Moon Juice Stomper: A Novel (Goa 1987-96)

Ray Castle
New Zealand: Independently Published, 2019
313 pp.
ISBN: 978-1791998271
RRP: £12

Graham St John

Independent Researcher

If dance music scenes have windows of fortune, Anjuna, Goa, in the late eighties was peak oil, and Ray Castle was there to drill it. After three decades, Castle has finally knocked out, psychedelic disco balls and all, what is certain to become the definitive warp and scintillating weft on this “scenius” during its electronic heyday. As perhaps the most influential yet least documented dance music culture in history, this moment has long been an enigma. A Golden Triangle for cultural exiles and outcastes. A haven for human flotsam and jetsam surging up the electric shores of the Arabian Sea, before ebbing into the deep recesses of memory. The absence of reporting on this lost horizon and its discommunitarians would normally be enough to draw the attention of enthusiasts of Goa and its many after parties. Fortunately for us, as the work of a wordsmith with an acute attention to detail, Moon Juice Stomper is a literary charm.

Among other aliases, as DJ Masaray, Castle performed in Goa in the late eighties and early nineties, becoming a vocal critic of the industry that emerged in the subsequent decades. Having once elevated ecstatic bodies above the sands of distant languid beaches, Castle now sustains the levitational effect in a narrative at times reminiscent of Castenada or H. S. Thompson. Commanding a white-knuckled ride through the “mystical anarchy” of “Gonzo Goa,” capturing the explosive atmosphere at this freak nadir, his self published intervention in creative nonfiction transports readers inside the minds of the habitués of this remote crossroads ... even as they’re going out of their minds. And in doing so, Castle does what any freakologist worth their beatific bath salts should do: he delivers us into the heart and soul of the matter.

This journey into the many-layered vibe of Goa — the roots of Goa trance and its worldwide psytrance progeny — is no mean feat, as Castle has seamlessly achieved the notoriously difficult and routinely futile task of writing about dancing. This accomplishment stands tall in the history of dance culture narratives. The central characters stand off the page in a third person approach that repeatedly lures readers into the sweet spot. The book is hallucinatory, but also realistic. It conveys the gift economy and music swopping integral to this scene. Goa fans and scholars will be fascinated by the effort to weave pseudonymised figures like Goa Gil, Laurent, Fred Disco, Vath, Raja Ram/TiP and Space Tribe, among many others, into this semi-fictionalised account. Enthusiasts will likewise appreciate how track vocal samples are mixed into the narrative, dada-jockey style, and the way the story builds tension and achieves climax at the full moon party under the Banyan Tree in 1988. Other points of intrigue include the descriptions of drug politics, police corruption, party bans, bar/gambling cartels and various historical anecdotes. Generations of train spotters will be shooting their cosmic load over these pages.

The struggle to sustain “paradise” is an overarching theme, and quite apparent in the efforts to maintain the vibe into the early 1990s as the scene came under growing external and internal pressures. Whether Castle captured this long tail effect adequately is open to dispute, for the book, it could be warranted, drags. Then again, this is faithful to the party-arc of the scene itself: build-up, peak vibe and long come down, with many after parties inclusive. It echoes a movement where parties found ways to survive through the next day and night, and then the following morning, and afternoon... and beyond that, in more remote regions and neighbouring states. As the stakes rose, the illegal parties grew more adventurous with road trips out of Goa to Maharajstra. The buccaneer spirit of making pirate parties by any means (sustaining the addiction and entitlement to the parties) seems to drive the plot. The effort to treat the Goa scene (or “scenius”) like a collective character responding to its own growing notoriety as a nascent global industry and party brand is ultimately commendable.

The book might have done more to address the overall impact on the locals of privileged Europeans making party in the colony. This said, it does end with a neat twist in which an Indian fashion entrepreneur markets the “Goa Psy Trance” brand. It also illustrates one important outcome of the story: how upper middle class Indians are now the primary customers of Goa bar discos, that charge more for entry than a club in Europe, to hear with a beer in their hand dance music that was once banned.

In a world stricken by a pandemic that has effectively closed down dance cultures, the scene captured in Moon Juice Stomper appears even more exotic. With its alluring wordcraft, this book holds unquestionable cult gravitas. Remixing the music, intrigue, love, bizarre sex, violence and drama of real places, events and figures, not least of all the author himself, the book amplifies a movement in its un/making. Every epic era needs its chronicler, and in Castle, Goa has its Homer.