Sonic Beating has been in Boston’s psytrance scene for years now, while also holding down the house and techno community. Although they recently ended the Psyforia party after 10 years, the crew of DJs, visual artists, sound/lighting technicians, and event organizers isn’t leaving the electronic music scene… they actually have plan to grow and incorporate new things.
A recent interview with Ammon EP (co-founder), Keith Mattar (DJ) and Johnathan West (VJ, design, lighting, aka Chooch) led to a conversation about our local psytrance community and its growth; the importance of visual enhancements like deco and installations, and where it’s all headed.
How was Sonic Beating started?
- Ammon: It was primarily me and Nick Binary thinking about how to expand on our interest in psytrance and being able to play it out anywhere. We realized, back in 2002, you couldn’t get gigs at clubs playing that kind of music. We knew we needed to create some kind of sound system to be able to facilitate and throw these kinds of parties, so really, Sonic Beating started as half of just a bunch of people interested in putting shows together, but realizing we needed to create the sound and make the parties happen ourselves.
What kinds of places did you throw these parties?
- Ammon: Basements, loft spaces, beaches. The occasional club night here and there, incorporating other collectives as well.
Keith, how did you get involved with Sonic Beating?
- Keith: The first time I ever went to an electronic music party was Psyforia in 2005 or 2006. It was one of the outdoor parties on the Charles River and was just amazing. I didn’t expect anything like that was going on in Boston at all; I figured I’d need to go to Europe to experience something like that. I was just blown away by it.
Did you first become involved with Sonic Beating as a DJ or a partygoer?
- Keith: I was just a partygoer for a while, probably three of four years. DJ’ing didn’t even cross my mind, as [going to parties] was something I did for fun. Becoming a DJ was a natural progression because once you start collecting music, one thing leads to another. Now, here I am.
Chooch, how did you get involved with the crew?
- Chooch: I came to Boston for school eight years back and immediately started looking for the music scene. I wanted to dance and find good quality music with good quality sound. I went from club to club throughout my college years, never finding something that really spoke to me. Then I went to Psyforia outdoors, which was recommended by three or four friends who loved psytrance and really loved the music, who said, “if you love it as much as we do, you’ll love this.” So I showed up and was dancing all night long. It wasn’t just the music or the quality of the music, but it was also the entire atmosphere. Immediately, I realized all these people were getting together to create this atmosphere and produce this quality of sound with their own free time. They weren’t in it to make money themselves; they were in it to create something awesome so they could have fun, play out the music and hear what they wanted to hear. Given that, I asked how I could help.
When I talked to Infected Mushroom a few weeks ago and asked how they’d describe psytrance, they said it brings all the crazy people together. How would you define psytrance?
- Ammon: That sounds like something they would say, having been around for quite some time and they’re most certainly prone to bringing the crazies out. Describing [psytrance] to someone who’s unfamiliar with it at all… people who are familiar with dance music know it kind of goes boom, clap, boom, clap in so many variations. Psytrance, specifically, is found in tenants with the use of 16th note basslines, so it’s sound pulses in a consistent manner. There’s usage of a lot of Hindu and Indian-influenced melodic elements. It kind of has some ethnic roots at its base, but contemporary psytrance is a different animal. Musically, I think that’s one part of its aesthetic.
- Chooch: Another thing to consider, aesthetically when you go out to the club and you listen to electronic in general, psytrance tends to be a little faster in regards to its BPM. You’ll notice a ranging BPM for psytrance, about 128 to 165.
- Keith: Most commonly, I’d say 135 to 150 BPM. Also, you’ll see in the way people dance that it’s much different than the way they dance to other music. It’s called the psy-stomp – they just jump from one foot to the other and kind of get lost in their heads.
