Dharma Techno : The surprising meeting between meditation and techno music

In a world in perpetual agitation, with cars everywhere and the unavoidable contribution to noise problems of industry and modern life, Dharma Techno aims to give back to Silence its true value. Beneficial, silence is conducive to calming, to rest, reflection, and meditation. Far from the turmoil, members of this open group gather for silent retreats in isolated rural locations. Nothing exceptional, some might say, hippies have been doing that for ages in our mountains, in Ariege, Ardeche, the Cevennes, in fact pretty much everywhere. Yes perhaps. But here the difference is that at the end of the retreat, after several days of meditation and rest, all in silence, the sound of Techno arrives. And not just any old Techno, but that of heart and mind, tribal and profound, distilled by a master of the craft, Seb, better known as 69dB. Herein one of the distinguishing aspects of these retreats begun by Denis, Debbie and Seb. Debbie and Seb are long term members of Spiral Tribe. We won't introduce further this unique crew who brought a sound and state of mind to our rural areas, but for those who don't know of them, Spiral Tribe are among the pioneers of the Free Party movement.

To find out more, nothing easier these days – there's no shortage of links to this Tribe who have hit the headlines more than once. Rather than going into the achievements and story of this veritable family, we prefer to dwell on the concept of Dharma Techno, a magnificent retort to those who hold Techno to be a music of junkies, inextricably linked to party drugs. In fact this is not about going and taking it easy for a few days and then getting out of it on the last day to a set by 69dB. Far from it. The flyer by the way has “No alcohol, No drugs” written large. It's very clear, and this is what makes it interesting.

Techno is spiritual music, ideal for introspection, capable of plunging the listener into a state of tribal trance, of reconnecting him or her with primal energies via contact with the dance floor, even if the soles of our trainers often pretty much cut us off from these energies. As longstanding Free Party enthusiasts, having had the doors of our perception opened years ago thanks to Dr. Hoffmann's discovery, we could'nt but be interested in these events which return Techno to a more primal state, less superficial and toxin free. Just turned forty, we don't indulge in the same excesses, like Obelix we no longer need to take stuff, and we've learnt to love the music for what it intrinsically is, energetically speaking. Certain critics will doubtless accuse Dharma Techno of being elitist, purists turned puritans; that it's 'neohippytechno', but for our part, you can be sure we'll be dropping in to resource our mind and body, because we've never forgotten that Silence is Golden.

— Abraxxxas

Interview

 

— Hello, can you introduce yourself? What did you do before Dharma Techno?

Debbie : Hi my name is Debbie, I'm english but I've been living in France for 17 years. In 1990 I was one of the co-founders of Spiral Tribe, the outlaw english travelling techno sound system, and am currently part of SP23, the association created in 2008 with all the original members of Spiral Tribe. I am also the graphic designer for the record label Audiotrix (created by Ixindamix and Meltdown Mickey) and at present I do video projections at the SP23 events as well as all graphic work and decor which I do in partnership with Mark, another Spiral co-founder.

Denis : I've always been very curious to know myself beyond mental cleansing, that is to say to find out what is really me out of the context in which I've grown up. This is why I went to settle down in India spending a few months per year alone in a small house in the Himalaya, far from any kind of relationship.Being always very social, it was the curiousity of finding out who I was once alone and silent which led me to meditation.

Seb : 69dB, I am a musician who produce and improvise livesets since 1990. I have grown up with the Spiral Tribe sound system.

 

— Denis, you lived several months alone in a small house in Himalaya, in times of calm and meditation, so how did you come to imagine a partnership with a techno sound system ? ?

Denis : When Derbie told me about her life with the Spi, about her love for meditation and about her difficulty to make those words match together, I told myself that she probably wasn't the only one facing this situtation. I know that for many people the phenomenon of transe, drugs and tribe that you find in the world of techno music reflects a search for freedom. To me, the search for freedom is the heart of spirituality. To free ourselves from our mental cleansings, from those misinterpretations of life, which bring so much pain to our selves and around us.

 

— There is a very powerful photo taken during a silent meditation where we see the back of Seb who's wearing the t shirt with the famous slogan – "MAKE SOME FUCKIN NOISE !", how is that that members of Spiral Tribe have come to organise silent retreats ?

