Psychedelic music

Psychedelic music (sometimes psychedelia[1]) covers a range of popular music styles and genres influenced by the 1960s psychedelic culture, a subculture of people who used psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline and DMT to experience visual and auditory hallucinations, synesthesia and altered states of consciousness. Psychedelic music attempted to replicate the hallucinogenic experience of using these drugs or enhance the experience of using them. Psychedelic music emerged during the mid-1960s among folk rock and blues rock bands in the United States and Britain.

Psychedelic bands often drew on non-Western sources such as the ragas, drones and sitars of Indian music and they used electric instruments and electronic effects–notably the lead electric guitar played with heavy distortion–and new, unorthodox recording techniques, such as playing tapes backwards or panning the music from one side to the other. Psychedelic influences spread into folk, rock, and soul, creating the subgenres of psychedelic folk, psychedelic rock, psychedelic pop and psychedelic soul in the late 1960s before declining in the early 1970s. Psychedelic music bands expanded their musical horizons, and went on to create and influence many new musical genres including progressive rock, kosmische musik, electronic rock, jazz rock, heavy metal, glam rock, funk, electro and bubblegum pop. Psychedelic music was revived in a variety of forms of neo-psychedelia from the 1980s, in psychedelic hip hop and re-emerged in electronic music in genres including acid house, trance music and new rave.


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A short sample followed by two flanging versions

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Unprocessed organ followed by different phasing effects

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A number of features are often included in psychedelic music. Exotic instrumentation, with a particular fondness for the sitar and tabla are common.[2] Songs often have more complex song structures, key and time signature changes, modal melodies and drones than contemporary pop music.[3] Surreal, whimsical, esoterically or literary-inspired, lyrics are often used.[4][5] There is often a strong emphasis on extended instrumental solos or jams, typically featuring a heavily distorted electric guitar as the main instrument.[3] Electric guitars are plugged into large, powerful guitar amplifiers and speakers, which are turned up to a high volume and used with distortion to create feedback. Electric guitars are typically played through a wah wah pedal, usually with heavy fuzzbox or distortion effects.[6] There is a strong keyboard presence, in the 1960s this especially using electronic organs, harpsichords, or the Mellotron, an early tape-driven 'sampler' keyboard.[7]

Elaborate studio effects are often used, such as backwards tapes, panning the music from one side to another of the stereo track, using the "swooshing" sound of electronic phasing, long delay loops, and extreme reverb.[8] In the 1960s there was a use of primitive electronic instruments such as early synthesizers and the theremin.[9][10] Later forms of electronic psychedelia also employed repetitive computer-generated beats.[11]


1960s: Origins

Timothy Leary, a major advocate of the use of LSD in the 1960s, photographed in 1989.

From the second half of the 1950s, Beat Generation writers like William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg[12] wrote about and took drugs, including cannabis and Benzedrine, raising awareness and helping to popularise their use.[13] In the early 1960s the use of LSD and other hallucinogens was advocated by new proponents of consciousness expansion such as Timothy Leary, Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley and Arthur Koestler,[14][15] and, according to L. R. Veysey, they profoundly influenced the thinking of the new generation of youth.[16]

The psychedelic lifestyle had already developed in California, particularly in San Francisco, by the mid-1960s, with the first major underground LSD factory established by Owsley Stanley.[17] From 1964 the Merry Pranksters, a loose group that developed around novelist Ken Kesey, sponsored the Acid Tests, a series of events involving the taking of LSD (supplied by Stanley), accompanied by light shows, film projection and discordant, improvised music known as the psychedelic symphony.[18][19] The Pranksters helped popularise LSD use, through their road trips across America in a psychedelically-decorated converted school bus, which involved distributing the drug and meeting with major figures of the beat movement, and through publications about their activities such as Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).[20]

San Francisco also had an emerging music scene of folk clubs, coffee houses and independent radio stations that catered to the population of students at nearby Berkeley and the free thinkers that had gravitated to the city.[21] There was already a culture of drug use among jazz and blues musicians, and in the early 1960s use of drugs including cannabis, peyote, mescaline and LSD[22] began to grow among folk and rock musicians.[23] Soon musicians began to refer (at first indirectly, and later explicitly) to the drug and attempted to recreate or reflect the experience of taking LSD in their music, just as it was reflected in psychedelic art, literature and film.[24]

