Friday morning, day one
"Hippies, hippies... they want to save the world but all they do is smoke pot and play frisbee!" – Eric Cartman, South Park
I wake to the sounds of a cluster of Japanese girls camped next door, their voices mixing with Spanish, German and thick Aussie accents. Renegade soundsystems pump out thumping electronic beats that fill the dusty air. The ever-present doof doof doof of the music is so ubiquitous you eventually forget it’s even there. We’ve run out of beer, but it was only a slab between three thirsty blokes and it should have been expected. All around us party crew are camped next to their vans and cars, an endless gypsy village covered in layers of dust. The camps touch upon each other in every direction, a vast, fractal tent city that folds in on itself like architectural origami. It reminds me of the way insects make their homes, of a hive consciousness. North American tipis and flags of all countries are mixed in with ancient symbols and psychedelic images. It looks like civilization after the fall, after the oil peaks and the power shortages kick in.
I’m here with my friends Matty from Byron and Kaptain Khaos from Paris and a slew of aging dancers that have come out of retirement to celebrate the 10th anniversary Rainbow Serpent Festival, a four day celebration of “soul and technology”, according to the organizers. Here in Australia the outdoor party scene has been flourishing for over a decade at bush ‘doofs’ (named after the bass beat of the electronic music), where ‘doofers’ revel in Trance music, community and enhanced states of mind. “Since the first gathering in 1998, Rainbow has become a popular annual get-together for thousands of like minded people,” says Frank Venuto, one of the festival’s founders. Rainbow Serpent is a landmark of the Global Trance music calendar, where semi-retired doofers like myself mix it up with the young turks of the dancefloor and the old hippies that can still shake it.
As I walk down by the edge of the property I marvel at the thousands of punters still streaming in from the main road, waiting in bumper-to-bumper gridlock to get in. By the peak of the festival there's over seven thousand people from all over the world living together like counter-culture refugees, gathered together here in the Aussie bush. Yet there’s an unspoken thing about Global Trance culture and the Trancers that carry the beat. For the festival is not just about music, or art, or any of the things advertised. The real essence of Rainbow Serpent is the people, and the vibe, and what they do in the time and space outside the normal rules and mores of civilization. This is a wild space, a ‘Temporary Autonomous Zone’ as anarchic philospher Hakim Bey has called it, a ‘liminal’ space on the edges of possibility where anything goes and everything is possible. A hedonistic orgy of the senses where designer states of mind blend with the electronic music and wild psychedelic art, and all I have to do is dance… if I still can.
The beautiful people are here – the cream of the crop of the global tribe, twirling their staffs and playing Frisbee in the morning light. Ferals, suburban groovers, mums and kids and beer drinking bogans, faeries and freaks all in loud clothes and knitted cardigans, bedspread pants and capes are milling about in hedonistic orbits, their hair adorned with feathers. The bush groovers are swathed in earthy tones of brown and black and green on clothes with an Eastern cut, overlaid with stencils of trees, birds, and nature prints. There’s a sea of bare chests and fisherman's pants, straw hats and five-dollar petrol station sunnies crossed with an 80s-retro chic; mad trippers everywhere except when everyone's doing it, it doesn't seem that mad at all.
This is the great counter-cultural dream, mate, forget the 1/4 acre block of land and the AV Jennings house and the Hills Hoist – these revelers have embraced the market area dancefloor as their temporary home. Banana lounges litter the edge of the dirt floor, pockets of hard leisure going on, punters drinking and smoking and consuming like hungry caterpillars fuelling an alchemical transformation as speakers pump out mega-bass and the crowd sways rhythmically to the music. Hundreds of multi-coloured doofers are bumping and grinding out there, thumping up a storm. This is the “Archaic revival” – a tribal mode of living, coasting from festival to festival across the world in search of the perfect beat.
“People are having some profound experiences out in the bush amongst the trees, dancing,” says DJ Krusty, a Trance tribal elder with wise eyes and long dreadlocks who has been involved with Rainbow Serpent since the early days.
“This kind of stuff has been going on for centuries – people going out and dancing outdoors. It doesn't matter whether you're an African culture, a Middle-Eastern culture or a European culture, a North-American culture, a South American culture, an Eskimo culture; whatever. They're all dancing, all the time. Western dominator culture doesn't like that because it's all about control. The dance frees the body up and moves it around, allowing consciousness to expand into a larger state, or to go within to find the universe inside.”
