In popular culture, outer space is suffused with cosmicliminality. It is a perilous realm potentiating gothic terror or gnosticawakening. This article explores how extraterrestrial space, and its imaginedinhabitants, became a source of illumination within a stream of popular andalternative music evolving since the 1960s--and indeed since televised imagesof NASA astronauts operating in weightless conditions, orbiting the Earth,and traversing the moon were transmitted into family living rooms. It offersinsight on the creative remix of popular culture in contemporary spirituallife as evidenced within electronic dance music culture (EDMC), andspecifically psychedelic trance (or psytrance), a transnational visionaryarts and dance culture suffused with the audiovisual tropes of space travel,UFO sightings, and alien contact. Sampled from film, television series,documentaries, computer games, NASA radio dialogue, and other popularcultural sources, it is argued that, in psytrance, space travel is anarrative device for inner travail, the avatar's quest, the hero'sjourney. In off-planetary and intergalactic narratives programmed into adefinitively "progressive" music, psytrance would find in thefigure of the discovered alien other--through sightings, encounters,abductions, and so on--the potential for the discovery of the self. (2) Theliminal ambiance of outer space and the accompanying figure of the alien aredeployed within this music and in its event-culture to orchestrate that whichis considered highly desirable under the reflexive pressures of latemodernity: self-awakening and empowerment.
In its benevolent guise at least, the iconic popular fiction ofthe extraterrestrial "alien" has become hitched to a meta-projectof the self. As such, the alien is a device whose sampling and redeploymentwithin the context of psyculture is consistent with the modern perceptionthat "truth" is mediated, and authorized, primarily throughpersonal experience (Heelas 1996; Partridge 1999; James 2010). While themeta-narrative of the alien is deployed within pathways that recognize theepistemological value of divinity independent of faith and institutionalreligion, this study departs from the majority of sociologies of New Agereligion or "spiritualities of life," since they typically overlookthe role of "entheogens" (i.e., psychoactive compounds held toawaken the divine within) related to the processes considered here (see Ott1995; Strassman et al. 2008). As an approach to the grafting ofextraterrestrials and space travel to cultural practices of self-realizationand entheogenesis, this study of alienation also departs radically fromstandard preoccupations with alienation in modern sociology where this termrefers to "the distancing of people from experiencing a crystallizedtotality both in the social world and in the self (Kalekin-Fishman 1998, 6).Far from designating estrangement from wellbeing, alienation, as it is usedhere, more properly identifies a transpersonal process assisted by the figureof the benevolent alien appropriated from science fiction and, furthermore,allegorizing contact with universal, or mystical, consciousness. While thisstudy seeks to join contemporary discussions about the role of popularculture in religion and spirituality, about the growing significance ofpsychoactive compounds in contemporary spiritual practices, and contributesto existing research on the religious dimensions of EDMCs (St John 2004,2006, 2013a), it is more directly a contribution to the study of the role ofthe remix in alternative spiritual pursuits, which given the compositionalcharacter of late modern identities, affords insight on the nature ofcontemporary spiritual life.
Enabled by digitalization and virtual communications, adecentralized, and arguably "democratic," legacy is integral to thetechnics of EDM which enable independent musicianship and the remixing ofaudiovisual material available to the "read/write" generation (seeLessig 2008) in increased quantities and at accelerating speeds. As processesof consumption and production are interconnected in EDM cultures, with theprocess of appropriation (where existing elements may be assigned to a newpurpose) effectively constituting the logic of their association inpsytrance, popular cultural sources are repurposed to the project of theself. The recycling and bricolage of pop-cult narratives reveals arevisionist sensibility, a refashioning, or to use one of Kodwo Eshun's(1998) insights, a "technofying," of the self. And for natives ofthe digital age, the copy is never 1:1, with the techno-spiritual remixthrowing up unique products from its wash cycle, challenging assessments ofcultural appropriation and postmodern theory. In its unique interfacing ofpopular culture, spirituality, and technics, psytrance pursues a projectconsistent with post-romantic figurations of the self culminating in the"spiritual revolution" of late modernity (Heelas and Woodhead 2005;Heelas 2008). In this circumstance, the self is not only "able todiscover religious truth apart from divine revelation from without or the aidof some other external authority, but the truth it seeks is within"(Partridge 2004a, 73). And popular culture, or that which ChristopherPartridge recognizes as "popular occulture," is appropriated to theends of self-sacralisation and "re-enchantment" (Partridge 2004a,2006).
