Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The View from the Afternoon

Back in 1994 the hugely influential (later to be huge sell-out), proto-superstar DJ Paul Oakenfold returned from a trip to India, ranting and quite literally raving about the burgeoning trance scene in Goa. Fusing the ferral, dark psychadelic sound with more club friendly productions he went on to mix what was considered (arguably) to be the best Essential Mix ever to be broadcast on Radio One, and in the process denonated the Goa Trance sound in Europe.

Psy-trance, as it eventually came to be known, was relatively short lived as a mainstream club pheonomenon, but the spiritual, otherworldly production values that gave the music its haunting edge lived on through Progressive House which went on to dominate the global dance scene into the next millenium. Whether this means Paul Oakenfold is single handedly responsible for unleashing the appalling crimes on fashion that were orange trance-utility-trousers, and the rest of the flouro-related clobber that followed remains to be debated. EIther way, Goa is still indelibly linked with the image of wild beach parties soundtracked by booming trance, dreadlocked hippies in tie-dye, and acid sunrises. So having never made it over back in the day, I was looking forward to seeing whether this was still actually still the case - whether the Goa of public imagination still existed, or whether time, and popularity as a holiday destination had changed all that...

From chatting to friends before we arrived it pretty much seemed that there were two sides to Goa. Advice seemed to be "South Goa is chill out, North Goa is Party time". So, heading up from Kerala we hit the South first for a bit of R&R before the Christmas binge in the North, and on the advice of Goa stalwarts Matt and Lucy, made our way to Pallolem Beach.

Arriving an hour before sunrise it looked spectacular. A stunning, empty, tropical stretch of golden sand lined with cocohuts and flanked by a rocky bay. As it was three weeks before the main season kicked off it was still pretty quiet, and we spent a week being about as lazy as two people can be, lounging in hammocks, drinking cocktails before lunch and generally soaking up the sun. It was pretty hard to pull ourselves away when time to move on came around, but we had people to meet and a family holiday to invade!

Now I like to think that over the course of the last few months we'd been pretty good as far as "keeping it cultural" and holding down the partying goes (we both agreed that we did enough of that at home), and we were feeling in pretty good shape. However, all that was about to go shit - amazing how meeting up with some familiar faces from home turf can unleash the bad habits (admitedly it doesnt take much), but lets just say on the first day we met up with Jen and Smiffy in Calingute in North Goa, an entire case of large Kingfisher, two bottles of wine and a bottle of rum "disapeared" mysteriously by the pool in one afteroon...

Calingute is the overdeveloped commercial beach resort town where holiday makers flock every year for cheap bars and pubs, loud music and boozy afternoons on the beach, and what a beach it is...I've honestly never seen one so busy in my life. Rammed from top to bottom it looks pretty much like vintage Benidorm (with cows of course) and was loaded with the requisite Lobster-Red Europeans in floppy hats chain smoking and knocking back the premium strength lager. You know its going to be interesting when you hear "Who the fuck is Alice" coming from a bar in the first ten mintutes. Not really my type of thing, but when in Rome, eat chips.

Anyway, Jen and Smiffy had kindly sorted us a smart and unfeasably cheap apartment with pool on the quiet end of town and the next two weeks kind of turned into a family holiday within a holiday, with all the added entertainment that kids deliver. "Mum I'm not eating this, its weird, have they got fish fingers?", "Mum Dillon's locked him self out of the room again", "Mum Rhys shot me in the head with an elastic band" etc. But to be frank, we all know blokes don't ever really grow up and there can't be many better ways to spend afternoons than enjoying ice cream/cold beers on the beach, going crabbing in rock-pools and fishing with telescopic rods and spinners. Admittedly, although Smiffy had bought two rods for the kids, they didn't get much chance to use them due to our extensive, erm, "demonstrating classes".

Being the build up to Christmas too there was clearly some sort of competetion going on with a few of the Northern ex-pat Brits who lived in the apartment complex we were staying in. Every day after returning from the beach more flashing tat seemed to have appeared on two of the balconies, reaching the point where you could probably have seen them from space. Powercuts are a pretty much daily affair in India, but I'm sure the ones in our block were down to the massive electrical drain caused by 9 thousand fairy lights, 4 giant flashing stars and several luminous Santas going full pelt 12 hours a day.

Nights were spent mainly down on the beach eating and drinking at the numerous beach shacks which battled to see who could play the loudest six year old Electro House records (How many versions of Robin S's Show me Love are there?) and we did pull a few allnighters which ended up resulting in some messy mornings on Vagator Beach (see picture of Smiffy and angry cow in photos for good example). We hired a few mopeds, went to the markets, took a boat out to do some proper sea fishing and saw dolphins, got invited to an ex-pat OAP Bingo party and generally avoided being sober. Christmas day turned out pretty good too. Paragliding, Barbequed fish and curry! Smiffy somehow managed to eat six different dinners at six bars which was quite impressive, but I think he may have suffered internal hemoraging by the look of him next day.

So with internal organs still barely functioning we said our goodbyes to the Oxford Massive and hit the road again having finally got in contact with Leicester peeps Matt, Lucy and Jonnie who'd been on a mammoth road trip through Maharashtra on the trusty Enfield Bullets (real men drive 50cc mopeds though). They were heading down to Palolem for New Years Eve and we were more than happy to return after our week there in early December. Pretty much everyone had doubled thier rates in North Goa (thanks overspending Russians!), and frankly judging by the increasing daily torrent of new holiday makers arriving for the festivities it looked like Calingute and Bagga could turn into one of Dantes Circles of hell in a few days. By the time we'd arrived down at Palolem again even the tranquil bay we'd seen just a few weeks ago was now busy, so we took a beach hut at the quiet Patnem beach a few Kilometres down the road, which turned out to be a good choice - we stayed in beach shack with some great people, talked total rubbish over afternoon beers and on NYE had a bonfire and BBQ on the beach before heading over to meet Lu and Matt on Palolem. Wading through the unbelievably packed full moon high tide beach we only just made it for midnight celebrations in the most disorganised bar on earth. We didnt stay long (the booze was running dry rapidly) and headed off to Agonda beach for long and entertaining night of partying. We finally made it home sometime around 11am the next morning. Happy New Year!

It was great to catch up with the guys...and we'd finally started to see what all the fuss about Goa was. Maybe we were missing something, but the North just didnt do it for us, the South however, is beautiful and we'd definately go back. It's easy to see why you could end up getting stuck there, and we found ourselves staying at Patnem for another several days before we moved on to Hampi in Karnataka which we'd heard so much about.

As far as whether the fabled psychadelic Goa of 90's still existed - it's hard to say; mainly because we never actually made it a proper party (getting old?). We did consider heading to the "Russian Progressive House and Minimal Night" for about 5 seconds but then decided against it - meat heads in Lime Banana hammocks doth not make a good party.

Without doubt, opinion is "It's not what it used to be" (isn't it always...). The rules regulating the shutting off of soundsystems before midnight don't help either and judging by the average age of the grizzled Trance Monsters at Anjuna market, it's unlikely that there is going to be any massive underground resurgence as the area continues to commercialise. But, Goa definately does have a certain magic and is clearly still a very special place for a lot of people. I still hold Paul Oakenfold responsible for those Orange Trance Trousers though...

View our pics here:

Goa Part 1

Goa Part 2

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