Beyond the Brain: Happening at East Edge

Paul Chambers

University of Adelaide (Australia)


Setting the Scene

Beyond the Brain began in 1995 was a monthly all-night dance party in North-East New South Wales, Australia. By 1997, they had evolved into multi-room, performance-infused, music and art happenings attracting over two thousand people. Unlike the bush and community hall parties then happening regularly around the Byron Bay hinterland, the original aim was to organise high-profile and professional parties inspired by London’s Megatripolis and Return to the Source. Psychedelics were integral to the background and aesthetic of the events; Beyond the Brain was the title of a book by Stanislav Grof (1985), an early pioneer in the use of psychedelics in psychiatry. Grof successfully treated mental disorders by administering LSD and returning to a patient’s source of trauma, often related to the birthing process. His research was curtailed by the decision to criminalise the drug.

Originally known by its Indigenous name, Cavenbah, the Arakwal people had a long history of living and fishing in the Byron Bay area, before European settlement established an economy around logging, dairying and meat-works (Stewart 2008). In the 1960s and ’70s, surfers and hippies arrived to enjoy the beauty of the region (Hoskins 2013). There were established sannyasin and LGBTQ+ communities, together with “ferals”, a local eco-conscious counterculture pursuing alternative and sustainable lifestyles. Local events, such as Electric Tepee, fused electronic music, lighting projections and ritual celebration. Many in the local scene had experienced the annual party seasons in Goa, India that had been playing electronic dance music at outdoor, black light-lit gatherings by the beach or in jungle clearings since the 1980s (Reynolds 1998, Castle 2019). LSD was the primary drug of choice (Davis 2004, Cole & Hannan 2015).

The Byron/Lismore/Nimbin area of the 1990s was a unique place in time. It was like “the Sixties” had never finished and was an ongoing project. There was a degree of psychedelic maturity in the area, with many seasoned “experts”, as documented by Graham St John (2015). This society was, as Jimi Hendrix would say, “experienced”. At a wider societal level, there was a groundswell of psychedelic consciousness happening, linked to the burgeoning rave scene. Connected with this were the writings of Terence McKenna who had grown to become the international spokesperson/proselytiser for a movement for cognitive liberty. Thus, the scene was set and the zeitgeist primed for a communal psychedelic celebration.

Catching the Wave

The first Beyond the Brain was organised by Nick Taylor, Ljudan Thorpe, Kathryn Chambers and me, at the Union Hall at Southern Cross University in May 1995. We wanted the party to go all night, from 10pm until 6am, and we declined to use the licensed bar. At the time, alcohol was frowned upon within the local party scene, considered as bringing an unwelcome energy to the celebration. Instead, we had a chai shop, serving cakes and spiced tea, the kind of refreshments available at the parties in Goa and at local doofs (Strong 2001).[1] Jaime Rocco drew the design on the first flyer (fig. 1), which was printed on fluoro pink and yellow paper and distributed far and wide. Despite this, the event was attended mainly by “family”, people in the local party crew who, like the organisers, went to most parties happening in the area. The night went well, though only made enough to cover costs and pay a modest fee to those performing. This became a long-term pattern at future events, no matter how big they got.

Fig. 1. Beyond the Brain, 5 May 1995.

To soften the somewhat institutional nature of the setting, we put thought and energy into decorating the space. We included a pointed star in white tape in the centre of the dance floor, and we used as much lighting as we could afford. Oz of Squiffy Vision and Dee of Project Shine did the lighting, making good use of projections onto home-made screens and installations, and they would be involved in all the remaining Beyond the Brain events. In the “Dance” space, the music featured a style then rapidly morphing into a recognisable genre known as psytrance, featuring stomping kicks, eastern motifs and spoken word samples. Local producers such as Nick Taylor and Ray Castle were making this music and were well-connected to other producers around the world. It was cutting-edge in its use of the latest digital synthesisers, and it still had stylistic variety. I played in the “Chill Out” space, along with Chin Bindi (Jedda Selke), who became the resident DJ and played at every party. Here, the musical vibe was eclectic, conceived as a space to unwind and converse away from the intensity of the dance floor, where changes to the music were made slowly and sensitively. If those conditions were met, pretty much anything could be played, but most music was contemporary and made with electronic instruments.