© Mark AngeloDebbie : The t-shirt in the photo was designed after our arrest in 1992 where we were accused of having organised an enormous illegal festival – 'Castlemorton' – (which was not the case and after 2 years of legal battles which cost the tax payer a huge amount of money we were found not guilty!') The slogan came from the charge they tried to pin on us which was one of 'Causing a public nuisance'.

Seb : For me Spiral Tribe has alway represented a space where people can express themselves. A big part of expressing yourself freely is getting to know your inner self. What is freedom ? What are we trying to be free from ? What responsibilities come along when you try to express freedom within a group ? Where does one person’s freedom start with regards to another ? How can we share this space we are in? You really need to be flexible in order to understand these questions. To fully realise these questions you also need a lot of time. Many of us don’t even get there in one life time. However what we do have is our experiences. Seeing how it is unlikely you will ever be inside someone else’s mind in this incarnation you really have to put your trust in your own experiences. You therefore need spaces in which to experiment life. The rave scene is just one example of a social experiment that manifested itself due to this need. We could postulate that when enough of this need builds up it creates a big potential for creative energy to explode through us in order for people to gain more experience. So the rave scene is a good example of a mass movement spurned by this creative energy. For better or worse it created a free space where people had many intense experiences. Given the present state of play with regards to humanity in our era it seems understandable that this needed to happen. The up side of this has been that many people have opened themselves to their inner selves and have questioned the status quo. The down side is that working in such an intensive energy can have hard realities attached over time which can be hard to handle. Also, with time many people have lost the initial vision and have become lost in either drugs or by letting  politics and ego consciousness infiltrate alternative culture. It is for this that we have become interested in connecting to the meditation cultures as it is a real step towards understanding the same thing but from a very different perspective e.g... No drugs, Silence and carefully watching your inner self through disciplined concentration. As I said you need to be flexible to get to real understanding so it is great to be able to add this to our library of freedom techniques.

 

— Do you think that the Techno public are receptive to meditation and to silent retreats ?

Debbie : I am pretty sure that there are many Techno people who are receptive to our retreats, it is already the case as we have done 4 retreats since April 2015! For me my first 'rave party' in 1989 was like a spiritual awakening – the music, the people, the freedom. For years after that the hours that I danced in front of the speaker stacks was like meditation. I believe it was and is still the same for many other people which is why Techno music is so popular, as popular among the young people of today as it was right back in the beginning almost 30 years ago! The problem was that for certain ravers, myself included to a certain extent, the drugs became too habitual and after a while don't work in the same way and we lose the connection with the music, so we end up in a cycle of trying to go back to that feeling of connection by taking more drugs!

In 2002, I knew that I couldn't continue like that, both phsyically and spiritually I felt exhausted and empty and dissatisfied with the movement. After having lived through so many adventures I felt lost and without a mission in life. I had never thought of meditating but someone told me about 10 day silent meditation retreats on donation and I felt like trying it out, especially for the silence after all the years of constant sound! In the 10 years that followed I sat several Vipassana retreats. It was a very beneficial experience in that a new way of life opened up for me and I was able to calm down and see there were other options outside of the loop of drugs and partying that I had been stuck in for so long. However I began to feel more and more alienated from my friends and Techno family and I wasn't meeting new friends after all the retreats I was doing so once again I felt lost. In 2014 I decided to try and find a 'middle way' with the meditation, I stopped sitting the hyper intensive Vipassana retreats and took part in the Dharma Yatra – a 10 day silent walk in france. I met many interesting people and made friends with a few, Denis being one! It was from spending time talking to him that the idea for the Dharma Techno retreats was born. I explained to him my Techno background and how it was so frustrating and sad to see so many creative people stuck in the same loop, always looking for the deeper spiritual connection they had felt at first on the dancefloor and taking more and more drugs to try and find it. Directly he proposed the idea for the retreat – 3 days in silence and then an evening of techno. I was blown away by this as he had only recently met me but he immeditately understood the enormous potential of the project.

