“Trance” formation of music in the port city of Goa, India

In this piece, written for Erasmus University Rotterdam’s Port Cities class (offered at the University of Barcelona), GLOCAL V student Anika Shahjabin discusses the evolution of Goa trance music. 

Source: https://www.mushroom-magazine.com/goa-trance/

“Goa trance is more than a music, it’s a more ritualistic and introspective type of music made for high hippies.”

DJ Goa Gil, one of the pioneers of Goa Trance

Sitting on the west coast of India, attracting almost 2.6 million tourists a year[1], Goa is the birthplace of psychedelic trance music, now known as ‘Goa Trance’- among many other things making the city ‘not-so-Indian’. The genre characterized by ‘unexpected sounds, weirder textures, shifts in moods’ [2], Goa trance in reality is so much beyond that. It is the entire culture surrounding it- storyline progression with a hint of Eastern melodies[3] lasting into the morning, accompanied by light transitions[4], communal dancing, oriental decorations, and tea (Chai), and drug consumption[5]. The culture started taking shape when Hippies started flocking to Anjuna beach[6] following the ‘Hippie Trail’- through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, finally resting in India[7]. It makes one think- Why Goa? Why did the hippies consider this location in an otherwise conservative India, to be an ideal place for cultural exchange[8]? What set it apart from the techno scenes of Tokyo, Chicago, New York, and Ibiza[9]?. These are the questions I will try to answer here. Although originated from American values of escapism, adventure, and otherness[10] and popularized by European travellers, Goa trance bears witness to how intercultural relationships and exchanges can usher in new subcultures[11]. Among many other factors, Goa’s availability of drugs, religion, natural landscape, and cosmopolitanism favoured the development of trance music in this former Portuguese trading post.

Drug network

One unique characteristic of Goa Trance is the use of samples[12]– the name ‘Psychadelic trance’ partially refers to the use of psychoactive compounds[13]. Committed to escaping regularity and normative mind states[14] and yielding to ‘dreamlike, aleatory, comical, exotic and primitive drives of surrealism’[15], the hippies resorted to drugs like (LSD)[16] and Goa, sitting at the gates of Golden Crescent and offering drugs at a cheaper price and low regulations[17], became a paradise for them. Previously Goa port was instrumental in the Opium trade[18], but it is the arrival of hippies that popularized it as a transhipment point for Southeast Asia, Africa, and Europe, politically backed by Russian and Israeli druglords[19] , and 70% of trade occurred through maritime routes[20]. This free flow made attending Goa parties synonymous with drug consumption, with 8 out of 10 partygoers using illegal drugs according to a 2011 study[21]. In the formative era, the sound, samples, and various frequencies of trance music were forged to be enjoyed in its optimum state under the influence of LSD[22]. Simultaneously, LSD’s neurochemistry amplified the melodies, while keeping the bodies energètic on dance floors for hours without hunger or thirst[23]. The music transformed with the preferences and practices of Acidheads- from modern classics to techno tracks from Europe and America[24].


Hippies’ interest in the ‘mystiques’ of oriental spirituality[25] grew when scriptures of Hinduism and Buddhism started circulating in 1960s and 70s, offering alternative spiritual conscience[26]and a higher understanding of self and universe[27]-India being an ‘Idea and place’ that shaped ‘New Age’[28]. Hence, many flocked to temples and Ashrams to learn meditation and yoga[29], adopted Bodhisattva[30] or Brahmanic ‘Cosmic Spirit’[31], started líving in caves with Sadhus and Yogis[32], some of them becoming Shadhus[33] themselves since these practices elevated them to the same altered state of consciousness as LSD had hitherto created for them[34]. The melodies, dance forms, and decorations of Goa trance reflect remnants of these spiritual expeditions- textual and visual byproducts like the symbol ‘Om’ or ‘Moksha’[35], Hindu shrines in front of DJ stands[36], luminously painted faces, and jungles derived from Holi festival[37], etc. For a commoner, Trance dance seems nothing short of ancient shamanic practices[38]– dancers moving in a circular motion like a communal, interactive, and transpersonal ritual[39]– some calling it a “modern path of spiritual development and growth”[40], while DJ Goa Gil calls it “redefinition of ancient tribal ritual for the 21st century”[41]. With a seemingly gross exoticization and commodification of religion, the Sadhus and pandits themselves subverted and re-appropriated many stereotypes for econòmic or subcultural gains[42]– ultimately getting ingrained in trance performances.


