The area of Goa, situated approximately half-way down the western coastline of the southern part of India, has had a colourful history of occupation. From the tenth century until early in the sixteenth century it vacillated between Hindu and Muslim rule. In 1510 it was taken by the Portuguese whose presence lasted, except for a few short periods of occupation by the British from 1797-98 and 1802-13, until 1961. In that year the Indian Army took possession. The presence of the Portuguese for 450 years had a strong effect on the cultural life of Goa, clearly evident in the present era by the many Catholic churches and monasteries and other characteristic architecture, but also reflected in the cuisine and the arts.
The multicultural history of Goa is an important background to the development of the Goa beach party scene in the early 1960s. According to Ray Castle (in Cole, 1996a, p. 9), Goa is an unique part of India with a "special vibe" related to the Portuguese background. He sees the hippies who flocked to Goa as the "new colonists", and the locals as being as tolerant of their occupation as they were of the Portuguese. For Castle (1996a, p. 3), the general attraction of India for the hippies and other misfits was both to its spirituality and to its hashish, which was legal up to the mid 1970s, at which time the laws were changed with pressure from the U.S.
The available documentation of the early history of the Goa beach parties is scant. Boyd (1996) states that the hippies descended on Goa in 1968, "to sleep on the beaches, partake of the marijuana weed and generally try to 'get their head together'.". Richard Ahlberg (1996), quoted on the Goa Trance Mailing List, adds that:
About thirty years ago a man named eight-finger Eddie and other ex-pats...found a perfect beach...beautiful warm friendly villagers...and a paradise-like haven in which they could...with the utmost freedom...enjoy a life free from all distractions...these people started to have "parties" on the beaches or in the jungles...eating psychedelics and dancing to the music of the time.
The music of the time was, of course, nothing like the music that has come to be known as Goa trance. Boyd (1996) suggests the Grateful Dead. Ollie Olsen (in Cole, 1996d), who has collaborated with the pioneering Goa trance DJ, Fred Disko, recalls Disko telling him that around 1980 the staple beach party repertoire still consisted of the Doors, Neil Young, the Eagles and perhaps some Pink Floyd. The name Disko was given to him because he was one of the first to introduce electronic dance music to the scene. Another pioneer Goa trance DJ, Goa Gil, who was "one of the originators of the famous Goa full moon parties", played live with a band, and also DJed in Goa through the 1970s. When, at the beginning of the 1980s, he grew tired of the "rock/fusion/reggae" music he was spinning, he introduced "the first post-punk experimental electronic dance music coming from Europe, the neue deutsche welle, electronic body music" (Gil, 1996). Ray Castle (1996a, p. 3) supports this view, that "Goa techno trance actually originated from hard line, electronic body music, groups like Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, Frontline Assembly, as well as from Eurobeat."
The international character of the Goa scene seems to be a key to the development of the genre of Goa trance. Fred Disko (in Cole 1996c, p. 8) mentions French and Italian DJs, specialising in electronic music, Australian DJs playing rock, and others playing only South American styles. Disko, also believes that the classical music of India played a strong part in the development of Goa trance:
If you go some place where you have 10 tablas, six sitars, some woman is quotedsinging. After a while it goes so fast, you know you just suddenly fly, like a trip. The trance is not coming only from the Goa trance music; [it] is already there, everywhere. (p. 8)
Another international aspect of the Goa beach party scene was the variety of events. Disko (in Cole 1996c, p. 7) remembers one night with two completely different full moon parties on different beaches: one "electronic bom bom bom", the other "reggae, very cool". Disko's observations are supported by New Zealander, Ray Castle (in Cole 1996a, p. 7), who refers to German, Dutch, French and Swiss DJs in Goa, as well as to Goa Gil, an American. A few of these people were in Goa primarily to collect music from other DJs, musicians and party participants. The collecting and exchange of music was a central practice of the Goa trance community, as Ray Castle (p. 7-8) explains:
The freaks and the hippies used to collect the most mind-boggling psychedelic dance music they could find and bring it to India and play it at these parties, and we used to exchange this music......In the old days we used to call it "special music". It was very obscure and it was very hard to get your hands on. You were a real connoisseur or collector, and Goa was a kind of fraternity of obscure, weird psychedelic music collectors getting together, getting stoned, and getting off on the music; and sharing each other's music, exchanging it, copying it, and then making parties out of it.
The quest for "weird psychedelic music" was inspired and facilitated by the use of LSD, the drug which has become intimately linked to Goa trance parties. One of the extraordinary features of the Goa beach parties in their heyday was the usual availability of free "acid punch" (Castle, in Cole, 1996a; Chambers, 1996).
The process of absorbing unusual music from diverse international sources often had a liberating, mind-broadening impact on those involved. Steve Psyko (in Cole, 1996b, p. 3), for example, was inspired by the "innovative and strange music" of some Japanese musicians living opposite him in Goa, forcing him to reassess his musical aesthetic. Castle (1996a) has reinforced this idea, claiming that the international nature of Goa "flushed out parochial attitudes and tastes."