Denis : Not every one for sure. But, for example, lots of people after having had experienced drugs come to know that there is a lot to find out beyond the conventional and narrow vision of reality previously adopted, as that drug it self is neither the path to knowledge able to free us. To meditate, that is to say, to sit calmly and to observe the inner life running in us seems then to be an appropriate tool to learn how to get over the mystery and free our selves from the yoke of reducing visions which conditions ourselves keeping us like prisoners. It is also interesting from the opposite point of view "Would mediation regulars be interested in a retreat with Techno?". Feed backs from participants coming rather more from the field of meditation than from the Techno music one are also positive. On the one side, there is this very enjoying mix of audiences that gives the feeling of something really new, of excitment. .And also having music and dance at the end of the retreat brings a colorful and human aspect which breaks with the "too serious" aspect of silent retreat.
Partying has also its importance in spirituality, Hindus know quite well about it. The brotherly aspect of the Dancefloor (though silent at the beginning) creates an undeniable link between the people. It helps in creating a spiritual community which meets and supports each other (like in Paris for example), by integrating periods of medidation and festive periods in a single spiritual search, honnest and grounded in our reality.

Seb : Yes, without a doubt. Proof is the success of the 5 experiments we have done until now. Techno or rave audience had become so large, so of course, it is not for everyone but meditation is something really close to the research that was here when I started in 1998. To me, the true heart of the rave, is the willing to discover, to progress in the understanding of ourselves and of the universe. From this point of view, I am not surprised to see that young people from the techno movement see meditation as an inspiring way.

 

— How do you find the places for the retreats? What are your criteria?

Denis : Places emerge naturally. What you need is an interested audience and a place to gather.

 

— During a retreat Seb spoke about the willingness of Spiral Tribe to work for social transformation. Meditation is path toward personal transformation. Do you see the link between these 2 aspects ?

Debbie : Meditation helps us to change ourselves, to lead good lives, to develop more compassion towards others and ourselves. So to begin with even if meditation is for personal transformation, by changing ourselves we change society.

Denis : Voluntary silence and soul-searching reveal us to ourselves.Ego or feeling of existing independantly from the world is a myth which can't resist to a deep examination of our experience. For example, the idea of an individual happiness independant from the context in which we live should be questioned. Meditation and soul-searching can destroy those misconceptions which isolate us with the serious consequences that one can observe nowadays. When we can clearly see that generousity (that is to say spirit without fear) is a state of mind much more pleasant than selfishness , then, with no effort the spirit of profit gives away to the spirit of sharing. Individuals as well as the entire society enjoy the presence of someone which is not only concerned by it self.

Seb : Meditation has helped me see how many of the things that make life difficult for us in society are things that we all carry around with us in our day to day lives. There can be no change in society if we don’t learn to overcome our own problems. The classic example is the simple fact that the people could bring down any commercial institution with just the will to say, no we don’t need what you are trying to sell us!! As we all know the masses are still very open to buying products that do harm to our bodies and the planet. This is a good example of how out of touch many of us have become with regards to knowing what is good for the planet and our health. Mediation is a very good way for people to get back in touch with their inner selves . When we do this we generally feel very satisfied. Being satisfied with very little is the most dangerous thing for a consumer based economy. 

photo : Phosphenes (Kynsie Serre)

 

— What does the mythical figure of the Spiral and meditation evoke for you? What is the spiritual aspect of Techno for you?

Debbie : For me the spiral and meditation go perfectly together, it is a natural evolution – an awakening, like our music and way of life was over 25 years ago. The other evolution by members of Spiral is of course the project Artists in Action who work to help the plight of refugees.

Seb : I’ve said this before in quite a few interviews but I’ll say it again !!  If something seems right then you need to put it out there to see if it stands up to criticism and other peoples experiences. So….. "THE BEST SURFER CAN’T DO ANYTHING WITHOUT A WAVE."
This for me is my way of expressing the spiritual side of my experience. This is because as a person who has based his life on the art of improvisation , you become very aware that most of the time the music gets good , you are in a kind of state of focus where time flies by.  You get the feeling that you are just surfing something that is there in the moment , something that just wants to come through you to this part of reality. Jimi Hendrix called it the electric church. It is the moment when you are on the dance floor and the music grabs hold of you in a way that you lose track of time and you start to feel good. It is a direct experience with the moment where you feel the deeper side of reality calling you in. Your intuition knows that you are in contact with something eternal , something that connects us all together. I guess that is what I call spiritual.