The flyer for the next party at the same venue used an image from the In Blissful Company LP by Quintessence, featuring Raja Ram, then making and releasing music as The Infinity Project. It was a geometric design that seemed to move as you looked at it (fig 2). This party featured work by local visual artists, thus fusing an art exhibition with a dance party, another of the original aims of Beyond the Brain. Apparent at this event was how many young people turned up who no one recognised. Our decision to use an unlicensed bar had the unconsidered consequence of making the event open to all ages, and word had obviously got out among local youth. This boosted the numbers on the door but raised objections from those unused to seeing so many strangers at a party. There was not much to be done but adapt to the situation. Increased numbers allowed for more adventurous future productions. By this party, the roles of organisation had largely fallen to Kathy and me. We had become experienced and well-known for this role in the previous two years and this shift happened quite organically.

Fig. 2. Beyond the Brain, 2 June 1995.

The third party was held at The Epicentre in Byron Bay, a sprawling ex-abattoir and whaling station, located on an area of flat land between swamp and the Pacific Ocean at Belongil, adjacent to Byron Bay. The energy of the place is hard to express in writing. The site’s colonial history conveyed feelings of slaughter and suffering that could still be detected in the architecture and traces of equipment attached to the walls and floors. Yet it also had a reputation within the scene as an old corroboree site, a place of tribal gathering and celebration. It had two main spaces that could hold hundreds of people each.

What shifted the decision to move was the presence of a Canberra artistic collective called Temple State, who were holding an exhibition in The Epicentre at the time. Doing the party together promised Temple State a bigger audience than they would get on their own. In return, Beyond the Brain got impressive art installations and a strange spoken-word performance for the Chill Out. The event’s flyer superimposed Jaime’s artwork from the first flyer over a section of an Alex Grey painting (fig. 3). The arrival of consumer-level computers and the internet made the job of writing, producing and distributing promotional material much easier. The story of Beyond the Brain can be matched by the development and expansion of promotional material, from hand-drawn designs to colourful and professionally produced artworks, from press releases to full page adverts, accompanied by increasingly verbose hyperbole, all calibrated to get people excited and anticipating the next event. This party was a huge success, the whole energy of the event changed and it felt like a real turning point.

Fig. 3. Beyond the Brain, 8 July 1995.

Rather than attempting to capitalise on the success of The Epicentre as a venue, we returned to Lismore for the fourth Beyond the Brain. This was the first time that Alex Clarke, a digital artist from Lismore, did the flyer and the result immediately advanced another level in professionalism (fig 4). With hindsight, all this promotion was over the top, because word-of-mouth did most of the work. But the flyer was considered important in setting the scene, as well as providing a sought after souvenir. Word had definitely gone out for this party because it was rammed, with loads of high school kids coming from Nimbin and Lismore in particular. The main room played an expanded selection of psychedelic dance music than Goa Trance, featuring a DJ from Brisbane named Mechanoid (Jay Bryan). The room also featured a performance by “Cyberslut”, women from the scene who were to reappear at future events under various guises and personnel. Performance provided another dimension to the party, as well as giving more people opportunity to get involved and become invested in the event. Alex Clarke projected some of his video art, and even though this amounted to a few recurring loops of animation, alongside the colourful lighting, they looked really cool. All future events would include computer animation, films and vision mixing, taking up a sizeable chunk of the budget. This event went until 8am and the whole experience was too much for the University authorities. We were sad to lose the space, but our next event was locked in: Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art.

Fig. 4. Beyond the Brain, 4 August 1995.

The flyer Alex did for this event presented the core crew of the Beyond the Brain parties, now established after 5 events (fig. 5). The ground floor upon entry had an exhibition of psychedelic art, much of it using fluoro paint and created by people in the scene. The next floor up was the “Elemental Ambient Zone” with DJs and live musicians, complete with sympathetic lights and atmosphere. The top floor was the “Transcendance Space”, featuring pumping dance music and lighting by Squiffy Vision and EKAYOD Spectrum. The latter were Nigel and Damo, who worked for a professional production company in Brisbane. They became regulars and loved to turn up with intelligent lighting that kept the parties looking amazing. Since we wanted to emphasise the art angle at this event, Coda (Dhuwa) and Tetsuo Industries (Justin De Leeuw) were given prominent billing for their “art installations”. In truth, both artists were becoming crucial to the production, particularly once we moved permanently to The Epicentre. Not only were they creative geniuses, but they fell into the role of site forepersons at subsequent events, allocating roles and supervising projects.

