Random Steps through Boom Festival 2010
University of Strasbourg
A psytrance dance floor is a unique experience. As the night wears on, the ambiance grows ecstatic, and I become unburdened of my daily routine. Surrounded by hundreds of people shaking on trance music, I feel powerful sensations from a multitude of unknown yet attractive bodies and faces. My mind is overwhelmed by audio-visual sensory input.
Millions of thoughts and images from yesterday, today and tomorrow travel through my mind, as I confront crucial questions about life, myself, and the world. I stare at the palms of my hands and the questions become answers. Flash after flash, I recall none of these mindfields with any accuracy, and it seems that millions of instantaneous ideas disappear as quickly as the music, once switched off. We are the generation in which imagination, feelings and spirituality merge with multimedia, image and sound technologies. The present defines reality: whatever is felt now exists, and whatever exists should be felt now and here, in the collective trance, on the dance floor.
The landscape of the Boom Festival is magical: wonderful natural hills with the warm colours of the summer sky reflect off the surface of the lake. We crawl through the festival site like little animals swinging between amazing colour gradations. At night, blacklights underline a fluorescent universe. Visual performances re-design perceptible space. My eyes linger on the movements of a bunch of lasers scanning space in all directions, creating moving waves of green light, inclining and turning horizons which divide the crowd. A new sensation emerges from that experience.
These visual and spacial feelings combine with music and other auditory experiences. Trance runs fast, high BPM merging with long and progressive samples, exploring the sound spectrum from infrabasses to ultra trebles. It is music that seems to explore humanity’s largest perceptual field. Trance, like other electronic dance music genres, is designed to be experienced on a dance floor during a festival or a night party. Actually, it is built by the dance floor, during years and decades of parties, as the reactions of the crowds influence the musical creations and inspiration of the artists. This kind of music is hardly accessible outside of this context. It is a collective, sensitive experience, shared with little verbal communication—the music’s volume on the dance floor doesn’t allow for it. People communicate with gestures and facial expressions. They share emotions, euphoria, joy, contemplation, exhaustion...
Music is the common denominator for thoughts, feelings and the individual states of mind of those gathering on the dance floor. Every being who enters this zone enters a collective body—a temporary conglomeration of individuals, each in a state of fusion with their neighbours.
I travelled alone to the festival. That’s the best way to really free your mind, to really meet people, there or on the road. Loneliness compels you toward meeting and discovery. I didn’t stay alone for long though, as I found new companions on a bus en route to the festival. When I reached the bus station in Montpellier, France, I had a new friend, and a few minutes later, ten more. We shared wonderful moments together during the week of the festival, then everyone went back to his or her own town and life. What happens next doesn’t matter, because travelling, meeting and partying just makes you forget all about it.
Living in the absolute present is the essence of this event. Being here and now, completely, through trance, dance and meditation. A cognitive and emotional fusion: of bodies dancing together, of minds perceiving the same meltdown of music and images, and feeling the collective ecstasy. “In the end, there is no more need for words”, states the description on the Boom website.
When you reach the apex of this experience, of this state of mind, you forget for a while where you’re from, who you are, and what you’re doing in life. In the festival you meet the hidden side of your self, discovering new tastes, ideas and projects. For those who decide—or are able—to pursue this lifestyle, the festival is like a ceremony of purification, of rebirth.
Is there something significant happening here, or are these people simply sellers and buyers of dreams? Is Boom simply a musical theme park, or is it a place to share something stronger? Well, as the world sometimes looks like a huge battlefield, or a bomb ready to explode, I understand why people gather seeking love and peace through dancing, listening to music, Yoga, meditation and other artistic expressions. Boom participants are seeking what their crazy urban lives do not provide, stressed by labour practices, ecological disasters, the economic crisis and mediated threats of all kinds. “Make change happen” - it’s printed on the thin bracelet around my wrist, and is the slogan of Boom’s 2010 Festival. If any change is possible, it should be a positive change for a better human and global situation. In the depressive period of our Western countries and culture, this may be the only place on earth where we can live and practice that change.
