A Psychedelic Revolution

Updated: Oct 16, 2018

1968 was the end of the dream, and the only thing left standing was music.

Psychedelic music is a genre that was built around the freedom of expression. This musical form was the bastard child that arose due to the dire, societal changes that were taking place in America in the 1960s. A time where the American Government was funding the Vietnam War, sending hundreds of thousands of American troops to fight, and die for "moral power". A time where Black Americans were fighting for civil rights in a reform to free themselves from an empowered 'White America". A time where American youth began to reject authority, protesting against the conformity and their systems of oppression. A time where Women liberated, and radically stood against sexism and the norm's conservative ways. A time where dreamers such as Pastor Martin Luther King Jr, and Presidential Candidate, Robert Francis Kennedy (brother to JFK), were murdered down for their ideas of positive change, civil equality, and ending the war once and for all. And finally, it was a time where experimentation of sexuality, drugs, and music would ultimately be the tools for the rebellion against authority.


BACKGROUND

It was the revolutionary dreamers versus the conservative communists. An explosive counter-culture fought back against the governing order, and a revolutionary destruction of order began. People adjusted their consciousness and protested against the conformity. And among all the anarchy, music was the only shining light for many of the lost souls that had been gunned down by these social impacts. Music would speak to the people in a way they could understand, and ultimately give them hope. This decade of tyranny opened up many doors for the human race, and beat down the barriers of control. As a result, freedom of expression was born.

Psychedelic music is just that, an expression of freedom. It was a genre of protest. A zeitgeist of the socio-historic movement that was underway. Many civilians, especially youth, whom were experimenting with psychedelic drugs, sex, and fighting the norm, grew a perceptible curiosity to the movement, as the other end of the spectrum seemed quite grim. People followed like minded people, and psychedelic drugs were the latest craze. I whole new frame of mind of peace, love and music was showing its strengths, and there was very little the conformists could do about it.


THE GENRE

The folk protest movement gave us artists like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, who would sing their calls of social justice, systemic change, and freedom for all. Representing love, human reason and compassionate concern for their listeners, both at home, or at the time, in the Vietnam War. Psychedelic musicians like Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Pink Floyd, Cream, and Jefferson Airplane were trying to create a similar sense of freedom, but in a totally different way. Many of these musical paragons had at least dabbled in the psychedelic drug culture, and/or, had fully submerged themselves with in it. And through these experiences, they achieved a kind of freedom or escape like no other. This surely didn’t seem possible at the time in the 1960s, wherever you were in the world.

Freedom became an exaggerated dream. “Message songs” were replaced by “mood songs”, and psychedelic musicians sublimated their anxieties and angst by attempting to just feel better, rather than try to change what was actually going on. The musical threshold had been reached by their folk counterparts, and the need to return to the notion of “feelings” in musical interpretation became the outsource. Psychedelic musicians were still pervading their songs with political fire, though, the lyrics were no longer as important as the music being played. The music itself was portrayed by its instrumental experimentation, long improvised passages, and electronically produced sound effects, resonated with lighting shows to bring about a freedom of feeling. THIS WAS THE INTERPRETATION!


This free-flowing, open-ended, electronically distorted, “impure” music became a force to be reckoned with in the late 1960s. It was a reaction against the increasing whitewashed social turbulence of everyday America and the musicians themselves who were involved had an underlying power. The power to permit both musicians and listeners to enter a parallel universe. One in which control was not necessary, nor welcome. The sounds were looping, undirected and untamed. Often coupled with lyrics of insanity, loss of control, and journeys with no destination. Trips of the imagination and consciousness. And whether the musicians were aware of this power or not, the freedom to express was now in the hands of everyone. During this period, artists and musicians of this nature were deemed a threat to the social order. They became blacklisted and were pushed to the boundaries of society. Though, these resilient creative souls did not cease their creative production. Instead they went underground and gave birth to a subculture that would make psychedelic expression possible in the United States.

By the end of the 1960s, the psychedelic exploration trend began to come to a halt. With LSD declared illegal in the UK and US by 1966, due to the linking deaths of a hand full of individuals, an anti-hippie backlash began to take over. The power of free-expression was nothing but a failed ideology, though its resonance was still lingering. Early casualties, caused by the psychedelic drugs, influenced the shift of focus, and steered many bands away from the psychedelic scene. Psychedelic influences lasted a little longer in Pop music, leaking into the 1970s, and helped create the Bubblegum Pop scene. And Later stamped its mark on early Funk, Disco and later into more progressive styles. Years past, and many bands were still pulling psychedelic traits from the genre, so the love for the sound was never lost. It just became a way for musicians to experiment and push their instruments and production techniques to new levels.

Earlier artists like Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and The Beach Boys, and many more, all implemented these techniques, and their sessions were free-flowing nonetheless. Engineers such as Eddie Kramer (Hendrix, Zeppelin), Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys), and George Martin (The Beatles) completely innovated music production. Most of the time being limited to only four or eight track tape recorders, these studio gurus would use their desks as instruments. Riding faders and panning pots live, to create effects and movement, whilst the recordings were taking place. Mistakes were made, however, it is what made these records the 'all time greatest' of this century.

