The DJ booth for the 95–6 New Year’s Eve Confest bash was a lean-to bark and stick humpy propped around the base of a glorious river gum tree . This was “back in the day”, when it was all still just dance music with a ‘trancey twisted feel’ to it. As long as the music worked in the moment anything could happen – and it usually did. Eight pm till ten am, with two DJ’s – Jet More (aka Special K in those days) and me, Krusty, plus one live act – Sugar, guiding the entire 14-hour journey. Two small speaker stacks and a few more speakers out the back was the entire sound system for the 1500 strong crowd.
And what a night it was! Robin Mutoid was in full force with a VW Bug sculpture in the middle of the dancefloor with flames jettisoning out over people as they let it all go. A huge Aboriginal Flag was at the back with a smiley face for the yellow sun with a naked aboriginal man playing didj underneath it… Whoosh… the flamethrower ignited the flag and up it went … Later it was settled with the indigenous crew that this was not an act of blasphemy but of prophecy, because society no longer needed to follow flags…
It was a wild cross-sectioned crowd with naked people covered in mud, sophisticated international backpackers, grey-haired hippie hooligans and NYE reveller local boy hoons, amongst others. We were held mesmerised by the sparkling dawn when a giant flaming DNA spiral lit up, and the smiling dancefloor deep in the trancedance zone gently grooved away, punters watching idly as a grass fire started to blaze out of control…
Being a hot dry Aussie summer, the smoke billowed hundreds of feet into the air within minutes… What to do? It was so cute watching the lil’ raver kids earnestly fill their water bottles in the nearby swamp and then rush over to try to put out the blaze with no more than a cupful of water… I remember spending a few dazed minutes trying to select the perfect ‘fire’ track to go with the new theme that had just entered our space. Finally we pulled out the generator water pump we had been using to spray the dancefloor and got the flame out… As one toothless old codger chortled: “only the forces of mother nature could break the spell of the trance”…
The island continent of Australia has had an intimate relationship to dance with the indigenous people of the land stomping on the earth for over 60,000 years. My understanding is that this geomantic practice set up a resonant frequency across the continent which is still active today, and thus offers a totally unique opportunity for the modern trance-dance-entheogen experience – or as we call them now, “bush doofs”.
Much has been said of the TAZ [the Temporary Autonomous Zone concept coined by anarchist philosopher Hakim Bey] within the Bush Doof context. From its inception in the early 90s, with the ‘shock of the new’, the good ol’ Bush Doof has been part of the alternative Australian music/dance/art cultures. It’s also become a natural space for entheogenic practice to flourish. as the Stone Age meets the Space Age. As the art form of the doof grew in its uniquely Australian way, the events became more refined and successful in creating what one might loosely call a ‘saturated-entheogen-interactive-circus-gathering’.
Entheogens are defined as psychoactive substances which induce an altered state of consciousness, providing the user with a mystical or spiritual experience – even if used in a secular context. Through the ritual ingestion of these vision-producing drugs, both natural and artificial, people can work with these substances to induce alterations in their own being: namely, consciousness expansion and development. The idea is that the individual ingests the entheogen because it is responsible for "evoking the divine within". Culturally these substances have figured in shamanic or religious rites for tens of thousands of years, with trace elements of plant sacraments surviving with fossilised human remains. It is within this modern reclamation of direct divinity that we find the manifestation and the possibility of the utopian experience, no matter how ephemeral this may be.
Within the trancedance event – with or without the aid of induced chemicals – participants can experience a very popular, accessible and relatively safe structured mechanism for the individual to obtain the so-called “shamanic vision”. In my many years as an electronic and dance music DJ I have seen people get together to trip enmass at bush doofs, usually in a spontaneous and playful way. The modern global ritual of people dancing around an electronic sound system for long periods of time is really an archaic revival of an altered state of consciousness. Moreover, the Rave, Dance and Techno/ Trance Cultures [and the evolving mutations thereof] represents the primary way of Western ‘youth’ culture to interface with the shamanic vision.
The Shamanic Experience
So what is the shamanic vision, experience or quest? It is moving into an altered state of consciousness beyond the very dense three dimensions that we normally exist in. It means having an intention to journey into other worlds, to experience those worlds, map those places, expand ones own consciousness and to learn from these experiences. When an individual participates in the shamanic vision it does not mean they then become a shaman. To become a shaman is a much bigger undertaking and denotes a person using their knowledge, skills and techniques to heal the tribe. It is a responsibility that is bestowed upon select individuals via heredity, being chosen or an inner call. No matter the circumstance of origin, the shaman will spend a lifetime working on the path of the mystical healer, not simply dancing all night to trance-inducing loud music.
