Psychedelic music (sometimes psychedelia) covers a wide range of popular music styles and genres influenced by 1960s psychedelia, 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 may also aim to enhance the experience of using these drugs.
Psychedelic music emerged during the 1960s among folk and rock bands in the United States and the United Kingdom, creating the subgenres of psychedelic folk, psychedelic rock, acid rock, and psychedelic pop before declining in the early 1970s. Numerous spiritual successors followed in the ensuing decades, including progressive rock, krautrock, and heavy metal. Since the 1970s, revivals have included psychedelic funk, neo-psychedelia, and psychedelic hip hop, as well as psychedelic electronic genres such as acid house, trance music, and new rave.
"Psychedelic" as an adjective is often misused, with many so-called acts playing in a variety of styles. Acknowledging this, author Michael Hicks explains:
To understand what makes music stylistically "psychedelic," one should consider three fundamental effects of LSD: dechronicization, depersonalization, and dynamization. Dechronicization permits the drug user to move outside of conventional perceptions of time. Depersonalization allows the user to lose the self and gain an "awareness of undifferentiated unity." Dynamization, as [Timothy] Leary wrote, makes everything from floors to lamps seem to bends, as "familiar forms dissolve into moving, dancing structures" ... Music that is truly "psychedelic" mimics these three effects.
A short sample followed by two flanging versions
Unprocessed organ followed by different phasing effects
A number of features are quintessential to psychedelic music. Exotic instrumentation, with a particular fondness for the sitar and tabla are common. Songs often have more disjunctive song structures, key and time signature changes, modal melodies, and drones than contemporary pop music. Surreal, whimsical, esoterically or literary-inspired, lyrics are often used. There is often a strong emphasis on extended instrumental segments or jams. There is a strong keyboard presence, in the 1960s especially, using electronic organs, harpsichords, or the Mellotron, an early tape-driven 'sampler' keyboard.
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. In the 1960s there was a use of electronic instruments such as early synthesizers and the theremin. Later forms of electronic psychedelia also employed repetitive computer-generated beats.
From the second half of the 1950s, Beat Generation writers like William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg wrote about and took drugs, including cannabis and Benzedrine, raising awareness and helping to popularise their use. In the early 1960s the use of LSD and other psychedelics was advocated by new proponents of consciousness expansion such as Timothy Leary, Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley and Arthur Koestler, and, according to Laurence Veysey, they profoundly influenced the thinking of the new generation of youth.
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. 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. 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).
San Francisco 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. 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 began to grow among folk and rock musicians. 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. 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. His nineteen-minute "The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party" "anticipated elements of psychedelia with its nervy improvisations and odd guitar tunings". Similarly, folk guitarist Sandy Bull's early work "incorporated elements of folk, jazz, and Indian and Arabic-influenced dronish modes". 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".
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. This trend ran in parallel in both America and Britain and as part of the inter-related folk, folk rock and rock scenes. Folk artists who were particularly significant in the psychedelic movement. Psychedelic rock reached its peak in the last years of the decade. In America the Summer of Love was prefaced by the Human Be-In event and reached its peak at the Monterey Pop Festival. 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.
In terms of bridging the relationship between music and hallucinogens, the Beatles and the Beach Boys were the most pivotal. The Beatles introduced guitar feedback with "I Feel Fine" (1964), Indian instrumentation on "Norwegian Wood" (1965) and reversed tape sounds on "Rain" (1966). Drug references began to appear in their songs, in "Day Tripper" (1965), and more explicitly in "Tomorrow Never Knows" (1966). Author George Case recognises the Beatles' Rubber Soul and Revolver as the albums that "marked the authentic beginning of the psychedelic era", with Revolver's combination of otherworldly lyrical themes and studio experimentation signalling that psychedelic music "had irrevocably been launched". 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. As psychedelia emerged as a mainstream and commercial force, it would be reflected in pop music. Pet Sounds is credited for sparking a psychedelic pop revolution, inspiring mainstream pop acts to take part in the psychedelic culture.
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. 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. 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 Angels security guards.