Right now the crowd is chattering and buzzing and quicksilvering around each other on the dancefloor, hot skin sweating as the dancers pump and pound the dirt and clouds of dust plume up and layer us all in the skin of the earth. I shouldn’t have worried; dancing is like riding a bike – you never forget how. The music floods through us like the wind and we are all connected together, here, now, in this single moment in the heat of the day, until it feels like we're all dancing on the skin of the sun…
Saturday, day two
"Never take a drug named after a pound of your ass," – Matty L, Byron Bay
It's cold and rainy today but a cloud of dust still hangs in the air. "I love life! Life is a party!" says Kaptain Khaos as he puts on a Mexican wrestling mask under his hoodie, like Dr. Doom in the bush. "His face was scarred with acid", I tell the startled revelers he’s terrorizing by dry humping a fluffy five-foot blue chimp in the bushes.
The doofers are on the dancefloor, of course, moving to the syncopated beats like trees in a storm, their limbs blown this way and that by the sounds. They gesticulate wildly with their hands, surfing the music with them to express what words cannot: the secret language of the dancefloor. There's little verbal communication because that's one of the lower forms of consciousness; instead everyone looks, they stare at others staring at the others, all of us groking one another over and over in all our multi-faceted diversity. And every face you see has the same look on it, mirroring and reflecting each other. Our bodies are 60 percent water and as the sound travels through them we become one big skin, sexing through the dirt.
Roving performers snake through the crowd: mermaids, harlequins, faeries with painted faces and Japanese girls with white angels wings, to name just a few. Three beautiful tribal goddesses in white are dancing a dance of purple veils, looking like pinups from a 1970s macrobiotic lifestyle calendar, eco-sex symbols. They’re flanked by all-Aussie farmer boys in thongs and acubras and girls in bellbottom denim pants with fluro trim and your mum's 70s hand-knitted organic wool jumpers with Mayan glyph necklaces. To my right on the edge of the dancefloor a beautiful blonde girl is making love to a hula-hoop as it gyrates around her hips and breasts and up to her neck in an endless spiral, and I’m loaded; everything’s organically melting into everything else, people looking at people watching people in a human kaleidoscope.
As night falls the Main Floor opening ceremony starts with some haunting digderidoo and a cleansing by the local Aboriginal custodians. They sing sacred chants and smudge the whole dancefloor with smoke and sound, making it ready for the dance. "While dancing their Dreamings, Aborigines spiritually connect themselves to the land and to the Dreamtime,” the RSF website reads. “The drumming of feet during the dance draws the earth into dialogue with the dancers, allowing the ceremony to bring the power of the Dreaming to life." Aboriginals have their own festivals and tribal gatherings, too – corroborees they call them, or sacred meetings. They are places to tell the sacred stories that have been handed down through music, singing and dance, stories like the tale of the Rainbow Serpent itself.
In the Dreamtime, the world was flat, bare and cold. The Rainbow Serpent slept under the ground with all the animal tribes in her belly waiting to be born. When it was time, she pushed up, calling to the animals to come from their sleep. She threw the land out, making mountains and hills and spilled water over the land, making rivers and lakes. She made the sun, the fire and all the colours. And the energy of the Rainbow Serpent lives on in all of us that connect to the land, that dance on its skin and feel the pulse of life running through. Aborigines used hand made paints to act out these stories, just as the doofers dress in their own archetypes and costumes and flair. The fact that this ancient culture is mirrored by a modern electronic one is all the more natural when you consider they’re both doing the same thing: connecting to the spirit.
“It's so awesome this community, the creative community coming together like this...” says Ganga from Ganga Giri, the tribal percussion dance act that’s opening up the night and raising the vibrations. “Thank you for letting us be here on this beautiful dance ground and letting us come here to celebrate life. This is why we're gathered together yeah, to celebrate life!” he shouts down the mike.
“You know it you know it!!!” screams the crowd, crying and clapping.
In the wee hours of the morning the crew and I stumble across a film zone on a little hill near the market. They’re screening a history of LSD, the first flowering of the Summer of Love and expansive consciousness, surrounded by a blur of faerie lights. Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters kicked off modern dance parties in the 1960s with the 'Acid Tests' – a multi-media extravaganza that overloaded the senses and experimented with collective consciousness. Walking through the market after the doco and stepping into a sea of crusty hippies young and old – mostly young– it strikes me that we're living in the world that Kesey and his ilk helped create, that the 60s hippies pioneered, but now Trance/dance culture is a planetary thing.
In the moonlight I bump into an old friend, Kathleen, a dreadlocked woman with chunky Roy Orbison sunglasses and a striped top under a denim jacket, who wants to bend my ear about the culture here: “To me the crux of what makes us a bit different from hippies and other subcultures is the technological growth that has happened...” she says. “These types of gatherings are definitely a seed of revolution in peoples thinking. And I say peoples thinking because it is definitely more than a party. This is definitely more than recreation… There’s a growing connection to earth and tribalism, a greater respect and understanding of humans place on the earth.”