However a new type of shamanism is now emerging across the global spectrum, practised by people who wish to reconnect to the nature they feel so disconnected from. With over 50% of the world now living in huge concrete, steel and electronic cities, the psychic pressure has spawned a drive within the human mechanism to balance our isolation. Reconnecting with the cosmic rhythms of nature, with the mother earth, or “Gaia” [as biologist James Lovelock famously coined the concept of the whole earth bio-organism] is imperative. And the best way people know how to let go and move beyond the confines of the industrialised mind is within dance. Through these all-night trancedance experiences millions of people involved in global dance culture are finding themselves having powerful shamanic experiences… So where is all this leading?
The main aim of the average person within global dance culture is not to become a shaman themselves, but to safely enter the trancedance ritual or party, more than likely consume some intoxicating mind expanding chemical and dance all night within the sacred space of the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ environment). The dancer not only wishes to be able to let their consciousness split and fly into the cosmic realms, they are, most importantly, anxious for their psyche and spirit to land safely back in their bodies, ready for work on Monday morning. The action of the dance itself anchors the body to the earth and as long as one keeps dancing throughout the psychedelic experience, no matter how problematic or blissful the trip may become, all can be managed. After six, 12 or even 24 hours of dancing an individual can integrate the shamanic visionary experience safely back with their normal consciousness. This is the ‘classical’ bush doof journey: one that takes the individual dancer from normality, through the splitting of the psyche on the entheogenic trip and into the mind expanding space or even further out of body, before finally returning fully back into the self and the body construct.
For most people associated with trance culture they have a ‘few good years’ in them and after that they really only attempt the full psychedelic shamanic experience once maybe twice a year. This is because the power of the experience, when performed en mass with a large dance floor such as a warehouse or outdoor field, is so profound that it takes an individual a long time to integrate the experience back into their day-to-day lives. It is my personal feeling that the integration is the key to the psychedelic shamanic or trip experience. What I mean by this is that whether it is a good, great, or bad trip, this is only half the equation. The other half is the post-trancedance phenomenon of trying to make sense of what happened and mapping this experience into one’s daily reality. Does one dismiss it as mere hedonism? Or does one contemplate and integrate the experience into being a real and nurtured aspect of their whole being?
It is not easy to find a dialogue with something that is ‘beyond linguistics’. I have personally noted that when most bush doofers gather to chat with friends in a comfortable and supported setting, they will eventually start to recount in detail their personal psychedelic experiences. These stories will often be very vivid and quite wild and tell of fantastic connections between the mind and the natural world. Such as: “waves of rainbow light pumping out of the speaker systems”; or “imagining lightning and then a huge bolt flashing over the dance floor”; “seeing the fabric structures of space”; “feeling the trauma of a parent lock in their gut, keel over, and throw up” and then dance the pain away; or “seeing into the future and making a decision” that then effects their life for the positive”; synchronicity; etc…
One must not be distracted with fear when one comes to confront ones own demons or angels, for both the heaven and hell realms can open up on the dance floor. This cathartic experience is not for the feint hearted and requires what in shamanic terms is called the warrior spirit archetype. This is when an individual chooses to journey out beyond their normal consciousness and meet the spirit realm, and when they do this they must do so with humble spiritual intention, conviction and power.
The trancedancer who stays with the trip and journeys with the techno music through the psychedelic experience will experience a rebirth, an reaffirmation of the self as a being of the cosmos, absolutely connected to and a real part of nature. This has been variously referred to as: the utopian, godhead, beyond linguistics, singularity - experience, a direct moment of all as one, a spiritual high, etc. It is the very powerful revelation of the true self that so many people consciously or unconsciously are searching for, and it is what the initial Bush Doof experience here in Australia was all about.
However, this original central tenet of the divine intention has slipped away into obscurity, and is now overshadowed by a “male dominance energy structure”: the compulsive obsessive pursuit of contemporary values – success, fortune, fame, sex, power – which are globally out of balance and soul destroying for humanity. Consequently the soul of your average doof reflects this paradigm and, in my opinion, has evaporated totally from the original trancedance entheogenic experience.
The Changing Nature of Doof
During the experimental stages of development (especially the early Goa years from 1992-2002) the bush doof seemed to naturally or magically just come together… The utopian visionary experience seemed to just happen when a number of disparate elements were drawn together in symphony to produce a single ‘magical’ experience. This ephemeral ‘magic’ is what the good ol’ Aussie bush doof has really always been about – with many participants claiming astounding, even life changing experiences.
Now, approximately 15 years later, the bush doof seems to be lacking in the intention or ability to create the real ‘magic moment’ and manifest the ‘utopian vision’ experience everybody has paid their money and spent their energy to experience. In my opinion it is the invisible attractor, the glue that holds it all together that has changed.
