Lots of visitors come to Goa expecting to be able to party on the beach every night, and are dismayed when most places to dance turn out to be mainstream clubs they probably wouldn’t look twice at back home. The truth is that the full-on, elbows-in-the-air beach party of old, when tens of thousands of people would space out to huge techno sound systems under neon-painted palm trees, is – for now – pretty much a thing of the past in Goa.
Goa’s coastal villages saw their first big parties back in the 1960s with the influx of hippies to Calangute and Baga. Much to the amazement of the locals, the preferred pastime of these wannabe sadhus was to cavort naked on the sands together on full-moon nights, amid a haze of chillum smoke and loud rock music. At first the villagers took little notice of these bizarre gatherings, but with each season the scene became better established, and by the late 1970s the Christmas and New Year parties, in particular, had become huge events, attracting travellers from all over the country.
In the late 1980s, the local party scene received a dramatic shot in the arm with the coming of Acid House and techno. LSD and ecstasy became the preferred dance drugs as the rock and dub scene gave way to rave culture, with ever-greater numbers of young clubbers pouring in for the season on charter flights. Goa soon spawned its own distinctive brand of psychedelic music, known as Goa Trance, cultivated by artists such as Goa Gill, Juno Reactor and Hallucinogen.
The golden era for Goa’s party scene, and Goa Trance, was in the early 1990s, when big raves were held two or three times a week in beautiful locations around Anjuna and Vagator. For a few years the authorities turned a blind eye. Then, quite suddenly, the plug was pulled: during the run-up to the Y2K celebrations a ban on amplified music was imposed between 10pm and 7am. Nearly twenty years later, the curfew is still officially in place but routinely flaunted: some places pay backhanders to stay open until the early hours, while during an election year it’s early to bed for everyone again. Today’s rave scene is limited to a few established, above-board clubs – notably the Nine Bar and Hilltop in Vagator, and Marbela Beach at Aswem. The recent drop in foreign tourist numbers, however, has led to talk of the legislation being changed.