Hi! I’m Maia 🙂 I’m currently in the second year of a PhD, and have been lucky enough to secure funding from the Economic and Social Research Council to conduct research into the community that I’ve been a part of for more than ten years: the transnational culture surrounding psychedelic electronic music and visionary art (or ‘psyculture’). I’d like to offer something to my fellow participants, particularly those who may be considering taking part in my research, that explains a little about what I’m doing and why; so here it is!
The psycultural community is one of the most reflexive and progressive arts communities in the world. There are myriad philosophical, ethical and educational discussions taking place at visionary arts festivals, and myriad voices speaking through samples in music whose words inspire and encourage peaceful rebellion against the status quo. If there is any kind of overarching belief that unites its diverse participants, it may be a belief in the possibility of a new form of human consciousness rooted in compassion and co-operation, and in our responsibility to bring it into being.
Psyculture has inspired a wealth of research and commentary exploring its significance and its potential as a consciousness-shifting movement (see for example the work of Chiara Baldini, Erik Davis, Graham St John and Psyence Vedava). However, increasingly I’ve been feeling that there is something missing from the discussion. It might not be something we talk about very often, but psyculture is also remarkably progressive in terms of its gender politics.
It’s easy to take it for granted because it’s now such a fundamental part of the experience, but psycultural dancefloors and events offer a particular freedom to women. Personally, I feel relatively safe from the casual sexual harassment that seems common in mainstream bars and clubs; this is no small thing. Back in the nineties, a scholar called Angela McRobbie noted that there was a form of social dance emerging in rave culture that enabled “pure physical abandon in the company of others without requiring the narrative of sex or romance”. With less pressure to conform to stereotypical ideals of femininity and masculinity in order to play the heterosexual courtship game, ravers were comparatively free to experiment with gender or to minimize its effects on their experience. As another scholar, Maria Pini, suggested a few years later, for some women rave culture provided the “conditions for the explorations of different embodiments of femininity”. For me, these freedoms and opportunities are an important part of rave’s legacy in today’s psyculture, and I hope to discover more about how other participants make use of them, whatever their gender.
It’s an obvious point but it’s worth making: the names of most DJs and producers found on festival and party lineups in psyculture, especially those near the top, still belong to men. This is true of electronic dance music (EDM) culture more widely. Academic research into EDM (see for example the work of Rebekah Farrugia, Maren Hancock, Magdalena Olszanowski and Tara Rodgers) has shown that women face various barriers when they contribute towards their scene as DJs and producers, though many of them are in the process of overcoming and/or dismantling these barriers. At least two projects promoting and celebrating women in EDM have emerged out of the scene recently (Amplify Her and Feminine Medicine), and the Psy-Sisters collective provides information on over 100 women involved specifically in the psychedelic scene. Though there’s still much work to be done, these projects show how acknowledging and discussing issues of gender in the scene can help lead us towards greater balance.
2014 was the year of ‘The Feminine’ at Boom festival in Portugal; the largest gathering of the global psycultural community in Europe. For the organisers, this emphasis on gender was very much about balance, “both on an individual and a collective level”. As part of the Liminal Village program, there was a talk with visionary artists Amanda Sage, Emma Watkinson, Jessica Perlstein, Carin Dickson and Olga Klimova entitled ‘The Other Side of the Moon: Feminine Perspectives in Visionary Art’. From this talk, and from spending time in the beautiful gallery space at the festival, I got a sense of the authentic power of female-identifying visionary artists.
Compared with the mainstream art world, in which women’s art is still woefully under-represented in exhibitions (see for example activist work by the Guerilla Girls and the East London Fawcett Society), I recall a strong presence of women’s art in that gallery. And the most exciting thing for me, both at Boom festival and in what I’ve seen of visionary art culture more widely, is that women’s art forms an integral part of what Graham St John refers to as the “collective participation in visionary artifice”. Women’s art is neither ignored nor swept into a separate exhibit; it is at the heart of visionary art culture.
Later that year, Kalya Scintilla, one of the most excitingly resonant psybass artists whose music I’d had the pleasure of sharing as a DJ, released Open Ancient Eyes with his partner, ritual theatre artist Eve Olution. Through their work, they consciously tap into and amplify the transformative power of the sacred feminine and masculine (see for example their discussion of these ideas in an interview by Parisa Eshrati). On the website for her ritual theatre collective, Evokation Sacred Art, Eve states that her art
“absolutely wishes to dissolve sexual objectification (common throughout mainstream media in it’s depictions of the female form) with the TRUTH of seeing a female in her authentic expression in all its multi dimensional layers”.
These are just two examples of what I see when I look at psyculture through feminist eyes. I see a community that is capable of holding space for the expression of more authentic, autonomous and multidimensional forms of womanhood. I see women making space for themselves as artists, their visions being witnessed and their words being heard. I’m particularly interested in how ‘the sacred feminine’, as invoked by Boom festival and Eve Olution, relates to this situation. The use of this idea as a creative, spiritual or political resource is not without potential pitfalls, which I will be examining more deeply as the research develops. However, it seems to me that it has the potential to stimulate not only our sense of ecological belonging and responsibility, but also our capacity to confront continuing gender imbalance and injustice, both in our community and in the wider world.
My own experience of psyculture has inspired a confidence in myself and in my role as a cultural co-creator that, as a woman, I wouldn’t necessarily have found anywhere else. This is why I believe it is worthy of study. It’s also why I think we’re missing out if we don’t attempt to become more conscious of how we’re creating new ways of thinking about and experiencing gender, and of how we can continue to work towards balance and justice, both within and beyond our community. So this is what I’ll be getting my teeth into over the next year, and I’d love it if you joined me for the journey! To stay up to date with new posts about my research and news on how you can get involved, I invite you to like my facebook page, New Moon Musings. For hours of free, lovingly selected and woven psybass vibrations, visit my Soundcloud 😉
Thanks for reading. With love,
I’d like to thank two amazing people for their invaluable help with the creation of this article: James, my wonderful partner, who is a psychedelic historian; and Jo, my beautiful psystarling, who is a mighty fine DJ.