The relationship between ritualistic drumming and consciousness alteration is an age old tradition stemming largely from the overlooked shamanic cultures of antiquity. It should go without saying that viewing the supposed “triumph” of Western materialism thought over the more “primitive” concepts of animism is a retardedly short-sighted way of oversimplifying the universe, but that’s the way most of us look at it. Those crazy shamans, wasting all their time with that useless spirituality. It’s hard to blame us; we’ve been mind-raped from the jump by our society. How many beer commercials have I seen in my life? I’m sure the number’s in the tens of thousands. So, whereas conventional science won’t even come close to acknowledging this reality, it should be somewhat obvious that repetitive rhythmic patterns have the ability to create powerful trance like mind states either by themselves or more effectively, when used in conjunction with certain psychoactive substances (this band’s MySpace layout has giant mushrooms floating around in the background — I’m just saying).
This research is not being done, and it probably never will be due to the psychotic “war on consciousness,” as Graham Hancock refers to it, so forays into this type of calculated experimentation fall into the hands of artists, musicians, casual thrill-seekers, and neurological outlaws… which is where a band like Swahili comes in. Oh, did I mention that I can’t stand drum circles? Yeah, I’ve walked out of more than a few parties when they’ve spontaneously mobilized. Which is what’s kind of interesting about this new brand of psychedelic culture that’s emerging. Whereas hippies are hell bent on worshipping at the altar of the past, the urban tripster is starting to take the reins and push things firmly towards ecstatic hyperspace.
It’s not that the drum circle isn’t a fine way of screwing with your head; it’s just boring. Clichéd. Played out. Take your pick. It’s 2011. We’ve got Xboxes, smart phones, gajillions of FX pedals, sequencers, and all other manner of random auditory gadgetry at our disposal. Just a bunch of hippies playing drums? Booooooooring. Oh, and it’s been done. God, Phish suck too, and I’ve always thought Grateful Dead were insanely mediocre. Jerry Garcia was a fucking heroin addict, for Christ’s sake. I don’t know; that stuff just doesn’t have much of an effect on my headspace when I listen to it, other than that it fades into the background like muzak in an elevator.
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I suppose the problem with both the rave scene, and the hippie movement (and really the New Age movement, in spiritual terms) is the insistence on ignoring or not even acknowledging your dark side. If you do this, it will destroy you, which is kind of what we saw in both cases. There’s got to be a balance between the two — the angelic and demonic, the yin and the yang, chaos and order, structure and anti-structure, etc. If you think, “All you need is love,” then why the fuck do we spend half our money on imperialistic wars? Why are the drugs that made you think, “All you needed was love,” illegal in the first place? Fortunately, a new brand of bands like Liars, Prince Rama, and now Portland’s Swahili are cropping up and reclaiming the trance drum ritual as a legitimate art form.
It’s a cool idea. This album is all about non-stop beats constantly pounding their way into your aura and boldly warping your thought patterns. These guys aren’t huge on melody, but when the witch vocals kick in on the album’s true stand-out track, “Soma,” it’s the kind of unholy sacrament that communicates the presence of the divine uncanny and makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. The rest of the album is dense with succulent pulsing rhythms, calculated keyboard mindfuckery, and otherworldly dream incantations. So basically, it kind of owns. But you really need to see these kids live to catch the full effect. Having caught them at the Josephine last week, I had this experience where I was trying to focus the contents of my mind’s eye on some calculated sigils, when out of nowhere, the music took control and transformed them into the eye of abstract character sketch I made like ten years ago. I kind of floated back and forth through the colossal thought form Cyclops while the beats intensified and guided my visions. Neither science nor religion will ever be able to properly explain how this kind of thing happens, or why — so fuck ’em.