Early "acid casualties" in the music scene, including Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, 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. 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. 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.
Many of the British musicians and bands that had embraced psychedelia moved into creating the progressive rock genre in the 1970s. King Crimson's album In the Court of the Crimson King (1969), has been seen as an important link between psychedelia and progressive rock. 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. 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". 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. 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.
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. Other major pioneers of the heavy metal genre had begun as blues-based psychedelic bands, including Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Judas Priest and UFO.
In the 1980s, Siouxsie and the Banshees were "one of the great British psychedelic bands" according to critic Julian Marszalek of The Quietus. They "re-discovered music that was fundamentally pop yet unafraid to revel in a quirkiness born of altered states."
Neo-psychedelia (or "acid punk") is a diverse style of music 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.
A wave of British alternative rock in the early 1990s spawned the subgenres dream pop and shoegazing. Dream pop is typified by a preoccupation with atmosphere and texture as much as melody, whereas shoegazing is typified by the blurring of component musical parts—typically significant guitar distortion, feedback and obscured vocals—into indistinguishable mixture of sound.
Downtempo pop, according to The Atlantic writer Llewellyn Hinkes Johns, is a variety of music styles from the 2000s characterized by mellow beats, vintage synthesizers, and lo-fi melodies. In other words, an umbrella term that includes chillwave, glo-fi, and hypnagogic pop. The three terms are also interchangeable with "dream-beat". Altogether, they may be viewed as a type of synth-based psychedelic music.
The term "chillwave" was coined in July 2009 on the Hipster Runoff blog by Carles (the pseudonym used by the blog's author) on his accompanying "blog radio" show of the same name. Carles invented the genre name for a host of similarly sounding up-and-coming bands. In August 2009, "hypnagogic pop" was coined by journalist David Keenan to refer to a developing trend of 2000s lo-fi and post-noise music in which artists from varied backgrounds began to engage with elements of cultural nostalgia, childhood memory, and outdated recording technology.
By 2010, albums by Ariel Pink and Neon Indian were regularly hailed by publications like Pitchfork and The Wire. The terms "hypnagogic pop", "chillwave", and "glo-fi" were soon adopted to describe the evolving sound of such artists, a number of which had songs of considerable success within independent music circles. Originally, it was common for the three terms to be used interchangeably, but chillwave later distinguished itself as a combination of dream pop, new age, muzak, and synth-pop. A 2009 review by Pitchfork's Marc Hogan for Neon Indian's album Psychic Chasms referenced "dream-beat", "chillwave", "glo-fi", "hypnagogic pop", and "hipster-gogic pop" as interchangeable terms for "psychedelic music that's generally one or all of the following: synth-based, homemade-sounding, 80s-referencing, cassette-oriented, sun-baked, laid-back, warped, hazy, emotionally distant, slightly out of focus."
Following the late 1960s work of Jimi Hendrix, psychedelia began to have a widespread impact on African American musicians. Black funk artists such as Sly and the Family Stone borrowed techniques from psychedelic rock music, including wah pedals, fuzz boxes, echo chambers, and vocal distorters, as well as elements of blues rock and jazz. In the following years, groups such as Parliament-Funkadelic continued this sensibility, employing synthesizers and rock-oriented guitar work into open-ended funk jams. Producer Norman Whitfield would draw on this sound on popular Motown recordings such as the Temptations' "Cloud Nine" (1968) and Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (1969).
Influenced by the civil rights movement, psychedelic soul had a darker and more political edge than much psychedelic rock. 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", "Runaway Child, Running Wild" (1969) and "Psychedelic Shack" (1969).
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. From the late 1990s other artists working in this area included RZA, The Roots, D'Angelo and Erykah Badu.
The rave scene emphasized house, acid house and techno. The rave genre "hardcore" 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. 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 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.
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. It soon began to fragment into a number of subgenres, including progressive trance, acid trance, goa trance, psychedelic trance, hard trance and uplifting trance.
In Britain in the 2000s (decade), the combination of indie rock with dance-punk was dubbed "new rave" in publicity for Klaxons, and the term was picked up and applied by the NME to a number of bands. 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.