Folk, rock, and pop

One of the first musical uses of the term "psychedelic" in the folk scene was by the New York-based folk group The Holy Modal Rounders on their version of Lead Belly's 'Hesitation Blues' in 1964.[25] Folk/avant-garde guitarist John Fahey recorded several songs in the early 1960s experimented with unusual recording techniques, including backwards tapes, and novel instrumental accompaniment including flute and sitar.[26] His nineteen-minute "The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party" "anticipated elements of psychedelia with its nervy improvisations and odd guitar tunings".[26] Similarly, folk guitarist Sandy Bull's early work "incorporated elements of folk, jazz, and Indian and Arabic-influenced dronish modes".[27] His 1963 album Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo explores various styles and "could also be accurately described as one of the very first psychedelic records".[28]

This trend ran in parallel in both America and Britain and as part of the inter-related folk, folk rock and rock scenes. Blues, drugs, jazz and eastern influences had featured since 1964 in the work of Davy Graham and Bert Jansch.[29] Folk artists who were particularly significant in the psychedelic movement included the Scottish performers Donovan, who combined influences of American artists like Bob Dylan with references to flower power, and the Incredible String Band, who from 1967 incorporated a range of influences into their acoustic instrument-based music, including medieval and eastern instruments.[30]

The Beatles working in the studio with their producer George Martin, circa 1965

In terms of bridging the relationship between music and hallucinogens, the Beatles and the Beach Boys were the most pivotal.[31] The Beatles introduced guitar feedback with "I Feel Fine" (1964).[5] Drug references began to appear in their songs, in "Day Tripper" (1965), and more explicitly in "Tomorrow Never Knows" (1966).[32] The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson attempted to translate the effects of LSD into music for the group's album Pet Sounds (1966), which significantly heightened the visibility of psychedelic rock.[31] As psychedelia emerged as a mainstream and commercial force, it would be reflected in pop music.[33] Pet Sounds is credited for sparking a psychedelic pop revolution, inspiring mainstream pop acts to take part in the psychedelic culture.[34] Pink Floyd's "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play", both written by Syd Barrett, helped set the pattern for pop-psychedelia in Britain.[35]

The first use of the term "psychedelic rock" is generally attributed to Austin, Texas band The 13th Floor Elevators, whose early tours would inspire San Francisco's still-incubating psychedelic scene.[3] The Byrds rapidly progressed away from purely folk rock in 1966 with their single "Eight Miles High", widely taken to be a reference to drug use.[5] In 1966, the UK underground scene based in North London supported new acts with psychedelic influences, including Pink Floyd, Traffic and Soft Machine.[36] The same year saw the début albums of rock bands Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience which featured extended solo improvisation sections using heavily distorted and sound-processed electric guitar, which went on to become a key feature of psychedelic music.[5]

Psychedelic rock reached its peak in the last years of the decade.[5] In America the Summer of Love was prefaced by the Human Be-In event and reached its peak at the Monterey Pop Festival, the latter helping to make major American stars of Hendrix and The Who.[37] Key recordings included Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow and The Doors' Strange Days.[38] These trends climaxed in the 1969 Woodstock festival, which saw performances by most of the major psychedelic acts, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Santana.[39]


Main article: Psychedelic soul
Sly and the Family Stone pioneered the genre of psychedelic soul in the late 1960s.

In the late 1960s, psychedelic music began to influence African American musicians, particularly the stars of the Motown label.[40] Influenced by the civil rights movement, psychedelic soul had a darker and more political edge than much acid rock.[40] Building on the funk sound of James Brown, it was pioneered by Sly and the Family Stone with songs like "Dance to the Music" (1968), "Everyday People" (1968) and "I Want to Take You Higher" (1969) and The Temptations with "Cloud Nine" (1968), "Runaway Child, Running Wild" (1969) and "Psychedelic Shack" (1969). Others soon followed like the Supremes with "Love Child" (1968) and "Stoned Love" (1970), The Chambers Brothers with "Time has come today" (1966, but charting in 1968), The 5th Dimension with a cover of Laura Nyro's "Stoned Soul Picnic" (1968),[41] Edwin Starr's "War" (1970) and the Undisputed Truth's "Smiling Faces Sometimes" (1971).[40] George Clinton's interdependent Funkadelic and Parliament ensembles and their various spin-offs, took the genre to its most extreme lengths making funk almost a religion in the 1970s,[42] producing over forty singles, including three in the US top ten, and three platinum albums.[43]

Late 1960s: Decline

A 'gate fold' record sleeve featuring UV/stroboscopic photography.

