Psy Sundays Shiva Valley: Ethnographic Vignette

Psy Sundays ‘Shiva Valley’, at the Volks Nightclub, Brighton

Sunday, 22nd September 2013

Arriving at dusk, the music can be heard before the club comes into view giving the impression of the dance floor over-spilling, its surroundings enveloped within the semipermeable membrane of its boundaries. Passing Brighton pier, resplendent with gaudy lights and the towering and pristine Brighton Wheel, one walks below the promenade, the beach and darkened sea within a few meters of the opposite side of the road. Rounding the corner the club comes into view, built beneath the promenade, it is set into the rocky sea defence so that its entrance appears as if the mouth of a cave, ‘firelight’ flickering inside from the dance floor just within. The doors to the club are still open with a view onto the beach and the sea beyond and people are gathered outside the glowing entrance to the dance floor.

The club function during the day as a bar and café serving food and hot drinks, but takes on a different character when psytrance parties take place there at night, through the juxtaposition of small, circular tables on the paved area outside, connoting European café culture and the patrons in deconstructed ‘Mad Max’ style attire. Passers-by stop to look at the freaky café culture crew gathered outside around small circular tables, between the supporting columns of the promenade above, laughing, drinking, smoking and dancing. A couple and their child on an evening walk stop on the periphery of the ‘café’ to join in dancing to the digital heartbeat emanating from within the decorated cave, the entrance of which shines with coloured light, interrupted by future-primitive, dancing silhouettes.

Entering the glowing cave, one steps immediately onto the dance floor and is at once immersed in the warmth of the bass and dancing bodies. The DJ stands opposite the open doors on the ‘stage’, which is level with the dance floor, bobbing around in time with the crowd. A barrier separates the dancers from the glowing CDJs, mixing desks and laptops behind. An azure backdrop behind the DJ depicts Shiva, who serenely oversees proceedings, lasers punctuating his form and painting a translucent, restless band over the eyes of the DJ.

The hypnotic beat entrances, the reverberations felt deep in the chest, entraining the heart to synchronize with it. Whilst visceral body sensations are experienced, disembodied voices hoot digitally modified syllables into the space. Alien snippets of sound hove into view and whizz past with a Doppler effect; strange atmospheric sweeps well up around the feet and metallic particles ‘ping-pong’ around the space, spiralling away in different directions. Sirens call from the far distance as one is driven forward through the swirling, ethereal tunnel, their ghostly howls echoing down its inner perimeters. The mix dictates the feeling of space: when the end of the tunnel is reached one bursts in to a vast expanse, flying above a plateau, thrown inexorably forward. The urgency and intensity deepen, persist and increase in ceaseless climax.

Musical gestures influence the movement of bodies. When the beat is syncopated the dancers bounce with ecstatic abandon, when slightly menacing minor 2nds encroach their hand gestures sharpen, when a straight, driving pulse kicks in their postures become strong, defiant and they stomp and beat time with a fist. The crowd look to be aged from mid-twenties to middle-aged, perhaps a sign of the longevity of the scene and the psychedelic heritage it shares with other scenes, allowing individuals to seamlessly osmose into the permeations of psychedelic culture which arise over the decades. A man of about 60 emerges from the crowd; bald head and purple goatee bright in the UV light.

A breakdown, the beat abruptly retreats leaving shimmering glissandi behind. The crowd stop bouncing, some looking self-conscious, others expectant and some floating blissfully with closed eyes in the sonic space created, their hands forming representations of the swirling patterns in their mind’s eye. Atmospheric sound builds and the beat drops; the crowd bursts into movement as one, with renewed vigour.

Time seems dilated as a liminal realm arises, transcending the bounds of the cramped, post-apocalyptic bunker-like Volks, with its dank corners and camouflage netting. Those characteristics are also embraced in the timeless, autonomous zone, referencing squat parties, the early rave scene, getting down and dirty within reclaimed industrial ruins. The realm somehow encompasses futurist, utopian visions and primitive nostalgia; contains the universe and yet feels womb-like. Dionysian abandon in the crowd  is contrasted with those who are quietly, meditatively contemplating the music from the edges of the dance floor and the conscientious, organised behaviour of the DJs and promoters who adhere to the set times and the surly bouncers who ensure the event runs smoothly.

The doors to the outside begin to close and the crowd fills the empty spaces on the dance floor; whirling dervishes begin to contain their movements to accommodate more dancers.  Neo-tribal, dreaded figures, a woman with a shock of purple, post-punk hair, guys with cosmic, sacred geometry designs emblazoned on their T-Shirts, individuals with an aesthetic drawn more from the cultural mainstream who are freaks in behaviour rather than appearance – they seem representative of any person who has ever danced and will ever dance. All are pressed shoulder to shoulder, a hot mess, a carnivalesque conglomeration of mischievous faces.

The beat stops abruptly, revealing gated, fractionated sounds which smatter points of light, evoking stars. The refined British voice from a 1960s B-movie asks: “Do you not realise…we are on another planet?”

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