Fig. 5. Beyond the Brain, 23 September 1995.

The wider party scene at that time was very healthy. And it was a magical time. The Epicentre was living up to its name, and the complex had become like the village of an enterprising and entrepreneurial counterculture, more concerned with artistic projects, health practices and hedonism than making money. And then there was the 10,000 Cows Vegan Café, established with a mission to heal the bloody history of the site. Many of the crew moved in permanently, adding artworks to beautify their everyday surroundings. Oz had set up home there, as had regular live musicians Kavi and Tone Wandaller. Coda lived there and was allowed to decorate the spaces and write koan-like statements on the building. Sculptures hung from the decaying skeleton of the old slaughterhouse, spirals of reflective materials adorned the walls, and Mayan hieroglyphics nestled against calligraphic spiritual exhortations, illuminated by crystal-infused prismatic projections. You could look up at the sky through the exposed rafters while keeping warm around braziers to a soundtrack of electronic ambience. It was a space to hang out, talk ideas through, visualise and plan what could be done next. The only limit was the budget—the more “out there” the idea, the better. This was also a time when things started getting strange.

East Edge Psychedelia

For the sixth Beyond the Brain, we went with full-colour flyers and three rooms, something then unheard of in the area. The Epicentre allowed room for expansion along its labyrinthine passageways and multiple rooms. Musically, the scene was changing, with big beat music coming into vogue. As most of the doofs played trance, that had to be included. And of course, we needed a chill space. A solution was found in an area backing onto a space where many of the crew now lived, an open-air “indoor space” known as the Cycad Garden. The flyer was created by Alex Clarke and Di James (fig. 6). Where Alex was good with fonts and layout, Di had a deep psychological perspective. The result was an androgynous god-like face superimposed onto the centre of a Merkaba crystal structure, situated in a vortex of coloured lights. Articulating a growing confidence in promoting the whole party package, the rooms were named “Maximum Peakage”, “Optimum Freakage” and “Ambient Tweakage”. Exuding a symmetry and colour choice that felt pleasing emotionally, the flyer left a lingering impression of mystery while promising a sense of fun.

Fig. 6. Beyond the Brain, 3 May 1996.

Beyond the Brain was now taking months to organise and a whole week to set up, with many working for a free ticket. Often, these people were quite loose, strangers in every sense. The event had become a magnet for creatives, dreamers, hedonists and the weird. More people getting involved allowed for more autonomy in creative decision making and a shared sense of ownership that was crucial to the event’s success. The team coming together, and the collective energy unleashed for the party even seemed to affect the contextual conditions. The sixth event was preceded by torrential rain, accompanied by a king tide that washed the Byron beach away. As roads flooded, we were concerned this could impact the numbers attending. Yet there were loads of people, and it totally went off. Far and wide, the event had become synonymous with a good time.

The seventh event coincided with the next visit of Temple State. Their talented director, Clint Hurrell, had overseen the design of some amazing installations. Temple State brought tall, narrow, pyramid structures, rather like Egyptian obelisks, designed to hold intelligent lights that pulsed beams of light in all directions. Once again, the flyer was a collaboration between Di and Alex (fig. 7). The focus was an egg encircled by a bronze serpent, an image symbolising eternal rebirth. The egg was situated in the foreground of a fractal vortex, almost like the egg was dropping into or coming out of water. The increasingly complex list of creative personnel highlighted the many artists keen to be involved who were often not closely connected with the party scene. The event also had a fourth room between the dance space and the Cycad Garden, featuring sound generating installations built by Marcus Bowden that made noises when touched, turning the area into a playground for adults. Another part of this event was the Epicentre Cinema, situated in a room in the old abattoir and accessible from a corridor near the Cycad garden. The colourfully painted cinema had been established in The Epicentre site by Nic Touches Clouds, a video artist, who had opened it up to the party.

Fig. 7. Beyond the Brain, 26 July 1996.

