DJ Goa Gil: Kalifornian Exile, Dark Yogi and Dreaded Anomaly

  • Graham St John University of Queensland, Australia
Keywords: Goa trance, Goa Gil, psytrance, techno-shaman, nomos/anomalous, ecstatic dance, cultural exile


Connecting three generations of music enthusiasts, Goa Gil is an imposing figure in the world of psychedelic trance. If the title of his 2007 compilation registers intent, he is a Worldbridger. Bristling with motifs of world sacred sites and appropriated "tribal" icons, with Gil seated cross-legged upon the apex of a Mayan temple, the album's cover artwork confabulates the physical, spiritual and cultural worlds he professes to bridge. Leading world-wide "trance dance rituals" Goa Gil operates under the guise of a "techno-shaman", a "cyber-baba" and a selector/mixer of traditions whose rituals are reputedly timeless and universal. But this intent is performed amid a highly mobile lifestyle spread across diverse psychedelic music cultures, scenes and sensibilities in discrete times and places. From the 1960s Haight-Ashbury psychedelic rock scene, to the psychedelic jam band scene on Anjuna beach, Goa, India, in the 1970s, to the adoption of electronic music in a DJ-led scene in the 1980s, to the birth of "Goa trance" in the 1990s, to his selection, production and performance of dark psychedelic trance in the 1990s/2000s onwards, DJ Goa Gil's life spans a breathtaking panorama of this-worldly psychedelic scenes. Gil is a freak bricoleur, an anomalous figure who evades modest circumscription. A Californian exile and sanctioned Shaivite practitioner with a professional hankering for darkpsy (as a DJ-producer), a hippie broker of the "Cosmic Spirit" and a post-apocalyptic punk, he is a spiritual authority and cultural outlaw touring the planet with an improbable mix of semiotic and sonic baggage. What's more, celebrated as a champion of the "Goa vibe" or derogated as an accomplice to its demise, Gil is a controversial figure who is the embodiment of considerable ambivalence. This article explores this holiest of anomalies in the world of DJing.

Author Biography

Graham St John, University of Queensland, Australia
I am a Research Associate at the University of Queensland’s Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, and was recently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Interactive Media and Production at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan, and an SSRC Residential Fellow at the School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, New Mexico. As an anthropologist of electronic dance music cultures, festivals, and movements, my latest book is Technomad: Global Raving Countercultures (Equinox 2009). I am currently completing the book Global Tribe: Spirituality, Technology and Psytrance (Equinox). My edited collection The Local Scenes and Global Culture of Psytrance was published by Routledge in 2010. Previous collections include Victor Turner and Contemporary Cultural Performance (Berghahn 2008), Rave Culture and Religion (Routledge, 2004), and FreeNRG: Notes From the Edge of the Dance Floor (Commonground, 2001). I am Executive Editor down at Dancecult.
Feature Articles