This ain't your old man's psychedelia
// Colin Spensley

M y parents aren't hippies. If you were to count how many times my mom has smoked weed, on one hand, you’d have a closed fist. The same goes for all of my relatives: it just wasn’t part of their lives. Thus, my introduction to anything more psychedelic than Pink Floyd’s The Wall didn’t come until I started dabbling in various forms of psychedelia myself.

“Psychedelia,” put simply, is anything pertaining to psychedelic music, culture, or drugs. Marijuana leaves swirling in a cascade of rainbows, peace symbols, and a three-headed Jimi, guitar in hand, perhaps on fire. Stereotypes like these perpetuate my cynicism towards the culture previously mentioned, but luckily there is something great at the other end of this acid-induced triple rainbow.

Psychedelia and psychedelic music has lived on not only through the 70s, but also well into today’s modern music scene. Take Fela Kuti, for example: this Nigerian genius began his musical experimentation by playing traditional African rhythms. He then smoked a bunch of weed, and decided to add three electric guitars, four drummers, five keyboards, and six singers. With that formula, he created something that can be life changing to listen to.

Kuti’s most successful record, Zombie, was a huge influence for Hendrix and many other psych-rock bands that have come out since its release. The genre, which is often called “afrobeat,” was created and nurtured in African societies, from Angola and Benin, to Nigeria and Ghana. Young men formed bands and recorded onto anything they could, including microphones made from coconut shells. Bands like Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou often took rhythms from African burial ceremonies like the “seto” and added Western rock and roll instrumentation over top.

The music is usually quite lo-fi and fuzzy, but that only enhances the passion and ingenuity that was put into making something they cared about so much. Afrobeat has musicians working themselves up into fervor with songs building to huge climaxes and crescendos over beats so complex you may need a math degree to figure them out. These songs and albums were pressed to low quantities of vinyl records and basically forgotten.

Luckily, there are some fine music lovers out there who want you to hear these pearls that would otherwise be lost in time and sand. Companies like Analog Africa and Sound Wave searched the dusty markets and stores of small African towns throughout the continent for these rare and obscure records. They clean them up, re-master the audio, and compile incredible compilation records generally based on region or time frame. Some choice titles include “African Scream Contest,” “The Legendary Sounds of Benin,” “West Africa Airways,” and my personal favourite, “The Hallelujah Chicken Run Band.” Do yourself a favour and check Analog Africa out online: the tribal beats, screaming horn sections, and shredding electric guitars might just make you get up from your chair and start gyrating around the room.

Skip forward about 40 years from the time of Afrobeat. Of course, our dads have mostly kept “classic rock” alive through reunion tours and incredible Bon Jovi impersonators, but there is a new wave of Psych Rock that has emerged in the last ten years. Bands from this era and genre sound as though they’ve been pulled straight from some dusty record shelf and haven’t seen the light of day, let alone a record needle, for 50 years. Familiar names might include The Black Lips, The Black Keys, or The Black Angles; a lot of black nouns, that’s for sure.

The music is usually characterized by slow tempo drumming with droning synths or guitars and drawling vocals, a couple of guitar solos and some 3D cover art. It’s essentially rock music for the stoned – in the immortal words of Timothy Leary, “Tune in, turn on, drop out.” That doesn’t mean you have to get high to like this genre; fans of psychedelic music often state that the music itself can lift them to states of euphoria, without the assistance of drugs. I myself have spent an entire summer hiking the mountains of the Yukon listening to African Psych and the last thing that I was, was stoned.
If you’re just curious about this genre and don’t want to dive head first into record compilations or acid-induced spirit animal quests,

there are a few opportunities available right in Vancouver. Firstly, the Anza Club (Australian and New Zealand Social Club) holds a Psychedelic Music night every Wednesday night at #3 East 8th Ave. The two founders, Brother Josef and DJ Magneticring spin authentic Psych records all night long, accompanied by home made “trippy” visuals, and all you have to do is grab a pint with your closest pal and enjoy the chill vibes. Local acts to check out include Indian Wars, DB Buxton, The High Drops, and a Vancouver favourite Dead Ghosts. It should be noted that many of these Vancouver psych bands come off with a bluesy flavour, so if you’re not down with nine minute guitar drone-fests, they will probably satisfy you even more.

// Colin Spensely

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