let’s see. when we came in there was a huge number of brits and some rich indians and a few backpackers, still very few tranceheads. so it wasn’t entirely sure whether it would get to be a ‘good party,’ in the sense that the party would survive the morning and thus become magical. i met t- when it was starting to get light. he was sitting at the banyan tree with some japanese guys, and he said, after he’d seen that dark indian trancehead with long hair, isn’t it a coincidence, every time he decides to go party every so often, at that time, it turns out that the people he knows also go there. perfect telepathic timing. a good sign, he said, it’s going to be a great party, i don’t know but i’ve got a feeling, and he decided to take a quarter of a hofmann [LSD]. we smoked some chillum and joints and for sure, the israelis trickled in, they sat next to the bar on the right on two mats (i mean, two mat businesses) waiting patiently, like on new year, [this time] not really for the indians to disappear but for an adequate momentum, enough compatriots and other rave psychotics to claim the party.
The field notes were about an open-air party for tourists at a ground called Dolce Vita, in the Goan village called Anjuna.
Goa is known throughout the hip and cosmopolitan world as rave tourism Mecca. But why Anjuna, how did the music attract Europeans there? What’s with the Israelis, and Japanese avoiding Indians? What are ‘tranceheads,’ and why are they watching out for Israelis to turn up at the party? Why do they wait for Indians to leave? What does a ‘magical morning’ consist of? What is a ‘mat business’? How does ‘momentum’ of ravers come about?
And why were these notes written down in the first place? Why does a half-Belgian-half-Indian guy go study foreign ravers in some third-world village?
This sort of puzzlement forces a reassessment of what one knows. Anjuna’s music and drugs tourism is legendary and it is probably the only village in the third world that brought forth an own kind of electronic dance music, Goa trance, which is played at outdoor parties across the globe.
Goa trance makes a fascinating case study in cultural geography. It appeared shortly after house and techno music established themselves in the UK and other European countries around 1990, but the conditions for Anjuna’s trance scene go back to the early seventies.
The coastal village was ‘discovered’ by hippie travellers at a time when there was much interest in the mind-altering qualities of India. Although Goa is generally considered ‘less Indian’ by tourists because of 461 years of Portuguese colonial influence, the hippies eagerly took to its tranquil tropical beaches and tolerant locals.
By 1975 Anjuna was a secluded haven for a semi-resident community of hippies who could freely indulge in drugs, nude sunbathing, and all-night full-moon parties.
Music was always central to Anjuna’s tourism, but it was with Goa trance that it boomed. Goa’s festive image long attracted large numbers of domestic tourists too. Charter tourism from the UK and other European countries was consolidated at about the same time that Goa trance became available in large music stores in Europe, in 1995.
What began with Goa regulars simulating Anjuna’s parties in their home countries grew into a transnational underground rave/club scene, stretching from Tel Aviv to Stockholm, from Brasília to Cape Town. The excerpt above describes a key attraction in Anjuna’s music and drugs tourism: sunrise. This is when for many dancers the party only begins, in part because for others-mostly middle-class Indian tourists- it is the time to leave.
At this particular party, Dolce Vita was unusually charging an entry fee, hence there were hardly any Indian tourists. In fact, it was probably deliberate policy to limit their number. This is because the hard core of party revellers, who stay in Anjuna for months, would rather there was just them and the local women selling tea at the parties.
In the perception of this hard core, charter tourists and especially domestic tourists lack an affective connection to Goa trance, LSD, personal style, and budget traveling. Ravers like T. are almost obsessed with protocol and with making the party just right.
They are quite serious about what Goa means to them: a place to be transformed in. Domestic tourists are not there to transform themselves and are therefore unwelcome. What the experienced ravers do (unlike the mostly British charter tourists and backpackers) is wait on the mats supplied by the local women, until dawn makes the Indians leave.
I felt this segregation. It was what annoyed and frightened me, and it was what spurred me on.
I realize now, some years later, that my thinking on race was at the very least accelerated through the intensities of the ethnographic fieldwork I was doing for my PhD. I wanted to make sense of what I encountered.
What I have been trying to find out since then is what sort of theoretical vocabulary is needed to make sense of situations like the above, of racism when it’s not supposed to be there. Race is to be understood in the flesh, in between things, as vague and continually changing. It turns out that making sense of Anjuna needed some new concepts, and a theoretical reconsideration of race itself. So, why Anjuna? To form new concepts.
2. Psychedelic whiteness
It is by observing the event of a party as something fully physical that I could appreciate the segregation of the morning. Nobody likes to talk about it, and hardly anyone has described it in writing.
What matters is not the representations of an event, but its actual unfolding. I had to be there, among other bodies, checking what they were doing, what they did with mats and chillums (traditional Indian hash pipes) and trees and the Goa trance flowing through the landscape. I had to find out where they were sitting and dancing, how their appearances differed, why they were looking at each other all the time.
What is it that gave ravers’ bodies ‘momentum’? Three conditions: that they were dancing and on drugs-a question of the embodiments of rave tourism; that they cared about looks and who was around them-a question of familiar faces; and that their skin color betrayed where they come from, by and large rich countries such as the UK, Japan, Israel, and Germany-a question of locations. Embodiment, face, and location are three theoretical principles that structure my materialist understanding of race.
A fourth concept that I would like to introduce, and perhaps the most salient one, is viscosity.
Viscosity enables a rigorous grasping of social spaces by putting the dynamic physicality of human bodies and their interactions at the forefront of analysis. In basic terms, viscosity pertains to two dimensions of a collective of bodies: its sticking together, and its relative impermeability.
At that Dolce Vita party, at 8 a.m. on January 6, 2000, there was a viscosity of predominantly white ravers. They stuck together in time and space because they all saw each other regularly, smoked chillum together, danced to Goa trance, wore flashy clothing, and had money to spend on LSD and Ecstasy. Others, especially domestic tourists, weren’t habituated to all this; they didn’t have the cultural or economic resources to join in.
When the sun came up, most Indians felt visible and out of place between so many white bodies. The denser the collective, the more difficult to cut through it: these are the two dimensions of viscosity. There is no downright exclusion; Israeli and Japanese bodies might be more ambivalently white than Germans or Canadians.
Still, the net effect is that there is a strong tendency of dancers to be lighter-skinned, tanned, cool-looking. Therefore, the observable fact that the Indians leave is a contingent effect of music, subcultural rules, mutual stereotypes, economic inequality, and differential experiences with drugs.
The problem is why viscosity of white bodies comes about in Anjuna. After all, Goa is popularly known as a former hippie hangout-isn’t it all peace and love, aren’t those backpackers and ravers really into India, is Goa trance not the most cosmopolitan of electronic dance musics?
Why would a white microcosm be re-created if the whole point of going to India and Goa is adventure, escape, becoming different? My concept of ‘psychedelic whiteness’ attempts to explain how it is that Euro-American countercultural experimentations with music, drugs, and travel can coexist with the reinstatement of where one is coming from, of who one is.
Young whites are in Anjuna seemingly to sample and develop a lifestyle quite different from what they’re used to, but the way they do this betrays the limits of their escape and rebellion; that is, by virtue of being tourists in an exotic place, recognizably different and wealthy in a poor country, they contribute to the inertia of old racial divisions. Studying the parties in Anjuna will pave the way to an understanding of whiteness that stresses its inherent capacity to spread, change itself, and become unexpectedly viscous.
Read the entire essay here.