It is not difficult to understand why the adventures ofspaceflight, instilled with boys-own tales of adversity and invention, wouldbecome popular within a male-dominated DJ culture. The Apollo 13 incident andrecovery evokes the heroic adventure stories built into spaceflightnarratives popularized--for instance, in Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo(1947). Moreover, the narrative sequentialises Joseph Campbell'smonumythical "hero's journey," which was built largely frommasculine narratives. In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Campbell (2008, 30)articulated the panhuman mythical narrative: "A hero ventures forth fromthe world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forcesare there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back fromthis mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellowman." There are several stages to this common mythic structure where thehero is called upon a quest, encounters a strange world, faces trials, andovercomes challenges, often with assistance, and is awarded a gift as aresult of experience gained. The "boon" may be used upon returnfrom the journey to improve conditions in the world. The basic narrativeinvolves--in the fashion earlier recognized by Van Gennep (1960)--phases ofdeparture, initiation, and return. Here, the challenge of goal-orientedspaceflight (i.e., NASA's lunar missions) offers raw material for themonumyth. Twenty years following the publication of Campbell's book, aSpace Age version of the myth was performed on an international stage. (11)And in a further 20 to 25 years, it was resurrected by Goatrance artists. Theentire mythical structure had been envisioned some years earlier when, in aSpecial Message to the US Congress, on 25 May 1961, president John F. Kennedystated: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achievingthe goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returninghim safely to the Earth." The message was sampled by Digital Sun on"Men On The Moon" (The Spiral Of Power, 1997), amplifying theinimitable desire of artists to adopt the goals and achievements ofNASA's lunar program to narrate the hero's journey.
Over on the chill floor, ambient artist Alpha Wave Movement picksup the soundtrack on "No Mans Land" (A Distant Signal, 2002):"I'm gonna step off the LM [lunar module] now," Armstrongannounces ahead of Floyd-like synth melodies. And from "Mapping TheHeavens" on that album, Armstrong recites his immortal line: "Onesmall step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Having crossed into theSea of Tranquility, an astral euphoria has been achieved from which a senseof universal consciousness is obtained, perhaps best conveyed through theannouncements of President Nixon in radio conversation with Armstrong andAldrin at their off-world base, Tranquility. It is a popular speech, sampledby Astral Projection on its euphoric testament to the moment of singularity,"One" (on Psy-Trance Euphoria 2, 2009). With omission of anyreference to national identity, and with Nixon's identity hidden tothose unfamiliar--I assume many listeners--it comes over as the outcome of akind of cosmic communitas and an affirmation of self mainlined in communionwith the Godhead: "This has to be the proudest day of our lives. And forpeople all over the world, I am sure they too join. For one priceless momentin the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one; onein their pride at what you have done." The moon landing was the contextfor an unparalleled televisualized peak experience, one in which differencesof state were momentarily set aside and where the project of the self became,to paraphrase Turner (1969, 131), coterminous with that of the human species.The narrative would be popular in trance. For instance, singing an ode to theGoa foundations on their epic "Summer 89," Israeli'sCalifornia Sunshine uses "all of the people of this Earth are trulyone," from the 1997 album Trance, which also includes "The NewKing," where a boy repeats: "We came in peace for allmankind." Such statements invoke the article of Space Age faith thatrocket-propelled spaceflight will facilitate the transcendence of nationaljealousies, racial differences, and class conflict (see Kilgore 2003, 39),which is not remote from the utopian obsessions of expatriates who trekked toGoa in the 1960s and 1970s during the freeze of the Cold War and whoinitiated what I have elsewhere called a "cosmic carnival," anoff-world interzone which would become a popular trance architectonic adoptedin dance venues ever since (St John 2012a, 200-206).
(6.) That aliens are also complex expressions of the fear andanxiety of the unknown, as deployed in the productions of "darktrance" (a subgenre of psytrance), is a subject I plan to discuss in afuture project. While the monstrous and malevolent alien of popular cultureis inflected with the symbolism of Christian demonology (see Partridge2004b), and may otherwise signify the "shadow," this figure isnevertheless deployed in self-directed ritualisations such as thatorchestrated by Goa Gil (see St John 20 a). 2b1af7f3a8