 

— What do other members of Spiral Tribe/SP23 think about the Dharma Techno project?

Debbie : The rest of the group are completely behind it and very supportive. In fact during the 3rd retreat 5b members participated! Fair play to them.....

Seb : The Spiral’s who have been to one all came away inspired. There is a general respect for this project in the same way we respect the Artists in  Action project that Jeff and Simone have brought to the group.

 

— And how does the mediation world see the experience you are proposing ? It seemed to me that some Buddhists do not like it so much.

Denis : I mainly get positive feedbacks from colleagues teaching as well as long time practitioners.The network in which I teach and practice meditation is non dogmatic.

The few negative comments I heard came from third parties and people who don't know anything about the project, making themselves an idea without going further. I don't care much about politics and respect of traditions.What is important to me is to preserve the spirit of curiousity, of openness and honesty which are essential conditions for self-knowledge and search for freedom.

 

— Problems during a retreat, magic moments, a juicy anecdote ?

Debbie : Hmmm problems and magic moments – I'd say the infamous 3rd retreat with half of SP23 participating, not at all easy to manage, especially the silence! But the fact that they all stuck it out and got so much out of it was for me totally magical....

Seb : The first one was a lot easier that the other ones as I was new to meditation . Since then I have found meditation to be a real challenge. It is very rewarding but you have to work hard at staying in the moment. The best moments for me are when the group really starts to feel the love that exists between us all when we get rid of all the bullshit that everyday life puts on us. In the moments when we get down to the simple things in life the connection between people becomes beautiful. 

 

— How do you see the future of Dharma Techno?

Debbie : The future...I hope that we will be able to organise retreats that are funded solely by donation, no fixed price, so that they will be accessible for anyone who wants to try it. I'd also like to reach the stage where we can do one longer retreat per year for those people who have already participated in a 4 day retreat. Also one day events, afternoons in festivals, etc etc. The list is long!

Denis : I don't imagine it. I'm already so surprised with this huge present interest. I sense that this project can only grow but I have no idea of what it will look like. It will depend on the meetings, on the proposals...

Seb : At this point I just hope we continue to spread the concept so that other people can make their own versions of this kind of thing. It is so important for us all to find ways out of the present day crisis. We are at a very bad point in reality and we really need to find ways to help people get through this time without becoming lost in the propaganda. Meditation helps you to see the good in everything even when it is so well hidden. If Dharma techno can help people with that I will be very happy.

 

— If you were a book, a movie or a song ?

Seb : Not sure I can say I’m any of these but I recommend checking Film : not sure ?? Book: “Tao te ching”, Disque:  Funkadelic “Free your mind and your ass will follow”.

 

— A final word?

Seb : We are here and nobody has yet proven for sure what here actually is !! So don’t be afraid to put you trust in you life, your direct experiences. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake as long as you learn from it and don’t hurt anybody. You are not to be blamed for our ignorance. You are here to work it out . That’s all. Working it out is down to you. So it will take as long as you make it take. You will come here as long as you have not worked it out. Good luck!! And much Love!!!!

Debbie : Thank you!

Next Events

Meeting : Meditation and Techno - 22 April 2017 - Montpont en Bresse (France) :
More details

SOUND SILENCE AND DANCE, 11 to 16 May 2017 :

 

Testimony

At the end of 2000, M’ hamid, a small village 90 km from Zagora: its here in the southern Moroccan desert where I believe it all truly began. I'm setting off on a three-day camel trek, a guide, a camel and yours truly. No conversation is possible, lacking a common language, we've only non-verbal communication. No big deal, as a man of the desert, my guide is not the chatty type... I discover the Sahara and its immensity, which gives such spaciousness... This emptiness, this silence, this place, everything encourages introspection. The world's agitation becomes a memory, calm expands. Time stretches, extends, twists. All my bearings change, rarely has a place had such a powerful effect on me! An unknown instinct drives me to sit cross-legged, I focus on my breathing, without consciously intending to do so, I start to meditate. Hours pass, time morphs, how long did I stay like that? An hour? 101 days? 5 minutes? A small eternity for sure...! It's my bolt of lightening, A powerful spirituality, extremely intense and at the same time subtle, filled and pervaded me, vibrating in every pore, in each cell, to the depths of the tiniest atom of my body. The free party techno ranger I had been is no more, I am nothing but inhalations and exhalations, a grain of sand among grains of sand, I live, I am, my soul flies off. Words fall long short of conveying this extraordinary moment. There's a 'thing', a presence in the emptiness of the desert, something indescribable that nonetheless is….It takes me several days to put myself back together. Like taking acid, minus the card, I'd opened new doors in my perception.