As I look up at the stars Comet McNaught blossoms into life and lights up the night like the tail of a cosmic peacock. It's biblical–thirty million miles long and tonight it shines down on us like an auspicious omen as the party tribe revels under the stars. The sound of drumming reverberates through the night as a green laser pointer cuts through treetops. Cosmic, it’s getting cosmic, man…
Sunday, day three
"Étais là, halluciné ça" – Col. Kurtz, Sydney
A dozen feral drummers in earthy tones and dreadlocks have melted out of the night and congregated in the Chai Tent as the bushniks sip drinks and roll endless joints. The drummers thread themselves into rhythms within rhythms, weaving their primal tattoo around the warmth of the tribe. A bald, Buddha-like gypsy called Arizona slips out into the middle of the drumming circle and shakes a tambourine as he begins a belly dance, mesmerizing the crowd like a snake charmer.
Col. Kurtz, a mid-40s uber-tripper from Sydney dressed in a princess tiara and a Kylie Minogue necklace, is holding five tall peacock feathers like plumed staffs as he focuses his red headtorch beam at them and stares into the infinite eyes of God. The drumming goes round and round in peaking waves, a dense tribal temple beat that scoops up all the stoned minds and carries them away on journeys of the spirit.
COL. KURTZ: There’s a neat French phrase, "étais là, halluciné ça".
RAK: Which means?
COL. KURTZ: Which means, "Been there, hallucinated that". But in French it sounds better.
I know what he means. There are the bits of the culture you can only understand after being in a big acid mosh pit for three days. “Do you know what I think? I've developed this theory that the dancefloor is a canvas full of something akin to junk DNA in the body of the species. When it's 3am in the morning and you're all there, coagulated into a group mind and your sweaty little bodies are doing what they do to the beats, everyone's getting on that same wavelength. And everyone's looking around and doing the vogue thing, but in those lookings it's like the beast with a thousand eyes, it’s one fluid consciousness... And something jumps from person to person like a wave packet in the quantum foam, some essential essence that we're all channelling out there in the mix...”
“I get that all the time on the dancefloor, all the time,” Col. Kurtz says, staring at me with big, dilated eyes, his $2 shop tiara glinting in the light. “We reflect each other – it’s the group mind. That's what the whole dancefloor experience is about, really.” And then he’s lost in the eyes of the peacock feathers and the sound of the snake dance all around, the smell of hashish.
A dark-haired girl in Prada-feral wear and a big smile yells out, “Yavoo makoshhhey....!” and spills her cup of chai. It’s Serbian for: "It’s the only way it can be,” she tells me. “That’s the way it is. That’s the way it should be.” She’s right, of course. It's probably anti-capitalist, but the tribe seems to share whatever they've got on them – water, beer, tobacco, joints, smiles, freely offering tribe-mates and the extended friendship circles their abundance. Right here, right now, all of us hanging out here in the bush, on the same wavelength, we all know we’re part of something special. And all we have to do is live it.
Monday, day four
"We are all of us a mirror to the sky" – Japanese Trancer, Tokyo
The potporri tent city stretches out ahead of us in the Monday morning sun, but it’s giving away to entropy as campers pack up and head back to the city. Everybody’s starting to burn out. The pressure of four days of relentless, full-tilt partying is getting to even the best of us. But the psychic pressure has been building, the invisible essence of the group mind has been rising and this is the day it all goes OFFFF.
We’re on the market floor again as the dancers shimmy across the dirt and merge into a single groove, fuelled by disco biscuits and liquid states of mind. A huge mosh pit hundreds of people strong coalesces under the mushroom petalled ceiling as the sprinklers threaded throughout the webwork turn on and dose the crowd in instant rain and the light catches the water in the air and rainbows shine around us. The dancers' feet hit the earth and their hips hug the beats, thumping electronic Trance that goes right through you and holds you up out there in the primal mix, lost amongst a sea of smiles and grinding bodies wrapped in the cast-off fashions of the global village, all of us in a shared state of no-mind, like a single-cell cosmic amobea on the dancefloor, that's what we've become. Looking around with a thousand eyes and thousands of feet that communicate the single message of our group consciousness: dance.
And just as I'm having that thought about us mirroring each other on the dancefloor and the group mind is peaking, feeling the sprinkler water fall down and drench us all on this hot Monday afternoon in paradise, this Japanese girl tugs on my arm and tells me that my white kung-fu style top is lettered with Japanese calligraphy.
“Do you know what this says?” she asks in delicate geisha tones. I shake my head and keep dancing to the beat. “It is a Buddhist text, like a prayer, many prayers, all of them to God. The first line says something like: ‘We are all of us a mirror to the sky’”. And voom! The satori moment hits, and the group consciousness gels. All of us a mirror, and as the remembrance burns through we shine and shine and shine... It’s us, all of us. We are the Rainbow Serpent, snaking through the dirt in our colorful costumes, channeling the earth spirit. We are the pot of gold somewhere over the rainbow. And this old doofer is back home at last, on the dancefloor, where we are all One.