Emphasis on the connectedness to nature, although rooted in the use of drugs[43], made Goa the gestation grounds for Hippi’s philosophy[44]. Parties were usually held in a natural ambiance[45]– sunny tropical beaches ideal for settling in[46], forest, mountainous plains, or fields[47]. The storyline of these parties evolved around natural elements- early night referred to as ‘Earth’, dawn as ‘Water’, and morning as ‘Ether’[48]. Different genres are played at different times- solar energy believed to transcend towards a realm full of purposes and promises[49]creates fraternities by making the bodies visible, hence it is welcomed by happy and cheerful melodies[50]. Under the influence of LSD, time is not measured by watches, but rather by the sun and body energy. As the sun rises and the LSD wears off, that is when the party wanes[51]. The waves of the ocean allow the ravers to enter a ‘state of flow’; simultaneously, the combination of the natural landscape and apocalyptic soundscapes gives a sense of euphoria, joy, and empathy[52]. There is also a certain degree of eco-friendliness among the partygoers[53] since they believe in the “sacralization of nature”[54]. Whether for sustainability issues or artistic inspiration, the natural settings of Goa were pivotal for Trance’s music development.


Going through several stages of globalization from the occupation of Muslims to the 400-year long colonization by the Portuguese[55], Goans were well-accustomed to the whiteness and the Christian ethics of privacy, when the hippies arrived. It was one of the few places in India where they could live far from religious extremities[56], walk around naked, or party all night without any intrusion[57]– ascribing Anjuna with the title Nude Paradise[58]. The parties represented a symbiotic relationship between locals and foreigners- secluded venues, villagers selling Chai, snacks, or cigarettes there- making them feel at home[59]. Locals were ‘laid-back’ with the music experimentations and drugs brought in by the westerners[60] in contact zones like flea Markets, beach shacks, and restaurants[61]. For its cultural identification through music[62] and history of combining Latin, Portuguese, and Konkani styles in solfeggio[63], Goans were quite receptive to western music too with live performers playing music from 40 different countries[64]. Despite some initial resistance against techno, even a local rock band was formed[65]. Two major points can be attributed to this perceived cosmopolitanism. Firstly, it was economically advantageous to earn from these parties[66], become ‘friends and business partners’ of hippies[67], own rave clubs, or coalesce with police and drug rings[68]. Secondly, it might be a manifestation of the Goans’ deep-rooted inferiority[69] resulting from a long period of colonial subjugation[70]. Beyond these reasons, the welcoming nature of natives paved the way for the spontaneous development of Goa Trance.

Goa offered the optimum atmosphere for a subculture like Goa Trance to foster. On one hand, access to drug networks, religion, and nature provided formative elements to the music, aesthetics, and performances, on the other hand, the amicability of natives, albeit for economic gains and path dependency, provided a platform for artists to experiment and explore different genres without much resistance. Setting aside the debate on ‘Freaking Whiteness’ of Goa Trance[71], for the domination of western artists[72] – resembling ‘cultural imperialism’[73], or ‘re-colonization’ [74] , there is no doubt that Goa, as a port, community and city, directly or indirectly, shaped the developmental and diffusion path of Trance Music.


[1] Ranjeeta Basu and Mtafiti Imara, ‘From the Perspective of Musicians in Goa: How Has Tourism Changed Music Culture?’, J. of Tourism and Hospitality Management 2, no. 9 (28 September 2014): 348, https://doi.org/10.17265/2328-2169/2014.09.001.

[2] Nandita Potnis, ‘Goa Trance: Where Did It Come From, Where Did It Go?’, Entertainment, BingeDaily, accessed 28 March 2022, https://www.bingedaily.in/article/goa-trance-where-did-it-come-from-where-did-it-go.

[3] Arun Saldanha, ‘Music Tourism and Factions of Bodies in Goa’, Tourist Studies 2, no. 1 (1 April 2002): 46, https://doi.org/10.1177/1468797602002001096.

[4] Toni Aittoniemi, ‘Cultural and Musical Dimensions of Goa Trance and Early Psychedelic Trance in Finland’ (Masters Degree Thesis, April 2012), 26, Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies.

[5] Saldanha, ‘Music Tourism and Factions of Bodies in Goa’, 46.

[6] Anjuna is a village located on the coast of North Goa, India

[7] Simone Krüger and Ruxandra Trandafoiu, The Globalization of Musics in Transit: Music Migration and Tourism, 2013, 168–70.

[8] Aittoniemi, ‘Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies’, 28–30.

[9] Arun Saldanha, ‘Trance and Visibility at Dawn: Racial Dynamics in Goa’s Rave Scene’, Social & Cultural Geography 6, no. 5 (October 2005): 707–21, https://doi.org/10.1080/14649360500258328.

[10] Leandros Kyriakopoulos, ‘Performing Euphoric Cosmopolitanism: The Aesthetics of Life and Public Space in Psytrance Phantasmagoria’, Journal of Greek Media and Culture 5, no. 1 (1 April 2019): 69–92, http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.gla.ac.uk/10.1386/jgmc.5.1.69_1.