Then it's Paris again, its excesses corresponding so well with my own, the boom boom, the hectic life, the speed, in short Paris! My escapade in Morocco? Mint flavoured memories of a beautiful break, but well, holidays are over, back to the metro, work, and techno. On the 5th floor, 106 Rue de la Jarry, in the former Vincennes warehouses new and very different adventures await me...!
And yet, part of me is still in that desert, its doors open, well, just about ajar, allowing sweet promises of an unknown world, complex but simple, spiritual and mystical, the charms of a land of unending exploration, the beauty of a universe full of Life! A longing for more and more...
So that's why that for years I've wanted to experience a retreat, a period in my life of withdrawal, to take time for myself, for my body, for exploring this inner life that I had discovered on a sand dune. But I couldn't find a retreat that appealed to me – they seemed either too religious, too far out, too, too, too..too suspect, too commercial. Too bad, when the student is ready the right retreat will appear. I must admit that when I read on the Net about the SPI organising meditation sessions ending in a techno evening I didn't fall for it immediately. That they organise athletics, say of the pole vault variety, I could just about swallow, but retreats...what's more, silent ones! Make some fucking noise? Silence, no drugs, no alcohol, and a techno night??? You've gotta be kidding! But it's true that all that started to seriously sharpen my curiousity...

Another time, another place, Life willed it that a parent at my children's school with whom I share an agreeable involvement in community projects would be none other than Denis, the meditation teacher who... offers his teaching on the Dharma Techno retreats, and who, along with Debbie and Seb, aka Fenix13 and 69db of Spiral Tribe, runs them. Fancy that!!! “Denis, you do the “Sound, silence and dance” and....it's good??!! Ah,ah, amazing, I'd really love to try that, I'm coming on the next one!”. A long journey, car sharing with Ophelie who's also attending the retreat (Thanks Debbie for your superb organising), and a delicious meal later, and I'm swapping my last words like a man smoking his last cigarette. I go into temporary mourning for speech, me, the chatterbox! Internet and phone switched off, digital disconnection in place, we'll be able to start on true connection!

photo : Phosphenes (Kynsie Serre)6.15 AM, that hurts a bit, fortunately we start with a movement session, Kynzie leads us in an effective yet gentle warm up, which works well to get me out of my stupor. Thus begins a day out of time, out of the ordinary. Speech gone, meditations, exercises, karmayoga (small daily jobs for the group), communication is different! The silence is dense, the silence will be dance... I do exercises, I truly take time for myself. Discovery is everywhere. It's strange to be so close to others whilst remaining in silence. I discover that one can have affinities with others without speech, I even discover a form of silent humour which pleases me. Little by little, meditation to meditation, day by day, my feeling of the intensity of the group grows, this connection silent yet so real. The scent of camphor, of essential oils delights me. Truly settled the mind can settle down... as can the body. Eating in the sunshine with full awareness. Wonderful earthly nourishment in service to celestial nourishment, to live, to be, to experience the Here and Now! Emotionally I yo-yo, I make my own the label “Explore-toi”, the quest of the essential, of Life, the return to Source. I pay a visit, obviously, it would be too simple otherwise, to the dustbins of my existence, but in order to better return to my Source, to my essential nature. Guided meditations, Dharma talks, sharing circles, these small islands of speech amid the silence are full of intense emotion.
Inhalation, exhalation, breathing, meditation, walking, exercises, the sauna – such salvation (what luck, our turn came the day after the techno evening), writing, (in spite of the temporary dropping of words, the chatterbox in me doesn't shut up so easily), salutations to the sun, all in a mystical mountainous landscape... I take care of my whole Being, everything is imbued with meaning, the silence allows space for things otherwise hidden by the whirlwind of noise in our hectic lives. Highly sensitive, filled with intense vibrating waves, the crack in the armour our society compels us sometimes to wear finally lets in new and beautiful sensations. Agreeable revelations, or confirmations, see the light of day. Adjustment, readjustment, discovery, amazing experiences, sacred experiences, unique and full of taste. Masks lowered, the silence of the retreat, allows our bodies, our past, our joys, our sufferings to speak to us... wordlessly! A desire to live, to live and to live some more vibrates in me, growing as the days pass. To accept this silence, to make it one's own... To be, simply to be.
And then, at last, the cherry...