I met a young woman at the festival, Naama. She arrived with friends from Israel, after hours and days of hazardous road travel. Her eyes looked calm and her long blond dreadlocks evoked for me the taste of a cool and different way of life. But when I spoke with her, there was sadness in her voice. “I feel a little disappointed. It is not like I imagined it. People aren’t so magic, so crazy”, she said. And yet, she found the festival alluring and did not want it to end. “I’d like to live constantly that way. There are people who do so. They just wander from one festival to another, always applying for volunteer jobs, so they get food and don’t have to pay the entry tickets. They also have no rent to pay, and so they can stay ever in this way of life, never returning to the other world. I’d like to do that”.
Naama informed me about the archetype of the traveller who fires the imagination of many festival-goers. She had made such a great effort, spent so much money travelling to join the festival, that the seven days of the party were too short, and the idea of its ending was disappointing.
A moment later, my friends and I were on “Tripical Beach”. It was toward the end of the afternoon and the sun was dropping behind the lake. Some were sitting on the beach, others were playing, dancing and juggling. The ambient music from the Playa Bar began to lift us up. Everybody stood and began dancing on the sand, with feet in the water, facing the sun’s setting course. It was a very powerful moment, with everybody shouting and whistling. As a strong feeling of joy spread upon us all, we were ready to return to the festival’s huge dance floors and sound systems.
After a night of dancing in different places with a friend, we stopped near the banks of the lake and slept. In the morning, I was awoken by a strange voice. It was a single phrase, repeated every twenty seconds. “Whooh! Forava! Muchomucha. Whooh!” I opened my eyes, intrigued by the strange tone. The same words were repeated again and again, for about half an hour. The voice was coming from the beach. A thin, naked man was creeping in the low water, sometimes throwing his arms in the air, splashing in the water, shouting “Forava, whoooh!!”. Around him were five or six people I recognised from Kosmicare, Boom’s harm reduction and risk minimisation outfit. The man was high. I watched him climbing the legs of the calm and patient caretakers. They held him down several times, when he had violent movements, even if he had only the urge to embrace and kiss his caretakers. Patiently and respectfully, they took care of him. I wondered how long he would stay in that state of mind—maybe ten hours or more—and when he would recover. My friend did not believe the man had overdosed, and did not perceive this experience as I did—this tragic side of the scene we were witnessing. He simply felt that this was a great scene of joy: “Hey, this man looks totally happy, don’t you think! He is really happy”, he said. Well, maybe he was right. Maybe too happy, I thought. What remains human in a mind that has gone into rapture? How can he remain part of the collective body, he who has reached alone such a distant place that he cannot communicate with anyone anymore, automatically repeating the same three words over and over. I felt it was like he was caught in some chemical ecstasis mechanical trap.
This was the end of the trip, where the road didn’t seem to offer any more answers. On the one hand, I felt enlightened and empowered by my experiences at Boom, the extraordinary feelings I had. On the other hand, exhausted, I felt happy it was over. But when I returned home to France, I felt disorientated, questioning my everyday life and work routines. Immersed in the music, meeting travellers from different countries and cultures, discovering new ideas, practices and technologies, the festival enabled a clearer understanding of my habits. There, with time to contemplate the world, to perceive all possibilities, and to understand what we really need, we can find better solutions for tomorrow.
During an undergraduate Social and Cultural Anthropology course at the University of Strasbourg, France (2007–2009), Lisa Diotalevi conducted fieldwork on the European underground techno movement. She is now exploring psychedelic trance parties and culture. Website: <http://zalid.free.fr>.
Boom Festival concept: <http://www.boomfestival.org/boom2010/home-news/concept> (accessed 6 November 2011).
“Dance Temple – Boom Festival 2010”. Vimeo: <http://vimeo.com/31789457> (accessed 6 May 2012).