By the end of the 1960s, the trend of exploring psychedelia in music was largely in retreat. LSD was declared illegal in the US and UK in 1966.[44] The linking of the murders of Sharon Tate and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca by The Manson Family to Beatles songs such as "Helter Skelter" contributed to an anti-hippie backlash.[45] The Altamont Free Concert in California, headlined by The Rolling Stones on December 6, 1969, did not turn out to be a positive milestone in the psychedelic music scene, as was anticipated; instead, it became notorious for the fatal stabbing of a black teenager Meredith Hunter by Hells Angel security guards.[46]

Early "acid casualties" in the music scene, including Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys,[47] Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, helped to shift the focus of many rock bands away from psychedelia.[48] Some bands which had earlier led the psychedelic rock trends, such as the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, broke up.[49] Jimi Hendrix died in London in September 1970, shortly after recording Band of Gypsies (1970), Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose in October 1970. Jim Morrison of the Doors died in Paris in July 1971.[50] Many surviving acts moved away from psychedelia into either more back-to-basics "roots rock"; into traditional-based, pastoral or whimsical folk; the wider experimentation of progressive rock; or into riff-laden heavy rock.[5] By the early 1970s psychedelic-soul influenced records were losing their grip on the charts and most of the major artists began to look for inspiration elsewhere.[40]

After the death of Brian Epstein and the unpopular surreal television film, Magical Mystery Tour (1967), the Beatles returned to a raw style with The Beatles (1968) and Let It Be (1970), before their eventual break-up.[5] The "back to basics" trend was also evident in the Rolling Stones' subsequent albums, from Beggar's Banquet (1968) to Exile on Main St. (1972).[5] English folk rock outfit Fairport Convention released Liege and Lief in 1969, turning away from American-influenced folk rock toward a sound based on traditional British music and founding the subgenre of electric folk, to be followed by bands like Steeleye Span and Fotheringay.[51] The psychedelic-influenced and whimsical strand of British folk continued into the 1970s with acts including Comus, Mellow Candle, Nick Drake, The Incredible String Band, Forest and Trees, Kevin Ayers of Soft Machine[52] and with Syd Barrett's two solo albums.[53]

1970s–present: Influence and revival

Kraftwerk, one of the key acts in developing psychedelic music into electronic Kosmische Musik.

Many of the British musicians and bands that had embraced psychedelia moved into creating the progressive rock genre in the 1970s, including Pink Floyd, Soft Machine and members of Yes. King Crimson's album In the Court of the Crimson King (1969), has been seen as an important link between psychedelia and progressive rock.[54] While some bands such as Hawkwind maintained an explicitly psychedelic course into the 1970s, most bands dropped the psychedelic elements in favour of embarking on wider experimentation.[55] As German bands from the psychedelic movement moved away from their psychedelic roots and placed increasing emphasis on electronic instrumentation, these groups, including Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Can and Faust, developed a distinctive brand of electronic rock, known as kosmische musik, or in the British press as "Krautrock".[56] Their adoption of electronic synthesisers, along with the musical styles explored by Brian Eno in his keyboard playing with Roxy Music, had a major influence on subsequent development of electronic rock.[57] The incorporation of jazz styles into the music of bands like Soft Machine and Can, also contributed to the development of the emerging jazz rock sound of bands such as Colosseum.[58]

Psychedelic rock, with its distorted guitar sound, extended solos, and adventurous compositions, was an important bridge between blues-oriented rock and the later emergence of the heavy metal genre. Two former guitarists with the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, moved on to form key acts in the new blues rock-heavy metal genre, The Jeff Beck Group and Led Zeppelin, respectively.[59] Other major pioneers of the heavy metal genre had begun as blues-based psychedelic bands, including Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Judas Priest and UFO.[59][60]

Psychedelic music also contributed to the origins of glam rock. In 1970, when Marc Bolan moved away from his psychedelic folk style and formed the rock band T. Rex, he became the first "glam" rock star.[61] From 1971, David Bowie moved on from his early psychedelic explorations to develop his Ziggy Stardust persona, which incorporated elements of professional make-up, mime and performance into his act.[62] Psychedelic influences lasted a little longer in pop music, stretching into the early 1970s and playing a major part in the creation of Bubblegum pop.[63] Similarly, psychedelic soul continued into the early 1970s, and its sounds were incorporated into funk music and eventually became part of the disco music style.[40]


Main article: Neo-psychedelia

Neo-psychedelia (or acid punk)[64] is a diverse subgenre of alternative/indie rock that originated in the 1970s as an outgrowth of the British post-punk scene. Its practitioners drew from the unusual sounds of 1960s psychedelic music, either updating or copying the approaches from that era. Neo-psychedelia may include forays into psychedelic pop, jangly guitar rock, heavily distorted free-form jams, or recording experiments.[65]

