Psychedelia: An Ancient Culture, A Modern Way Of Life – Youth’s book review in full
I remember mixing and producing Killing Joke’s second album with engineer producer legends Hugh Padgham and Nick Launay. I was lying under the mixing desk with the lights out for 48 hours straight, barking “more kick, more bass!” I was still tripping weeks later and it got crazier and crazier, with me standing outside Peter Grant’s (and Zep’s) Swansong HQ, again on the Kings Road screaming: “I know what you’re up too… black magic!” Luckily, Grant recognised me and phoned our manager Sam Alder at EG, also based on the Kings Road, and said something like: “Come and get your boy from Killing Joke before I break his bones”.
Sam pulled me into his Roller two minutes later, and probably saving my life.
This eventually led to two weeks in a mental hospital.
It then took seven years and some intense study of mystery school traditions to understand what had happened and to rebuild my shredded ego.
Brian patiently explained I wasn’t going mad, as everyone else thought, but was undergoing an initiation. This helped me pull back from the brink of a Syd Barrett/Peter Green-styled acid meltdown to No Returnsville. This still remains one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had and still informs my philosophy toward working with music today. But, although immense, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it.
Lundborg also goes through many musical prime movers and influencers including Bob Dylan, Karlheinz Stockhausen, the 13th Floor Elevators and Stanley Kubrick’s masterful soundtracks. Though just grazing the Pretty Things’ 1966 LSD track is another slight oversight.
He’s also clearly a Deadhead. I’ve always struggled to find the Grateful Dead psychedelic, they’re more of a patchwork quilt of Americana, and as for preferring them to the “cold” (and British) Pink Floyd?
I mean, Dark Side Of The Moon? It’s psychedelia at its most genius. Dismissing it out of hand is like saying you don’t like the Beatles, and then to rave about Dark Star?!
This is where the book wobbles a little, and though informative, dives way too deeply into acid Americana of the Grateful Dead kind. Anyway apologies to the author for being trite as he really does uncover much new ground on well-covered themes from the Dead being into art groups like Fluxus and Dada, and their influence on The Beatles too. He then bounces swiftly and firmly back on track when he examines acid cults.
There’s material on mescaline circle groups in Paris and Europe before and during the 1920′s, a “dry” period in London which didn’t end until the 30′s when the poet William Butler Yeats and a young Crowley began experimenting with magic and mescaline. The Owsley Stanley phenomena; the Brotherhood of Eternal Love; the whole thing reads like a Hermann Hesse book (who also pops up a lot and was widely rumoured to have sampled mescaline himself), it’s heroic and romantic, and totally interconnected by serendipity.
Towards the end of the book he approaches Acid house and MDMA (as well as Ambient and chill-out) but fails to see the – that word again – serendipity of half a dozen south London DJs visiting Ibiza and exporting their take on it back to London, and the deep connections between that scene and the emerging Goa trance phenomena which swiftly followed on its heels.
He also overlooks the connections between proto-acid house, the KLF, The Orb (I wrote and produced Little Fluffy Clouds) and Psy Trance. With Trance he refers to many classic tracks, yet neglects to mention that they were initially released on my labels, Dragonfly and Liquid Sound Design. Or that the nexus of this explosion of creativity and the birth of entire genres was Butterfly Studios, which was also home to TIP, Return to the Source, Flying Rhino and many other innovators of that scene from all over Europe as early as 1991 (not ‘93 as he states). Pivotal in all this was Ian St Paul. We put on a Dragonfly party together in an ancient Druid grove with a 20k rig on the Marquess Of Bath’s Longleat estate in Somerset, attracting over 5,000 people in ’93. All the movers and shakers came down from London to experience it including Paul Oakenfold .This event single-handedly catapulted many into the Psy Trance scene.
Otherwise known as Cobra, Ian was my label manager at Dragonfly, latterly helmed at TIP, and was Oakenfold’s first champion. He also ran the classic acid house clubs Spectrum and Land of Oz.
Nevertheless, Lundborg’s Psychedelia stands is a remarkable achievement. Even with some glaring omissions (an even by pointing these out I find myself being churlish) he does join up many of the dots.
I have never seen a book before that focuses on Psy Trance or Goa and hardly any press, yet it’s still a huge, vital global psychedelic underground phenomena and, indeed, culture in itself. Goa was almost a utopian psychedelic state, like Ibiza it was (and is) amazing, very hedonistic, psychedelic and tribal, but has a thinly veiled dark side to it.
At its core, it’s all about liberty: very humanistic, almost like a visionary anarchist state. These places are rare (yet slowly increasing) sanctuaries where we still have the space to experiment. They could be found in Wales in the ‘70s, now there are many in the USA and right across the world.
Experimenting within these kind of environments has provided some of the most inspiring and happy times I’ve ever experienced. These communities point the way forward to how we can overcome our cultural shackles of 2000 years of Christian-Judaic morality to restore our humanness, sovereignty and eventually acquire a full restoration of the renaissance spirit so lacking in modern life.
Confusingly, despite being positive about DMT (“particularly well suited for exploring the highest layers on inner space”), Lundborg is dismissive of the current vogue for vision- or spirit-questing. Yet (more serendipity) as I started to write this article a good friend of mine popped by to say hello, fresh back from Spain where he had been helping on a vision quest in the mountains, assisting some 70 people on their shamanic initiations with Ayahuasca, and it sounded very positive.
Ultimately though, this is a brilliant book, and whether you’re interested in taking drugs or not it also works as an alternative history of the world.
As another unsung hero of the counterculture Lee Harris puts it: “We’ve been privileged to hold up the handrail of this ancient and future culture that is far bigger than any one man or place”. Or, as Psychedelia’s defining subtitle asserts: “An Ancient culture, A Modern way of Life”. Long may she reign.