Simon Greaves (Sico) was the scene’s main sound system operator and essential member of the crew. A significant element of the parties was that we always set-up four speaker stacks in the dance spaces, designed to encourage people not to look forward at the DJ, but at each other. This reflected the Goa experience of Ray Castle, myself and other people. We sought to create conditions conducive to a transcendental experience, as opposed to a spectacle passively observed. A significant proportion of the music being played at the event was made by producers based on the Pacific Rim; this included not only the Byron area, but also Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, as well as Tokyo. Many of the producers knew each other; collaborations evolved out of friendships or through DJing at the same parties, many of which were outdoors and open to nature (Cole 1999). Finished tracks were swapped on DAT tapes, and producers could get their music played on dance floors across the world, long before a commercial release. A contemporary study of 87 Australian producers by Fred Cole provides an illuminating account of the “harder-edged upper frequency chaos” then being produced, how it was made and what inspired it (1999: 8).

Two of the Australian producers who Cole interviewed were Nick Taylor and Ray Castle from Byron. Both played regularly at Beyond the Brain, had lived in Tokyo and were well-connected with DJs and producers living there. In Melbourne, the Psy-Harmonics label released influential compilations, such as Dancing To The Sound Of The Sun (1995) and Hacking The Reality Myth (1996), featuring music by artists from Japan, Melbourne, Sydney and Byron. Melbourne DJ Andrew Till, from the Psy-Harmonics label, performed at the seventh Beyond the Brain. Techniques such as gating, switching a sound off and on rapidly, were common features in the psychedelic repertoire. Another was a frenzied element that Taylor described as “not really randomness. It’s chaos with a flow: navigating your way through it is the challenge” (1999: 63).

Unsurprisingly and implicit to the name “psytrance”, psychedelics were an obvious inspiration for much of the music getting produced. A sub-chapter in Cole’s thesis on illegal drug use describes their creative stimulation. Certain drugs were said to induce compositional styles that allowed people to relate to particular forms of music. DMT in particular was a common subject of discourse in the North Coast scene (St John 2015).It undoubtedly had an influence on musical production, which Cole described in his thesis as having a “high sparkly top end; and a really tinkly weird sound that infiltrated trance music” (Cole 1999: 120). Psychedelics were associated with themes of spirituality, tribalism and self-realisation, as evident in artist names, track titles and spoken-word samples programmed into the music then produced. Examples include Sacramental (Sonic Sufi), “Whirling Dervish” (Crazy Party, Psy-Harmonics Vol. 2) and Ancient Future. Together with the treble-rich synapse-shredding sonic character of much of the music, such stylistic attributes contributed to a distinctive “East Edge” psychedelia.[2]

Chaos Surfing

By 1997, Beyond the Brain had turned into a Category 5 “strange attractor”, building and mutating, inexorably sucking more people into its vortex. And just when it reached a zenith of energy, excitement and anticipation, in walked Terence McKenna, then on an Australian speaking tour. While Beyond the Brain was never about big names well-known in the local scene and wider community, McKenna was an exception. He connected ideas around psychedelics and consciousness in circulation since the sixties, with elements in the rave scene open to such influences. The intonations and tone of his voice made him engaging to listen to. Given his ability to communicate the ineffable “Logos” messages of the plant psychedelics, it was inspiring to organise an event for McKenna, and he motivated others to become involved (McKenna 1991).

As we started planning the event, it was decided to extend it over 3 days. Given the main title “Forward the Future”, this multi-day event was designed to give McKenna the opportunity to present in different formats (fig. 8). Day 1, his first public appearance in Australia, was at The Epicentre Big Space on Friday 21 February. Beyond the Brain would take place on the next night, where McKenna would rap in the Cycad Garden. McKenna’s Sunday rap, to be performed in a theatre in Lismore, would be more lecture-like in style (using slides to illustrate his “Timewave Zero” idea). As the outline for the event firmed up, we went into flyer mode. Alex was very keen to start designing, and I explained to him an image I had of McKenna “juggling the future” at this event, connected to the elemental forces of nature. Alex created a somewhat unusual layout in an A3 landscape design. One half of the design featured McKenna’s face looming out of the forces of fire, water, air and earth, with two hands juggling three balls, each symbolising the trio of planned events.

Fig. 8. Forward the Future, 21-23 February 1997.