Particular tastes had, however, developed among the Goa trance DJs in the late 1980s, and these influenced the practices of preparing music for parties. Ray Castle (in Castle/DJ Krusty 1996a) has described the process of remixing tracks to make them more aesthetically suitable:
There were always too many insipid vocals, and often tracks were too short. So we used to use Sony walkmans--no DATs then --to cut up the track, edit it, and stitch it together in various versions to make custom Goa mega mixes for the party.
Until DAT machines became common in the early 1990s, the predominant method of playback was using cassette decks. Playing vinyl recordings was never a realistic practice in the heat of Goa as the vinyl would easily warp. Castle (in Cole, 1996a) remembers DJ "Sven Vath coming to Goa with all his records wanting to be the techno pope of India, but he couldn't do it" Castle advises that "you've got to adapt to tape decks and DAT machines to pull off these parties and play for eight hours."
Paul Chambers (1996), a British Goa Trance artist now based in Byron Bay , Australia, recalls that on his first visit to Goa in the 1985/86 party season that all the music was electronic. He recognised only a small selection: artists such as Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Dead or Alive, and Portion Control; the rest was unknown to him. He was particularly impressed by the rapid electro basslines in the tracks he heard, but when he returned to England in January 1986 he discovered that "the real Goa sound proved very elusive to find and hear [in England]. The nearest was on certain b-sides of 12 inch singles and dub mixes."
On his return to Goa in 1986/87 he discovered he recognised more of the music being played, but was still unfamiliar with most of it. In both these seasons he remembers the parties involving a maximum of 200 people. A typical party involved:
a PA, a few coloured lights, some black light, and occasionally some psychedelic banners, but not much. There was one dance floor and the music normally started around midnight. Local Indian ladies would set up mats to one side selling cakes, biscuits and chai. There were no police hassles at the parties, though there were many stories about police busting people for drugs and having to pay backsheesh (a bribe) to get away.
Ray Castle, who was to become one of the most influential Goa DJs, first went to Goa in 1987 as a partier, "dancing [his] head off". The following year he returned and did some DJing but he was more involved in "orchestrating" parties: choosing sites, hiring equipment, and finding people to do the artwork, the lighting and the DJing. He began to organise extended parties including one which went for three days and two nights with "non-stop doof" . In the 1989 season he did more DJing because he felt that some of the DJs he had used were not playing enough "challenging" music. The staging of the parties was very informal and spontaneous. Permission from the police was often secured by offering a little backsheesh of 50-100 rupees or some beer.(Castle, in Cole, 1996a, p 8)
The police, however, started to crack down on the parties in 1990, but the atmosphere relaxed briefly for the 1991/92 season, generally regarded as the last important year of Goa parties. Steve Psyko (in Cole, 1996b) sums up the situation:
When I was in Goa in 1991--that was one popular year-- there was a party every two days. There had been no parties for one or two years because of one or two problems with the police. Suddenly the parties were on again; everything was in full scale............suddenly the feeling became something that that everyone wanted to identify with.....Suddenly everyone wanted to identify with the feeling coming from Goa.
By this time the size of the parties had increased dramatically and had become even more international. Paul Chambers observed many Japanese and Israeli people, and estimated that the parties had between 500 to 1500 people and were held on average every three days. The parties were staged using "fluro light and some coloured globes, with some fluro banners" (Chambers, 1996). Both Chambers and Psyko (in Cole, 1996b, p. 7) have identified Ray Castle as the main DJ of the 1991/92 season. According to Chambers, Castle was involved in almost every second party, and the standard of the music being played was the best he had heard anywhere up to that time. Chambers decided to leave Goa, however, after the police closed down a big Ollie Wisdom party, causing a "widespread paranoia about police hassles" to develop.
Ray Castle (in Cole 1996a, p. 9) claims that the Goa party scene declined because it became too popular and too visible:
The authorities became embarrassed by it....it was getting slammed in the West, about it being a drug haven..and the Indian government were courting tourists and they wanted to bring more up-market tourists to Goa. It never really worked because Goa doesn't really have the infrastructure to entertain those people. The beach was a bit polluted; it was only good for the hippies and freaks. So they kept using the drug thing and other things, and political chaos; so that every second year the party's been off in Goa. And then the mafia moved in and wanted more backsheesh. It's more expensive to put on a party in Goa than it is in London or in any big city in the world now. It's lost it's innocence- the locals have become a bit perverted by the money.
International pressure was also a factor. Boyd (1996) cites a report that the "Israeli government put pressure on the Goa authorities to clamp down on the beach parties- it seems that a sizeable contingent of Israeli soldiers on R 'n' R in the area, returned home unfit for army service".
Apart from police intervention at parties, there were many reports of burglary, mugging and police harassment of the foreign visitors to the Goa trance scene.