This concept or idea of something ‘missing’ has been raised by many of the old timers that experienced the full power of that first wave of doof. From my perspective the bush doof as an entheogenic art form or psychedelic / shamanic utopian visionary experience had peaked and had now oscillated back to the other end of the spectrum – outside the realm of this so called utopian vision. And like all oscillations the pendulum will swing back to rise again in some new form of creative cultural expression.
Thus after talking about it for a few years, I decided to try something new, which brought about the creation of the Experimental Shamanic Trancedance, Sacred Plant and Sound System Workshop. It was time to move beyond discussing possibilities to create an experiment for the future of the dancefloor here in Australia.
The Future is Archaic
The purpose of ritual is to wear you out, to grind down your defences so that the participant falls open to the transcendent experience.
- Joseph Campbell
The paradigm for the experiment was to create something experientially new, drawing upon fundamental aspects from previous bush doofs and entheogenic visionary practice. Participants were asked to prepare for a full consciousness seven-hour trancedance event and to bring a focused, mindful spiritual dimension to the gathering on all levels. The overall intention was for participants to gain something positive, and to potentially have a profound healing from the workshop as well as to develop new insights into the dancefloor experience that could later be documented and discussed.
We began preparation for the experiment many weeks before when we chose the location for the dancefloor: It was situated at Manyana, a beautiful eco-arts retreat deep in the Aussie bush, in a relatively flat space circled by trees and near mains 240 volt power and toilets. We did some smudging, prayers and blessings with the space when we first arrived; this was the shamanic aspect of the experiment and would be the overarching practice employed throughout the whole workshop.
The following day we created a mandala of circles. The innermost was for a ‘sacred’ fire pit about four metres across that we ritually lit. Next was the outer, circle, where we dug a five centimetre trench and placed four strands of multi-coloured rope lighting to mark the edge of the sacred space within. Next at the cardinal points on the next circle, slightly further out, we placed four flamethrower fire towers. Six speaker stacks were also placed evenly along the edge. Finally, at the outer most circle we erected eight pure white long horizontal banners at head height. It gave the space a neutral but visible boundary, without detracting from the open bush setting.
Behind one of these banners we placed a small tent / DJ booth, so that its existence was completely ‘forgotten’ and inconspicuous to the people on the dancefloor. Finally at the base of a large gum tree that was on the edge of the outer circle we placed a shrine. The shrine contained religious, pagan, Wicca, shamanic icons and objects, and people were asked to contribute if they wished. Creating a shrine space is something I have done since my very first event. I believe it consecrates the space as being sacred, making it a safe place for people to have altered states of consciousness.
I asked all participants to be there from the very beginning of the workshop experiment, so that we could all be focused on the journey together. I call this the “lock ‘n’ load” principal. Each of the principal artists/technicians involved in conducting the workshop were introduced and said a few words on what their involvement and intention was. I felt this to be integral, so that the participants felt connected to every aspect and component of the event, and had a map or paradigm from which to journey.
Next a shamanic, earth-based ceremony was conducted to create a sacred dance floor space, whereby all workshop participants became co-creators of the workshop through the shared ritual experience. This was facilitated when we all participated in something similar to an indigenous gum leaf smoking ceremony. A small fresh gum leafed branch was placed in the fire by each individual who offered their own prayers, blessings and personal statements of intention for the journey. The elements of fire, water, earth and air were then invoked and acknowledged, in order to directly connect with nature.
People then ritually ingested their sacred plant sacraments. The principle here was to honour and experiment with the symbiosis of entheogen plant intelligence that enters our ‘normal’ human system and then opens us up to ‘new’ potentialities. We all have an ancestral heritage of working with entheogen ‘teacher’ plants and their potentials are available to us as humans. A large vat of chai psilocybe cubensis tea was available for participants to gently imbibe as the ambient electronic music softly began, inviting people to lightly enter the trancedance.
Over the first two hours the music slowly built in rhythm and tempo as everybody began to synch-in. The experiment was conducted with a full active six-way surround sound system. During this period of the workshop we balanced each of the ten speakers separately, each through an individual channel on the mixing desk. Once we were able to perfectly balance the volume and equalization for each speaker in relation to all the others the precise circular dance floor became a ‘pure’ space where sound and people became ‘magically’ and equally distributed throughout the space. This meant there was no front or back to the circular dancefloor, just the inner sacred fire and the outer circle rope light edge.
This high-end level of sound system technical wizardry provided the workshop with a very cutting-edge opportunity to experience full spectrums of sound and music frequency without it being loud. The trancedancers bodies were bathed in a full immersion of surround sound that could penetrate deep into their system, causing the dancers whole cellular and energetic structure to vibrate along with the music. The dancefloor was filled with the sounds and beats drawn from the history of psychedelic trance and electronic dance music over the last fifteen years. It was a trancedance musical journey that covered a very wide selection from the various techno dance music genres.