Also, quite fortuitously performing at Beyond the Brain, was Tsuyoshi Suzuki, the biggest psytrance artist on the planet at that time. The Epicentre turned into a crucible of creativity as enthusiasm took over, a collective endeavour operating on pure excitement and expectation. Organising became “chaos surfing” as the event became a phenomenon happening on its own trajectory. A strong Mayan theme emerged in what was painted and created, which happened organically as people were tuning into the premillennial atmosphere. A crew from Nimbin offered to decorate a long black corridor leading to the dance space. It took them several days, using paint, artwork, fluoro wool and black lights, all for free tickets and to contribute. Many people arrived during the set-up, often from interstate, explaining the kind of performance they wanted to do and requesting to be included on the ever-expanding door list. I cannot remember Kathy or me ever refusing anyone who wanted to get involved. The boundaries between audience and performer blurred, helping to create a feeling that anything could happen.

A crowd of about 250 gathered to welcome McKenna at the first event on Friday evening, and as he began talking, fractal projections appeared behind. On the Saturday night, Beyond the Brain began with a Sun Matrix Activation ceremony, a combination of smudging space cleansing and choreographed ritual incantation. All the Beyond the Brain parties began with a ritual ceremony to create a sense of the sacred we believed possible at these events. McKenna spoke in the Ancient Future Realisation Space, where he performed 3 raps, with music in between by Pangalacticspermia (a nod to the theory of psilocybin mushroom’s origin in outer space). This one-time act comprised Kavi, Tone, AB Didgeridoo Oblivion (Sean Candy), Skai Talon, Steve Berry, Nick Spacetree and Matt Ledger, with Andrew Richards on mixing duties. McKenna was seated on a mushroom-like dais, raised up above an enthusiastic audience of around 750, framed by obelisks and painted Ancient Egyptian figures, with giant fluoro sculptures to one side. The crowd were generally respectful and enjoying the moment, the odd unmistakeable waft of DMT detectable in the air. An unforgettable moment for me was McKenna reciting Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky at the height of the party.

The other crowning moment was Tsuyoshi’s set. Of course, the dance floor was packed, its occupants gesticulating with glee and abandon. There was a great vibe everywhere. Demographically, it was the most balanced of all Beyond the Brain parties. All age groups were represented. Many people were attending their first party or were not regular doofers. Personally, it stands out as one of the peak experiences of my life. There was a palpable aura of safety, celebration and exaltation. It felt like much of the town and surrounding area were there, a tribute to the tolerance and acceptance of the community.

Beyond the Brain with Terence McKenna, a film of McKenna’s rap at Beyond the Brain, set against footage of the 1997 Beyond the Brain parties, from set-up to aftermath, is now available for viewing.

End of an Era

The afterglow from Forward the Future was lasting and widespread. As word had spread far and wide, there was a lot of interest in The Epicentre as a venue. It was always going to be a challenge to follow the McKenna event but it was a chance to try to take Beyond the Brain even further. After brainstorming ideas, the idea emerged to create peak moments in the party, where various complimentary sensual stimuli would be programmed together for maximum affect. It was ambitious, but a sign of where the events had come to. We did not make this aim widely known but printed a warning as a duty of care: “Some segments of tonight’s event will be mood enhanced using harmonic blends of colour, aroma, sacred geometry and psychoacoustic waves”.

The making of the flyer for the ninth Beyond the Brain had an interesting story. I had an idea that a tree that was alive and sentient should somehow be the central symbol on the flyer. I met an artist attending local parties and checked out their work. One image of a tree spirit was “it”. I gained permission to use the artwork and gave it to Alex, who incorporated the image against a lava-like background of fractals (fig. 9). The back of the flyer provided all the necessary information (fig.10). There was so much going on, it was like a whole festival happening on one night. Then living locally and already a big name in the psychedelic trance scene, Olli Wisdom of Space Tribe was top of the bill. Joining him was Goa legend Fred Disko from Melbourne. Techno DJ Kazu Kimura came down from Brisbane, and kicking things off was Byron High School student and DJ Georgia Brown.

Fig. 9. Beyond the Brain, 20 September 1997.

Fig. 10. Beyond the Brain, back of flyer, 20 September 1997.