THE KRAMER EFFECT

For an engineer or producer to confidently interpret sounds, and in such a way that they see into the future, completely revolutionises the way a sound can make you feel. For the purpose of exemplifying one of the greats, Eddie Kramer talks about mixing Jimi's Vocal and Guitar on Mannish Boy; mixing and mashing the two channels together, as if they were singing a duet. Jimi's guitar sound is so upfront and so loud, that Kramer would ride both channels simultaneously, allowing for an automated, but printed mix, which at the time, was only done by ear. There was no drawing dots in a DAW, this was done creatively, intuitively, and on the fly.

Kramer would commonly record four tracks; Bass, Drums, Guitar and Vocals, all of which are recorded live (and having talents like Hendrix and his band would have made the job a lot easier). He would track the session live, in only a few takes. Running a Limiter, Compressor, and EQ in most of the signal chains, Kramer would capture the vibe and would not look back. He'd overdub rhythm guitar if needed, sometimes a few vocal harmonies, but usually, the abstract feel is within the genius himself.


Here, Eddie Kramer proves Jimi's free flowing skill set. Wind Cries Mary was written and recorded in 20 minutes... Yep! 20 minutes! A few double tracked guitars, a straight forward progression, and a live feel... we all know and love this song, now we can appreciate it even more.

Kramer tracked the lead vocals whilst Hendrix played a softer rhythm, (because Hendrix can't sing without his guitar) and later added a more driving guitar layer, building and emphasising on the original guitar feel. I can't believe how fast this one turned around.


Bold As Love... another one of Eddie Kramer's experimental sessions. Kramer cuts the track at it's close ending, and brings to life a stereo Phaser effect over the entirety of the songs ending; moving faders, and pushing the feedback effect of the Phaser harder or softer, causing the mix to move all over the place, creating a whole new psychedelic experience on the Axis album. At the time, this was new territory for Kramer, and they had succeeded. He implemented similar creative mixing techniques in songs such as Foxy Lady, If 6 Was 9, and heaps more. Kramer loved to dance with the dials.


And let's not forget the work he did with Led Zeppelin. Many of Roberts Plant's vocals through Led Zeppelin II, were effected live in the mix. Whole Lotta Love was a stemmed out mess when Kramer received it. Zeppelin were tracking on the road, recording bits and pieces wherever they landed. Plant's vocal in Whole Lotta Love had some random backing noise, so rather than trying to get rid of it (which would have been very hard to do), Kramer decided to ride the Panning pots during the breakdown. Drenched in reverb, this caused the vocal to fly all over the place, alongside Jimmy Page and Bonzo's creeping instrumental. Amazing innovative techniques that really psychify the sound.

Castles Made of Sand; a free expression experience in itself. This song has unorthodox choppy guitar stabs, reverse tape delays and verbs, and lyrics that paint a picture, and not to mention, the first time Kramer recorded the Drums in Stereo. Expanding the possibilities.


Hendrix was undoubtedly a force to be reckon with, and in the depths 1968, where society was struggling with expression as a whole, you can see why artists like Jimi Hendrix were so respected and followed by the revolution. Hendrix created a music revolution, and producers like Eddie Kramer were right there behind him, making sure the magic happened and ended up in the right hands. Jimi communicates an inner feeling that is so omni-present, Kramer understands it and makes it known to the world. The later talents being Led Zeppelin, KISS, and even the Beatles, Eddie Kramer really stamped his sounds into the Psychedelic scene.


GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

Psychedelic musicians helped opened the doors for change and prosperity in the late 1960s. They reacted to the historical events and social forth-comings of their days and conquered. They gave people hope and delivered the message far beyond any expectations. These revolutionaries fought against the historical conditions, and pushed back, resisting the governing oppression. The revolution utilised musical and lyrical strategies that were non-conformist, forming new social possibilities, particularly with respect to the traditionally accepted song forms and functions. Their music was shaped by the socio-historical moment, and vice-versa. Now, Psychedelic music and its intricacies are all over the musical spectrum. Artists such as Tame Impala, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, MGMT, Temples and many more, are tapping into this colourful form. Continuing the exciting tradition of musical experimentation and lighting effects.


Some believe there is still a vast amount of injustice and conformity in this world, and I agree. To this day, we as civilians, still fight the political power and can disagree with common worldviews, though, we do have our freedom. I believe that free expression is an important part of everyday life, and creativity can help change the world for the better, as it did in the 60s. So whether you're an artist, musician, dancer, poet, filmmaker, whatever your create flare is... feel free to express it, make it a priority to do it every day, and don't let anybody or anything hold you back, because if there is anything we, as a human race, have learnt from these dark histories, it's that it's ok to be yourself, it's ok to stand up for what you believe in, and it's ok to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them.


Works Cited

  • Psychedelic rock. (2018). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychedelic_rock

  • Psychedelic music. (2018). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychedelic_music

  • The Influence of the 60s and Psychedelic Music and Culture on Modern Society. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.articlemyriad.com/influence-60s-psychedelic-music-culture-modern-society/

  • PBS. (2005). The Sixites - The Years That Shaped a Generation [Film].

  • Jimi Hendrix - "Mannish Boy" with Eddie Kramer. (2018). [video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRffnTQeGcw [Accessed 16 Oct. 2018].

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