Goa’s infamous trance raves are one of the many reasons thousands flock to the Indian state of Goa. Alex Wickham went to one.
The thick, oily smell of marijuana stagnating in the air was overpowered briefly but unmistakably by the acrid, chemical, yet almost chocolatey fumes of crack cocaine. A dreadlocked man who had a face like Keith Richards might if he had stopped holding back passed a makeshift crack pipe to a teenage European girl. She choked as she inhaled, and once again that deliciously poisonous vapour filled the room.
Goa’s infamous trance raves are an experience comparable to nothing you will find back home. Accosted by a smiling young nightclub promoter riding a scooter a few hours earlier, the easy availability of hard drugs soon became apparent. I expressed my doubts that the gram of “100% pure Columbian coke” my new toothy friend had promised me for £40 would be the real deal, only to be assured that unlike every other dealer in India’s party state, his gak was not cut with ketamine. A polite thanks-but-no-thanks later, I took his flyer and he pedalled off to find a more receptive customer.
I walked down the pitch black dirt track from the barely tarmacked main road down to Anjuna beach, fully expecting the party below to be amply supplied. This was supposed to be a decent rave, after all.
The terrain gradually improved from dusty clay to white sand and the distant beat of EDM drew nearer. Three minutes later and I had reached the beach to find an almost apocalyptic, yet utterly inviting, scene. Cloudless blood red skies, a black sea illuminated by moonlight, their natural beauty disturbed by green lasers shooting out from the shore. Locals who had sold saris by daylight were now handing out glow sticks and flashing devil horns. Stalls previously stocked with jewellery and miniature wooden elephants were bursting with cigarette cartons and cheap alcohol.
But the real sight to behold were the hundreds of revellers spilling out onto the sand. Wealthy Indian students who had travelled from Bombay and Delhi faced out into the sea with their arms outstretched and heads pointed upwards, deliriously worshipping the burning moon above. Broad-shouldered, wifebeater-clad Russians with soulless eyes pushed through the crowds drinking beer from bottles they looked like they couldn’t be trusted with. Mohawked, tattooed and topless fire eaters reincarnated the flame-throwing sideshow acts of their Hindu and Sadhu ancestors. Their tricks seemed all the more amazing to the visually-enhanced audience.
Then there were the scores of middle-aged British hippies who had never grown up and become accountants swaying out of time with the music, the years of LSD abuse horrifically evident on their cracked, broken faces. Some were accompanied by their young children, no older than three or four but dressed in bandanas and boho trousers, dancing wildly, high from the second hand smoke. Twenty-something westerners with dilated pupils harangued an elderly Goan woman selling psychedelic fabrics from the back of a bleary-eyed cow. A holy beast in India, the slurred “can we ride your cow, man?” from one American teenager was met with resignation as much as disapproval.
Still, I felt like I was only at the periphery of the party. What would the rumbling epicentre bring? The music was emanating from what appeared to be the back of an open warehouse at the top of the beach a few hundred metres along from where I was standing. Slowly I made my way across, stepping over the lifeless bodies of those who had done too much gear and were being comforted by friends. The bass was loud by now as I climbed the steep steps up to the warehouse.
Inside was complete mayhem. Despite the room spanning several hundred square metres, I could not move for flailing arms, contorted limbs and crashing elbows. Sweat poured from the pores of ravers who had long discarded their shirts due to the hot night air and their own artificially-increased temperatures. Bodies slammed together under the glare of giant neon flowers hanging from the roof. A huge image of Gandhi had been graffitied on the back wall in luminous spray paint; the reds, greens, blues and purples of his face watching as a few metres below the dreadlocked man again passed his crack pipe to the teenage European girl.
It was such a sensory assault that, momentarily, I had almost forgotten about the music. Hypnotic, coruscating rhythms pulsed around the room, bouncing off the walls and blasting out into the sea. Goa trance was the origin of psytrance, created by the hippies who travelled to India in the 1960s and who by the eighties were mixing in European dance music to forge a unique Goan style. In many ways it was even stronger a narcotic than any of the mind-expanding hallucinogens flowing around the room’s collective bloodstream.
Goa’s state government has introduced various laws imposing curfews on partygoers, vaguely ordering music venues to shut down by 11pm in an attempt to dilute its hedonistic reputation. This rave would continue well into the early hours, however; with no police for miles around, the state authorities make no attempt to enforce the law. The psytrance, moon-worship, fire eating, frenzied dancing, cow-baiting and crack smoking would not cease until sunrise.
Four entirely uneventful hours of which I can recall little detail later, your correspondent made his excuses and left.