The main dance room went up another level in terms of lighting and installations. Oz had obtained huge mirrors, and these were combined with white projection surfaces to make them look kaleidoscopic. All the walls were covered at ground level by psychedelic art: banners from Space Tribe, a range of artwork by Hannah Gordon (a talented artist from the local scene), a large banner commissioned by me for an earlier party painted by Jo and Zoe (two more local doofers). There was also the “Green Man”, a commissioned papier-mâché face by Alicia and John that turned up at several subsequent events and always seemed to affect the weather in the same way. We also booked 3D holographic lasers from Technofear, playing this down in the event promotion so that it would be unexpected and blow people away. Capping it off was a fire performance by Venus. Looking back, this room had all the elements of a classic Byron-style Goa party, but taken to a whole new level.

But one installation really encapsulated Beyond the Brain. Two weeks before the event, we were approached by Brin, who wanted to make a dragon sculpture for the party. Work began feverishly and gradually took the form of a giant dragon’s head that was placed by the front door, through which everyone would need to transit to enter and leave the party. Initially using wood and white muslin, by the end of this heroic effort we needed two red spotlights for the eyes and a smoke machine to breathe smoke through the nostrils. But if Beyond the Brain was all about money, these events would never have been what they became. Everyone was contributing “for the party”; it was bigger than any single person.

This event was our most polished production. By then, the crew had worked together for so long that everyone knew what they were doing. Demographically, the event attracted lots of young people with many coming down from the Gold Coast and Brisbane. While it was another spectacular party, it also felt like the end of an era. Up until this event, there was always a supreme confidence that right was on our side, the intentions were positive, and so many people were benefitting that it was unstoppable. But BtB had turned into an event of epic renown, heralded throughout the shire and beyond, and a point had been reached. Relationships were getting strained in the intensity and the “soul” of the event was in danger of being lost. We had pushed the envelope of the dance party as far as we could. Burning Man was the closest comparison. Neither we, nor Beyond the Brain, felt invincible anymore. Not long after, the local Council stepped in and stopped any more similar events on the grounds of safety.

Beyond the Brain were true multi-media “happenings”, a fusion of dance, art exhibition and performance theatre. They were also first and foremost parties. Despite all the ambition and artistic aspirations, events had to “go off”, and if this worked everything would fall into place. If you wanted to come to party and nothing more, they delivered. But if you stopped to think about what the art might mean, the messages in the symbolism, the meanings behind the performances, the connections that might exist between all the work that had gone into this one night of celebration, they provided material for deep and lasting thoughts around possibility, consciousness, relationships and value.

They were also very much the product of a time and place: Byron Bay just before house prices rocketed and demographics shifted following the completion of the Pacific Highway upgrade to Brisbane and Sydney. The community and atmosphere were tolerant, laid back, spiritual, colourful, friendly, powerful and magical; “freaks”, “greens” and “alternatives” were in the majority. People were prepared to work together quite selflessly, doing it for the doof. There was a sense of collective ownership and belonging which involved everyone and their aspirations. No one in the crew ever really got paid back for their efforts, compared to most “regular” occupations. It was about something else.

These were visionary events happening at the right time in the perfect place—a superb and loose venue, right next to a beautiful beach, at a glorious collective moment where the creative chemistry of so many people came together. There is an openness and egalitarian acceptance that psychedelic use engenders that can, at least temporarily, dissolve the hierarchies, jealousies, grudges and judgements characteristic of human personalities. At Beyond the Brain, people came together as a team to create and enjoy something bigger than themselves. In doing so, those involved were able to transcend patterns of passivity, negativity and fear. The super-efforts expended to produce the parties seemed to activate latent human possibilities on both a personal and collective level, allowing access to a higher order of reality where miracles can happen.

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

Author Biography

Paul Chambers obtained his PhD from the University of Adelaide in 2019, with a thesis entitled “People, Platforms, Practice: The Social Mediation of Electronic Music Production”. Paul started clubbing in the 1980s, was a DJ and promoter through the 1990s, and continues to make and perform electronic music.


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[1] In the early 1990s, the word “doof” emerged into a lingua franca understood by “techno tribes” proliferating up and down the Australian East Coast, signifying the ubiquitous sound of the kick drum that signalled a party was happening.

[2] Taken from the title of a contemporary track written by Tsuyoshi Suzuki as Prana.