[11] Victoria Bizzell, ‘“Ancient + Future = Now”: Goa Gil and Transnational Neo-Tribalism in Global Rave Culture’, Comparative American Studies An International Journal 6, no. 3 (1 September 2008): 285, https://doi.org/10.1179/147757008X330168.

[12] Francisco C. Colaco, ‘The Sounds of Music: From Ghumott and Violin to Trance’, Marg, A Magazine of the Arts (The Marg Foundation, 1 December 2012).

[13] Krüger and Trandafoiu, The Globalization of Musics in Transit, 175.

[14] Arun Saldanha, ‘The Molecular Revolution’, in Psychedelic White: Goa Trance and the Viscosity of Race, 1st ed. (Minneapolis, UNITED STATES: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 18, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gla/detail.action?docID=328395.

[15] Kyriakopoulos, ‘Performing Euphoric Cosmopolitanism’, 75.

[16] Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was popularized in the 1960s by individuals such as psychologist Timothy Leary, who encouraged American students to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” This created an entire counterculture of drug abuse and spread the drug from America to the rest of the world- ‘The History of LSD – Acid, Albert Hoffman & Timothy Leary – Drug-Free World’, Foundation for a Drug-Free World, accessed 8 April 2022, https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/lsd/a-short-history.html.

[17] Christopher B Larkin, ‘Turn on, Tune in, and Trance Out’ (Thesis, Lewis and Clark College, 4 May 2003), 28, http://www.goagil.com/Larkin%20Thesis.pdf.

[18] TNN, ‘Where Everybody Knows Who the Drug Peddler Is’, Newspaper, The Times of India, 15 November 2013, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/where-everybody-knows-who-the-drug-peddler-is/articleshow/25794516.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst.

[19] Colaco, ‘The Sounds of Music’.

[20] Sandeep Unnithan, Mihir Srivasteva, and Bhavna Vij-Aurora, ‘Goa: Sex & Mafia on Cocaine Coast’, India Today, India Today, 8 November 2010, https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/cover-story/story/20101108-goa-sex-mafia-on-cocaine-coast-744599-2010-10-29.

[21] Tina Van Havere et al., ‘Drug Use and Nightlife: More than Just Dance Music’, Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy 6, no. 1 (December 2011): 7, https://doi.org/10.1186/1747-597X-6-18.

[22] Larkin, ‘Turn on, Tune in, and Trance Out’, 32.

[23] Saldanha, ‘Trance and Visibility at Dawn’, 718.

[24] Emília Simão, Armando Malheiro da Silva, and Sérgio Tenreiro de Magalhães, eds., Exploring Psychedelic Trance and Electronic Dance Music in Modern Culture: (IGI Global, 2015), 188, https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-4666-8665-6.

[25] Sydney Schelvis, ‘The Transcultural Travel of Trance Culture’ (University of Amsterdam), 10537899, accessed 8 April 2022, https://www.academia.edu/37653075/The_transcultural_travel_of_trance_culture.

[26] James Mackay and David Stirrup, eds., ‘Indian Spirit: Amerindians and the  Techno-Tribes of Psytr Ance’, in Tribal Fantasies, 1st ed. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan US, 2013), 190, https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137318817.

[27] Sebastian Chan, ‘MUSIC(OLOGY) NEEDS A CONTEXT – Re-Interpreting Goa Trance’, Perfect Beat 3, no. 4 (5 October 2015): 95, https://doi.org/10.1558/prbt.v3i4.28742.

[28] Krüger and Trandafoiu, The Globalization of Musics in Transit, 168–70.

[29] Bishnu Saikia, ‘Goa Trance a Convergence’ (PHD thesis, Gauhati, University of Gauhati, 2018), chap. 2, https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/handle/10603/235099?mode=full.

[30] Wandering Buddha

[31] Dr Juao C Costa, ‘Tiatr: A New Form of Entrepreneurship in Goa – Problems and Prospects’ 1 (2016): 5.

[32] Graham St John, ed., Rave Culture and Religion, 1st ed. (London: Routledge, 2003), 265, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203507964.

[33] Hindu Aescetics and holy men

[34] Bizzell, ‘“Ancient + Future = Now”’, 283.

[35] Giorgio Gristina, ‘From Goa to Rabin Square: Notes for a Research on the Uses and Meanings of Psychedelic Trance Music and Parties in Israel’, Etnográfica. Revista Do Centro Em Rede de Investigação Em Antropologia, no. vol. 23 (1) (1 February 2019): 231, https://doi.org/10.4000/etnografica.6557.

[36] Colaco, ‘The Sounds of Music’.

[37] Aittoniemi, ‘Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies’, 29–32.

[38] Pramod Kale, ‘Essentialist and Epochalist Elements in Goan Popular Culture: A Case Study of “Tiatr”’, Economic and Political Weekly 21, no. 47 (1986): 2054–63.