Hip hop

Main article: Psychedelic hip hop
Psychedelic hip hop pioneers De La Soul

Psychedelic hip hop emerged at the end of the 1980s as rappers began to sample mellower grooves, with De La Soul's debut album 3 Feet High and Rising (1989). White rappers Beastie Boys double album Paul's Boutique (1989) moved towards a more sophisticated sound that incorporated diverse influences, including Curtis Mayfield and Pink Floyd. In the 1990s there was considerable experimentation and cross-fertilisation between psychedelia and rap. The Jungle Brothers merged hip hop and acid house on "I'll House You" (1990) and A Tribe Called Quest used samples of jazz and Lou Reed on "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" (1990). Digital Underground incorporated elements of sex, science fiction and druggy in-jokes of P-Funk into their stage shows, while Arrested Development were influenced by Sly and the Family Stone. Other acts influenced by psychedelia included Digable Planets, Divine Styler and Cypress Hill. P.M. Dawn, an ensemble formed by brothers Attrell and Jarrett Cordes drew on diverse samples of modern pop music from the Beatles, through Sly and the Family Stone to Spandau Ballet. Their Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience (1991) and The Bliss Album...? (Vibrations of Love and Anger and the Ponderance of Life and Existence) (1993) were hits in the US and UK and crossed over into the rave scene.[66] From the late 1990s other artists working in this area included RZA, The Roots, D'Angelo and Erykah Badu.[67]

Electronic music

Main article: Rave music

Rave music may either refer to the late 1980s/early 1990s genres of house, acid house and techno, the first genres of music in the world to be played at raves, or any other genre of electronic dance music that may be played at a rave. The genre "rave", also known as "hardcore" by early ravers, first appeared amongst the UK acid movement during the late 1980s at warehouse parties and other underground venues, as well as on UK pirate radio stations.[68] The genre would develop into oldschool hardcore, which lead onto newer forms of rave music such as drum and bass and 2-step, as well as other hardcore techno genres, such as gabber, hardstyle and happy hardcore. In the late 1980s, rave culture began to filter through from English expatriates and disc jockeys who would visit Continental Europe. American raves began in the 1990s in New York City.

Acid house
Main article: Acid house
See also: Acid techno and Acid trance
A Roland TB-303 Bassline sequencer

Acid house originated in the mid-1980s in the house music style of Chicago DJs like DJ Pierre, Adonis, Farley Jackmaster Funk and Phuture, the last of which coined the term on his "Acid Trax" (1987). It mixed elements of house with the "squelchy" sounds and deep basslines produced by the Roland TB-303 synthesizer. As singles began to reach the UK the sound was re-created, beginning in small warehouse parties held in London in 1986–87. During 1988 in the Second Summer of Love it hit the mainstream as thousands of clubgoers travelled to mass raves. The genre then began to penetrate the British pop charts with hits for M/A/R/R/S, S'Express, and Technotronic by the early 1990s, before giving way to the popularity of trance music.[69]

Main articles: Trance music and Psychedelic trance
See also: Goa trance and Acid trance

Trance music originated in the German techno and hardcore scenes of the early 1990s. It emphasized brief and repeated synthesizer lines with minimal rhythmic changes and occasional synthesizer atmospherics, with the aim of putting listeners into a trance-like state. Derived from acid house and techno music, it developed in Germany and the Netherlands with singles including "Energy Flash" by Joey Beltram and "The Ravesignal" by CJ Bolland. This was followed by releases by Robert Leiner, Sun Electric, Aphex Twin and most influentially the techno-trance released by the Harthouse label, including the much emulated "Acperience 1" (1992) by duo Hardfloor. Having gained some popularity in the UK in the early 1990s it was eclipsed by the appearance of new genres of electronic music such as trip hop and jungle, before taking off again towards the end of the decade and beginning to dominate the clubs, with DJs including Paul Oakenfold, Pete Tong, Tony De Vit, Danny Rampling, Sasha, Judge Jules and in the US Christopher Lawrence and Kimball Collins. It soon began to fragment into a number of subgenres, including progressive trance, acid trance, goa trance, psychedelic trance, hard trance and uplifting trance.[70]

New rave
Main article: New rave
New rave band the Klaxons in concert in 2007

In Britain in the 2000s (decade), the combination of indie rock with dance-punk was dubbed "new rave" in publicity for The Klaxons, and the term was picked up and applied by the NME to a number of bands,[71] including Trash Fashion,[72] New Young Pony Club,[73] Hadouken!, Late of the Pier, Test Icicles,[74] and Shitdisco.[71] It formed a scene with a similar visual aesthetic to earlier rave music, emphasizing visual effects: glowsticks, neon and other lights were common, and followers of the scene often dressed in extremely bright and fluorescent coloured clothing.[71][75]

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