It was midnight, and we were lost in the woods an hour south of Budapest, when I first thought: this is wrong. Not just the wrong road, but wrong in a deeper sense. If we were going to a trance festival to open our hearts to the universe, why were we trusting technology more than our intuition?
We got to where we were because of the GPS, bouncing along with a white hare in our headlights somewhere near the Ozora Festival — the “tribal and psychedelic encounter” my friend Andrew and I were looking for. We were told to expect a day-and-night, rain-or-shine, mud-or-dust, week long psy-trance 24/7 music marathon whose participants would stomp the ground, loudly and often, to “extract energies from the earth.”
What were two middle-aged men doing in a mud puddle in pursuit of this folly, now abandoned also by the white hare? And without tickets? Not that age was really an issue: the trance movement came of age almost as long ago as we did, and the headline attraction at Ozora was a 71-year-old Australian DJ named “Raja Ram”.
Andrew tapped away on his iPad, despite a stubborn “no signal” message. We overcame the mud puddle with the time-honored “pedal to the metal” method and were soon whizzing straight past the Ozora turn-off. Then we got stuck again, this time in a cluster of cars honking their way beneath a large flashing sign saying: “Welcome to Paradise.” Not so fast: at least a thousand punk rockers, trancers, ravers and dreadlocked brutes were swarming the box office. We got tickets only at dawn.
Paradise was one crowded place. We had to fight for tent space, eventually edging our way next to Vince, a 52-year-old botanist from west London, who told us this was the biggest European psy-trance festival in history. “We’ve been niche so far,” he said, “but this could be the time we go mainstream.” Assuming, of course, that the bureaucrats did not intervene. “The government wants you to blow your brains out only with alcohol and tobacco,” he explained. “They don’t want LSD and other psychedelic drugs to become too popular.”
So far, the “government” doesn’t appear to have been too successful. There were 300 trance festivals last April in Europe alone, with Germany leading the pack at 122, followed by Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Portugal. This year’s “Burning Man” festival in the Nevada desert in September – still the biggest of them all, whatever Vince said — sold its 52,000 tickets months in advance. They are now going for as much as $1200 on the secondary on-line market.
Clearly, we are experiencing a Psychedelic Renaissance. From the 1990s trance parties in Goa, India, where the movement got its start, with a fusion of hippie culture, English ‘80s rock and house music, the phenomenon has grown into a vast global fusion of tribalism, shamanism, psychedelia, New Age, Hinduism, Buddhism, druidism — and a few spaceships and aliens too.
As I surveyed the post-apocalyptic scene at Ozora, its valleys and hills packed with mobile homes and tents, I felt I had entered a multilingual Circus filled with chatter in German, French, Australian, Japanese, Italian, American, Spanish, Slovenian, Russian – a Dreamland for travelers seasoned with lots of drugs. On the dance floor we saw chillum pipes packed with hashish, charras and changa (a new smokable drug promising near-death visions), endless music CD’s lined with cocaine, and little eye-drop droppers to administer LSD. No wonder everyone was so easy-going — and so unbearably thin.
Was all this evidence that the hippie dream of the 1960s was now reality? I wasn’t sure. It was a lysergic Shangri-la, no question, but one safely caged within the festival’s strict confines of time and space. The hippies talked about challenging power through the imagination, and breaking generational barriers to create an explosion of anti-conformism across the world. But, to me, Ozora looked more like an entertainment ranch safely separated from external realities.
“In these festivals,” said my friend Annarita, whom I met at the Chill Out stage “you can bring out your inner gnome or elf, you can become a strange creature of the earth or of the cosmos. This is where witches, warriors and new hippies are reborn. But all these costumes and make-up are just… hidden parts of your own self finally thrust into daylight.” These festivals, in other words, are like Venetian carnivals, Roman Saturnalia and the Bacchanalia of the ancient Greek world — places to lose the “self” in order to join the “whole” before returning to normal life.
So I decided to “let go” as everyone kept repeating here and slow down. I did experience a sort of loss of sense of time, and all those smiles got to be contagious. “Happy people make people happy,” said a T-shirt, so I tried to go along with it. And suddenly, sleeping in a tent for three nights with loud music coming from both valleys did not matter so much, nor the ruckus of a pack of French kids (“Frogs!”, said Vince) seem to really bother me.
As part of my new trancer self, I decided to inch my way to the main dance stage, stomping my feet like a true shaman. Next to me were not just young people, but trancers into their 60s. A tanned witch doctor with long silver hair pointed at some invisible spots on my torso, as if trying to unscrew my seven chakras. He then showed me a rainbow, appearing in the clouds. A girl running through the crowd started throwing straw up in the air while a procession of laughing dancers wielded long marijuana branches ripped up from a nearby field.
Well, it was time to find out what happened to Andrew, so I walked through the meadows surrounding the Chill Out stage, among parents and children sporting aviator earmuffs to protect them from the relentless bass-line pounding.
Finally, I spotted my straight-arrow friend at the Magic Garden, a giant meditation hut where he was attending a reiki sharing class. “If you have a body, you have a soul!” the teacher repeated, mantra-like. But Andrew looked puzzled. He was clearly in Internet withdrawal, after four days without a signal for his iPad.
One shower a week, he said insistently, was not enough. He also said he had enough about classes on “how to build your own musical instrument,” “feeling the rhythm in the drum circle” or “dancing the Sun dance”. No, he did not want to practice chikung, or learn to have out-of-body experiences in his dreams, and he certainly did not want to meditate his way to Divine Love. He wanted wi-fi.
Indian fusion, maybe?
Japanese Taiko drums, perhaps?“No!”
Could be that it was because Andrew doesn’t drink or smoke, doesn’t partake of any drugs, and doesn’t even tolerate cheese or dairy products?
(Carlo Pizzati © 2012)