We all know what psychedelic is, right? Maybe not the actual specific definition (from the Ancient Greek word 'psyche': mind. soul, breath, spirit - source: Wikipedia) but in lifestyle and musical terms, it's a given that the term is generally understood. Growing out of a post-war American depression and the beat generation writers of 50s, by the 60s the psychedelic lifestyle had developed, taking in underground drug-making (Owsley Stanley) and the flourishing San Fransisco music scene.
So this genre's recent re-emergence could be a response to the last decade's decline into hard times; a post-millenium depression, pure freak-out and escapsism at the onset of high unemployment and another recession. We've been through the cycle of popular culture and it's finally bitten itself on the arse. After retro-focussed Britpop, we had the dizzy, dance-led 80s revival; festivals with purely rock and heavy metal line-ups have seen an increase in numbers; now, reversing further to early 70s and 60s influences, things are getting as jumbled as they were then.
Mods and suede-heads are as fashionable as kids who frequent student shops which look more like jumble sales touting any item of clothing from the last 30 years as 'fashion'. But then, has psych ever really gone away? The 80s had its own sprinklings of psych fallout. The 90s had acid house with the same drug-fuelled mania as the 60s, while the 00s subsequent scenester heaven 'new rave' was a case of deminishing returns. There are films continually being made based on books books from the likes of Hunter S Thompson and Kerouac, whose work spans all the original psych era.
Has psych always been popular then, but the NME just didn't notice? What's going on? Is it a trend? Is it cool to be whimsical and progressive and exotic again...? There's been an influx of acts hitting the mainstream music press lately, and generating more popular acclaim than similar acts would've done in the last few years. Tame Impala are a favourite: melodic, harmonious, so exciting they've even got a track on the Made in Chelsea ad. However, the fairly prolific Aussie psych-sters have actually had a hand in other well-received projects like Pond (crazy live act) and Melody Prochet's debut, with her classic French pop vocals.
At the other end of the psych scale (which is quite a large one, taking in folk, rock, pop and soul, even electronica) are Palma Violets, the latest trendy luvvies. Their credibility as psychedelic is debatable; there's a distinct lack of authenticity about them, really, and they sound more like jolty indie. Which brings me back to my original question: Is this re-emergence all a fad at the end of the day - a label?
Pushing the popularity of the psych genre even further, last month saw the forever musical city of Liverpool host the UK's first Festival of Psychedelia, acts crammed back-to-back into the city's newest warehouse venue, The Camp & Furnace. From the engaging punk-psych of The Wild Eyes to melodic, sonnet-driven Wolf People, to the drone and fuzz of Dead Skeletons, the day featured bands which covered every aspect of psychedelia and beyond.
A handful were pushing the boundaries of psych for sure. Hookworms are very electro and Kraut, while Black Manila might not feel they fit the genre but pulled off a great set of upbeat garage with a sometimes country feel to it's rhythms. Pretty unusual and great to watch, and not too far from the psych tradition, the band are taking the live experience of psych to the masses - they've got their own residency in at The Macbeth in Hoxton for the next couple of months, which will undoubtedly be well worth a visit, judging by their set up north.
Ranging from doom and sludge to shoegaze and Krautrock, acts are coming out of the woodwork - for astral folkies there are bands like The See See and Woods; for prog freaks, there's the instrumental Plank! and for mind-frying sounds, noise acts like Milk Maid and The Lucid Dream cut it well. The timeless Acid Mothers Temple are touring again, or rather still, delivering endless soundscapes of guitar-fuzz and messages from aliens translated into sound.
San Francisco is still pumping out psych acts from Thee Oh Sees to Kelley Stoltz, and the space-rock side of psych is pushed by The Black Angels (who have their own psych fest in Austin, Texas), Pink Mountaintops and Acid Baby Jesus. Thinking about similarities to old psych acts like Can, NEU!, even Zappa and 90s types BJM and Spacemen 3, there are so many sub-genres to psych it would satisfy any non-mainstream taste. So after some digging, it'd seem psych has never really gone away. It's out there, bands are participating, people are watching, the world is listening. Go and expand your mind.
Black Manila - https://www.facebook.com/blackmanila
Liverpool Psych Fest - http://liverpoolpsychfest.tumblr.com/
Austin Psych Fest - http://www.austinpsychfest.com/
Why not get yourself down to the Macbeth in Hoxton, London? The following gigs are free entry and feature some of the best new bands on the scene:
November 2 with Black Manilla and The Underground Youth
December 7 with Black Manilla and Wild Eyes
Black Manilla will also digitally release their next single 'June 95' w/ b-side 'Tapdance the Hangman' to coincide with the final residency on December 7 - there will be an extremely limited number of tapes available on the night.