The language of music is a language of light and it communicates to us like no other medium can. The music chosen for the workshop was all about what would work best for the journey and was a major part of the experiment. The idea was to create a trancedance soundtrack where each track was intellectually, emotionally, thematically and stylistically linked to the track(s) before it, but also moved the dancefloor to a new musical and dance moment or page. These tracks or pages would then make up a chapter and these chapters then made up the entire journey story. All the music was pre selected and mixed in 30 – 45 min sections like would happen at a normal dance workshop event. So for those who were fortunate enough to have experienced the entire journey it really was an amazing anthropological electronic musical moment.
The challenge for participants was to move their bodies throughout the space with new and exciting physical movements. Gabrielle Roth, a shamanic trancedance teacher, identifies life as a wave and the dance coming from the wave and being in the wave. She expresses the dance patterns of: staccato, flow, lyrical, chaos and stillness as aspects in the dance and each of these was explored by the participants. As the music built into hard psy-trance the dancing became more energetic, with the aim of pushing the participants physical endurance and their inner boundaries further. The aim was to reach a space within the self, so that the dance becomes a dance of reverence, a celebration of existence, of life, of being, of nature, of the sunset (that was happening), of the elements and to experience the awe of consciousness itself.
It was at this point of the trancedance journey that the doorway to the Utopian Shamanic Vision became apparent. It was an opportunity for participants to be both well grounded within their bodies and fully in the dance, while also journeying to other dimensions. Working in this way with sound, dance, trance states, plants and theatrical ritual provided all of us at the workshop with a unique opportunity to meet our ego, pass through its constructs, voyage into the subconscious and enter into the higher-self states of consciousness. Ultimately this was the intention/aim/goal of the workshop – to connect all the way back to the creator source – where all is One, and bring back the ‘elixir’ of the Shamanic Utopian Vision and integrate that experience into ones life and community.
I loosely based the overall seven-hour trancedance event on Joseph Campbell’s treatise on the Hero’ Journey. Starting at home in the ordinary world, the hero (workshop participant) has a willingness to undertake the ordeal or a call to adventure. Then they enter the special world (dancefloor), endure tests (physical dance) and meet allies and enemies (self-reflection, psychedelic experience), approaches the inmost cave to face more challenges and ordeals and death (of the ego/surrender). Only then does the hero find just reward, return or resurrection, return with the elixir or magical item (utopian vision/awe/singularity/living in heart) and grounds the experience (returning to the real world). I felt this template or pattern laid perfectly over our workshop and provided a universal structure that really worked.
So what happened at the workshop? There were over 130 participants and even though many people journeyed way beyond their bodies there were no casualties and everybody stayed well grounded in the dance. Due to the seven-hour journey and being a Sunday night not everyone was able to stay for the entire length of the experiment, however nobody reported fatigue, which I thought would be a major issue. There was feedback such as:
“Best doof… ever…”
“The best dance floor experience I have ever had!”
“My heart exploded open… for hours!”
“When can we do another one?”
From my perspective, each of the above elements came together synchronistically and the ‘magic’ did happen. However it was the theatrical aspects that really took me by surprise and lifted the workshop to be really something eventful. Such things as the rotating fire strobe towers; the theatrical lighting mood changes at specific moments for specific parts of the journey; theatrical tricks such as flares, smoke and purple coloured flames in the fire, etc, kept the euphoria lifting and lifting. The central fire pit was phenomenal and it is hard to quantify and gauge exactly why this worked so successfully… but it did! Maybe it’s because humans have danced around fires for eons and a return to this practice invoked an ancient, deep wisdom tradition that we all were able to associate with.
What I realised months after the workshop was that by creating a circular sacred space with a circular fire in the middle a toroid was created – which happens to be a fundamental creation pattern of the universe, so like the fractal itself it replicates the pattern constantly. I’m not sure what this all means, but it could mean that the humans and the space synched in perfect harmonic balance. The tribal gathering element was amazing and the energy and healing intention everybody brought to the space was quite phenomenal. The group of like-minded people participating in this workshop was quite exceptional. It seemed everybody left their egos at the door and became selfless in the act of the workshop.
In conclusion, I think that the future of the bush doof lies with a synthesis of many of the old elements plus some new concepts that are being practiced in the New Age: no drugs trancedance events, plus some real visionary artistic intention, knowledge of craft and experimentation. Psychedelic / shamanic art has always flourished on the edge, because that is the natural realm the ‘teacher plant’ takes the participant to – if the participant listens to the teaching. I feel the bush doof is not currently honouring or understanding this fundamental imperative and consequently the doof no longer has the edge and no longer contains the utopian experience so fundamental to the health of the human psyche.
As one luminary has commented: “How is it that we have become so closed-minded about opening our minds?”