photo : Phosphenes (Kynsie Serre)For a long while the tibetan bowls sing, delicate and crystalline sounds emerge from Flo's quadrophonic sound system, slowly Seb's liveset moves us from stationary meditation to a body expression where our bodies, better than our words, speak the dance, the release, trance, Life. The first boom resonates long in me... Then slowly, gently, the BPM accelerate, Techno reclaims me, entirely, belly, body, soul! We jump, smiling, just like old times !!!! My god but it's good, I'd almost forgotten... And that's it, we're high, completely out of it!!! .on nothing!!! Well, in fact on meditation, on loving kindness, on delicious revitalising organic vegetarian food (thanks from the bottom of my heart to the kitchen fairies). High on Life, on smiles, in trance. No drug dictates our state, it's just that the magic is powerful! I make my peace with Techno! The need to speak forgotten, joy has arrived, palpable... Raymonde, the doyenne of the retreat —83 years old—, will stay to the end of this bewitching liveset, eyes moist with emotion. The next day she'll say to us mischievously “But what about my next retreats? What am I going to do without the techno night, how boring!”
The next day, small apprehension...Ooo, it feels like the end, nooo, mooore!! To meet happiness so strongly and have to leave so soon; that reminds me of my most beautiful raves. Oh no, not yet, not yet the end, we've only been here 5 days, mooore!!! But fortunately, there is more magic to come: the breaking of silence. What joy to hear your voices, your feelings, perspectives, experiences, to share these few words with a hunger like a glutton, or rather like a lover of relating. This sweet sensation, these new understandings, you and your magic touch make me sweat happiness from every pore. The final sharing circle, these praises, this empathy, to take you in my arms, to find myself in yours, throat choked at the thought of us parting. Wow in fact humanity can be so beautiful!!! To hear Edgar, tears in his eyes, tremour in his voice, say, 'Thankyou Spiral Tribe, that makes twice you've changed my life, once 20 years ago, and... Today!!' What emotions!! Thankyou all... We'll still be Dharma Techno SPI-ritual travellers on the move....!

In fact I'd just wanted to write a beautiful text on the intensity, the gentle power and the breadth of the opening that I sensed on this retreat, but it's a hard task before the immensity of sensations, emotions and all the Light felt, received, and tasted in this place of such serenity! It's difficult and a bit vain to describe the link which becomes established, this connection, this unique moment out of time, so rich, so precious... Because actually Dharma techno retreats have as many faces as we do, and so much the better! They are like us... Unique! It's wonderful! So even though much of it all is inexpressible, we've decided to make a beautiful article out of it all the same... And perhaps to tempt you?
As Seb said to us, when he started the free parties, he wanted to change the world, 25 years have passed and he realises that the world hasn't really changed, at least not necessarily in the right direction... “With Dharma Techno, in changing oneself, one can really change things, we are at the beginning of a movement...” He's right, there's no social transformation without personal transformation!

An enormous, intense and sincere Namaste to Debbie, Denis, Seb, Kynsie, Flo, the cooks in the kitchen, Alice; Thankyou Dharma Techno team!!! It was magiiiiiiiic!!! One thing's for sure! I'll be back!!!
Because in fact... Nothing stops a people who meditate!

Also two big thanks to Sophie for her patience and her great translation work, and to Veronimo without whom this article would not be in front of your eyes and to Marc Angelo et Kynzie Serre for the photos !

— Yoh del Campo

© Mark Angelo

 


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