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The Evolution of Psychedelia

The psychedelic movement in the 1960’s had a huge influence on music and culture in the United States and the UK, and formed the well-known genre of psychedelic music that is still produced today. How did it all begin, and how has psychedelic music changed since then?

How Did It Start?

The use of psychedelic drugs became increasingly popular in the early 1960’s, fueled by famous artists, writers, and musicians sharing their experiences with drugs like LSD and psilocybin, causing a boom in the popularity of these drugs. The psychedelic movement was also a part of the “counterculture” movement, designed to go against the social norms and standards of the time by emphasizing freedom and experimentation. This was attractive to society’s youth, as well as groups facing political and social unrest. Many civil rights and anti-war activists supported the movement as well because it supported freethinking and went against the status quo.

All of the underlying ideas of the psychedelic movement are quite evident through art and music. Psychedelic music was meant to reflect how psychedelic drugs made the user feel, with an emphasis on distortion, chronological effects, and an Eastern musical influence.

  • Key and time signature changes are common, with unusual structure and melodies.

  • Long, wandering instrumental sections are often featured.

  • Some Eastern instruments were popularized in this genre, such as the sitar and tabla.

  • Audio Visual equipment and projectors, such as the type of products sold by Selby Acoustics, is an integral part of live performances.

Electronic Influence

The introduction of electronic music made a large impact on the psychedelic genre. New technologies allowed for a variety of sound effects to be incorporated, such as flanging, phaser, panning, looping, and reverb. These were all commonly used to create distorted psychedelic effects throughout a song.

Even before computerized sound alteration, psychedelic distortion began with tape loops and reversing. The Beatles is a popular example of early psychedelic music, and their experimentation with electronic and tape-cutting techniques is apparent throughout their later albums, in songs like “Revolution 9” and “I Am The Walrus.” Electronic instruments also became largely used in psychedelic music, such as synthesizers and the theremin, an unusual instrument the produces sound without any physical contact.

Modern Psychedelia

A variety of genres have bloomed from the original ideas of psychedelic music:

  • Progressive rock and hard rock: Artists like Pink Floyd and Alice Cooper utilize heavy guitar distortion and long jam sessions, two key concepts of psychedelic music. These genres birthed a wide array of new music styles, such as space rock, stoner rock, and heavy metal. Unique rock bands like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Black Sabbath emerged from this era.

  • Post-punk and neo-psychedelia: These styles arose from progressive rock, bringing more diversity to the broad rock genre. Neo-psychedelia, also known as acid punk, can feature aspects of psychedelic pop, heavily distorted or free form instrumentals, and recording experiments.

  • Hypnagogic pop, chillwave, and glo-fi: These pop-based genres are often described as hazy, laid back, and out of focus, and include genres like bedroom pop and dream pop. They often utilize synthesizers and slow tempos to create dreamy, wandering sounds.Ariel Pink is a leading artist in this genre, and many modern bands still produce these music styles, such as Cuco, Men I Trust, and Faye Webster.

  • House, techno, and trance: These genres evolved in the rave scene, often beginning in Western European countries, using almost exclusively electronic sounds and extreme distortions. Repetitive beats, long loops and wandering instrumentals are commonly used to create a trance like state for the listener.

  • Psychedelic funk, soul, and hip hop: Jimi Hendrix led the introduction of psychedelia into African American music genres. Psychedelic soul was influenced by the civil rights movement, giving it more dark and political aspects. Sound equipment like wah pedals, echo chambers, and fuzz boxes were commonly used to distort sounds and create psychedelic influenced styles such as funkadelic music.

  • New rave: This unique style of music was coined by the combination of indie rock and dance-punk, started by Klaxons in Britain in the 2000s. It featured a strong visual aesthetic similar to rave genres, with bright neon lights and fluorescent colors.

With the large integration of technology in music today, the majority of modern musical groups utilize concepts from psychedelic music without even realizing it. And there are, of course, still a number of bands producing modern forms of “true” psychedelic music. Groups like Temples and Tame Impala have created a sound similar to TheBeatles psychedelic era with modern influences. The vast improvements in music production and sound equipment have given much more depth to musical distortions and capabilities of electronic music, providing a world of opportunities for the production of psychedelic music now.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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