[39] Graham St John, ‘DJ Goa Gil: Kalifornian Exile, Dark Yogi and Dreaded Anomaly | Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture’, Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture, 2011, 178.

[40] Larkin, ‘Turn on, Tune in, and Trance Out’, 30.

[41] St John, ‘DJ Goa Gil’, 25.

[42] Pavithra Prasad, ‘Full Power: Subculture, Tourism, and the Performance of Affinity in Postcolonial Goa – ProQuest’ (Dissertation, Illinois, December 2011), 21, https://www.proquest.com/openview/325d204f266c98e4e6e135e771ba6171/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750.

[43] Laura Schäflein, ‘Magic Spots and Freeway Bridges.’ (Thesis- Mobilities Studies, University of Heildelberg, 2013), 12, Course- Mobilities Studies, https://www.academia.edu/42928543/Magic_Spots_and_Freeway_Bridges._An_examination_of_the_Mobilities_of_the_Goa_Scene_Content.

[44] Larkin, ‘Turn on, Tune in, and Trance Out’, 27.

[45] Larkin, 35.

[46] Sydney Schelvis, ‘The Transcultural Travel of Trance Culture’, Academia, 10537899 (UvA).

[47] Kathryn A. Becker-Blease, ‘Dissociative States Through New Age and Electronic Trance Music’, Journal of Trauma & Dissociation 5, no. 2 (13 July 2004): 92, https://doi.org/10.1300/J229v05n02_05.

[48] Saldanha, ‘Trance and Visibility at Dawn’, 715.

[49] Graham St John, ‘The Vibe of the Exiles: Aliens, Afropsychedelia and Psyculture’, Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture 5 (1 November 2013): 260, https://doi.org/10.12801/1947-5403.2013.05.02.04.

[50] St John, 75.

[51] Saldanha, ‘Music Tourism and Factions of Bodies in Goa’, 51.

[52] Mackay and Stirrup, ‘Indian Spirit: Amerindians and the  Techno-Tribes of Psytr Ance’, 28.

[53] Colaco, ‘The Sounds of Music’.

[54] Gristina, ‘From Goa to Rabin Square’, 266.

[55] Ranjeeta Basu and Mtafiti Imara, ‘From the Perspective of Musicians in Goa’, 348.

[56] Krüger and Trandafoiu, The Globalization of Musics in Transit, 168–70.

[57] Rupert Till, 21st Century Trance Cult: Electronic Dance Music Culture as a Form of Possession Trance, and Its Role in Replacing the Traditional Roles of Religions Within Western European Popular Youth Culture, 2011, https://www.academia.edu/68960432/21st_Century_Trance_Cult_Electronic_Dance_Music_Culture_as_a_Form_of_Possession_Trance_and_its_Role_in_Replacing_the_Traditional_Roles_of_Religions_Within_Western_European_Popular_Youth_Culture.

[58] Luther C. Elliot, ‘Mobile Consciousness, Flexible Culture: Notes on the Rise and Fall of Goa Trance – ProQuest’ (Doctoral Thesis, May 2006), 17, https://www.proquest.com/openview/22dd05b5bbb2942d755d7148c9542b41/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y.

[59] Paul Melo e Castro, review of Review of Anatomy of a Colonial Capital: Panjim; Colonial Panjim: Its Governance, its People, Celsa Pinto, by Celsa Pinto, Portuguese Studies 34, no. 1 (2018): 123, https://doi.org/10.5699/portstudies.34.1.0123.

[60] Krüger and Trandafoiu, The Globalization of Musics in Transit, 161.

[61] Prasad, ‘Full Power’, 24.

[62] Ranjeeta Basu and Mtafiti Imara, ‘From the Perspective of Musicians in Goa’, 360.

[63] Colaco, ‘The Sounds of Music’.

[64] Becker-Blease, ‘Dissociative States Through New Age and Electronic Trance Music’, 90–95.

[65] Prasad, ‘Full Power’, 27–34.

[66] Saldanha, ‘Trance and Visibility at Dawn’, 710.

[67] St John, ‘DJ Goa Gil’, 17.

[68] Unnithan, Srivasteva, and Vij-Aurora, ‘Goa’.

[69] Aittoniemi, ‘Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies’, 14.

[70] Bizzell, ‘“Ancient + Future = Now”’, 284.

[71] Saikia, ‘Goa Trance a Convergence’, chap. 5.

[72] From its inception till date, almost 80% music were produced by artists from the UK, US, Japan, Isreal and Australia

[73] Chan, ‘MUSIC(OLOGY) NEEDS A CONTEXT – Re-Interpreting Goa Trance’.

[74] Schelvis, ‘The Transcultural Travel of Trance Culture’, 10537899 (UvA).