over a decade.
In around 1983, a few people started bringing tapes of European Electronic Dance Music or Electronic Body Music as it was called then, to the huge cauldron of adventurous outsiders, hippies, party freaks and new-age spiritualists hovering on the beaches of Goa, each winter. It was initially met with a lot of resistance from the old-timers, accustomed to the more traditional psychedelic rock or even acoustic sounds, it was adopted rather quickly.
Electronic music was nothing new to this type of crowd, of course - Popol Vuh, Ash Ra Tempel, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis and other early pioneers were already common names in many hippie circles. This change was the introduction of dance beats in general. The appeal of electronic music was that it provided alien sounds for the drug-fueled alien moods, so some people even edited out the singing to keep things purely electronic.
Driving rhythms, thick atmospheres and kaleidoscopic minor-key melodies were in high demand, as well as anything weird and out of the box. It wasn’t sexualized dance music like the house before it and it wasn’t music for socialization, or, as Goa Gil famously put it “it’s not just a disco under the coconut trees”. It was a more ritualistic and introspective type of music made for high hippies.
Many travellers from the ’80s and very early ’90s are in agreement that ‘anything goes’ was the norm. This is what came to be known as Goa Trance. Unexpected sounds, weirder textures, shifts in moods and breakdowns. This connection of the somewhat contradictory requirements for “trance” and “psychedelia” has been fundamental for the psychedelic trance music movement throughout its history.
The Early Years Of Goa Trance
To set the mood a little bit here’s some footage from a party in March 1992.
Each season the travellers would bring with them, new music to play at the beach rave parties, and eventually, some even started producing their own music instead of editing others'. The musicians came from all corners of the world: USA, England, France, Japan, Sweden, Australia, Germany, Denmark and Israel. Some of these countries had a strong underground hippie culture movement. In 1988 Goa and India was opened up as one of the approved destination for the vacation most people went to, it was an easy escape from all the cultural norms around the world.
As the cast of characters was so global, the music gained influences from all corners, but with the common goal of heightening the beach party experience. While trance started to become its own genre in European clubs in the early nineties, this was not necessarily the same music played on the Goan beaches. Here the music had influences from rock, EBM, industrial, new wave, psychedelia, acid house, Berlin school synthesizer music and more, selected for the very specific environment that the Goa parties presented.
A number of labels that had already been around for a while started releasing music from the Goa Trance movement: Harthouse, Trigger and Tunnel in Germany, Magick Eye and Pod Communication in the UK and more. Germany’s Gaia Tonträger was considered the first goa trance label. In fact, their inaugural release is called Goa EP, by S.M.I.L.E. where DJ Sangeet, a big name in the scene, was one of the members.
The Highs And Lows Of Goa Trance Music
It wasn’t until 1993 that the goa trance explosion began properly, when Juno Reactor’s debut album “Transmissions”, often referred to as the first goa trance album.
Transmissions contained several high profile tracks like Here’s “High Energy Protons”, which was characteristic for the genre. Juno Reactor was initially formed with Frenchman Stephane Holweck, and they had previously had the Electrotête project together, releasing tracks like Anjuna Dawn, named after the Goan beach, and I Love You, a huge rave scene hit in 1993.
1995 and 1996 proved to be the biggest years for Goa Trance, commercialization of the genre was at its peak. Thousands of artists from all over the world were attending the beach parties and thousands of others were hosting the music at these parties.
But, by 1997 British dance music press had gotten over its crush on goa trance and started to shun it. People were opting for more acoustic, minimal, melodious sounds with hard-hitting vocals. even the visuals and graphics changed course and shifted to a completely different aesthetic appeal.
This shift in aesthetics and sounds almost boiled down the hype around Goa Trance and even though it never disappeared entirely, it was exceptionally hard to find. Goa, even now embraces its trance culture and Anjuna, the hub of it all still remains raging with the music and beach parties.