- Ammon: It’s like an isolated experience. When you see a room full of people dancing to psytrance, a lot of the time they’re staring at the floor – not that it’s a bad thing – you’re enveloped in your own space, creating an experience within yourself. The music definitely does a lot to focus that experience, being a bit more outwardly expressive. The social aesthetic is much more based on this outward expressionism, being that it’s the child of disco, which has a much more outward, more embracing social approach.
You just hosted the last Psyforia after 10 years. What was Psyforia?
- Keith: Psyforia was a 10-year running event focused on psychedelic trance. We brought a lot of artists from Europe and around the world to Boston. As far as psytrance goes, it’s nothing anyone else [around here] has done, so we’re pretty proud of that. It was a good run.
- Ammon: [Psyforia] was Boston’s only running, monthly psytrance event. Psytrance has been integrated here and there, but psytrance parties tend to be focused on only psytrance DJs and/or live acts. That was a big part of the planning and presentation of the event.
- Chooch: Also, Psyforia became our way of growing and graduating from not just an underground scene, but to a public and legitimate arty situation where we could offer people a safe place to go, listen to this music, have an amazing time without risk, and experience what we loved so much in a controlled environment. As that grew, we wanted to open that up to legitimate clubs and artists who weren’t risking anything to come play. That’s important when you want to promote a certain type of music.
Can you take me down the path of Sonic Beating’s events aside from Psyforia?
- Ammon: Over the years, it’s been a combination of beach and loft parties. Prior to Psyforia, we began doing underground basement parties and bringing in artists from Europe. It would be like, “hey let’s get this guy from France over here,” and we’d book him to play in a basement in Boston. We would do it, and we would fabricate the speaker cabinets ourselves and mount them. Nick Binary can take full credit for the technical foundation of Sonic Beating because me, him and Chooch have been the strong arms when it comes to the technical end of the organization. Nick has always been the technical godfather of putting the hardware together for everything. A combination of a lot of underground parties over the years, integrated with Burning Man culture in the city, has been a big point of contact for us because no one goes out to a party and makes it a party like Burning Man people; it really brings out an expressive and positive crowd. They’re very appreciative of a good show and meeting people at those events.
- Chooch: Throughout the years, we started off with underground parties and beach parties, but as things grew and developed, we’ve reached out to the community in Boston, the Burning Man community, people from Figment and the Together Festival. As we reach out, we receive more as well – the atmosphere, the art, the decoration – which are all part of the music and its experience. One of our aims is to have it as an entire experience where you go there and feel totally encompassed and engrossed by the music, both atmospherically and socially. As the years go by, that becomes more and more part of what we do. Part of our meetings are discussing how we take an artist and surround them with the visual aesthetic that represents them, us, the community, and what people want. That has grown and developed quite significally. It becomes a goal every month to come up with a new thing to create an all-encompassed experience. In regards to this crew and the crews of people we’ve worked with and for, one of the experiences I’ve enjoyed is we all help each other. Sonic Beating and Psyforia grew not just to become our nights, but it became a collaboration. We began to collaborate and other people asked us to collaborate with them. Instead of it being like New York City or L.A. where everyone’s fighting to get the best night, it became a night to which people came together to share resources and time. It was almost entirely volunteer-based. Many people put many hours into putting together something awesome they wanted to see. For me, it was very inspirational to see people give their time and resources to share over and over and over again, That’s what excited me so much about Sonic Beating and the community here in Boston, as far as the electronic music community goes. It isn’t like a lot of other scenes you’ll find around this country and around the world. This is a small town in certain ways and we all get to share. We’re very, very good at it.
- Ammon: Transitioning from the roots of the collective and doing shows on small VFWs along the river, doing outdoor parties in the city was one of the key things that really identified the collective for a while because not many people over the years had the opportunity to do that. The style of music really flourishes quite well outside. Sometimes it can feel really cavernous showcasing psytrance inside, especially inside a club which can be kind of dark and at times the music can be a little tart. It’s good to experience it outside.
Something that always stands out at Sonic Beating events is the deco, visuals and installations. How would you say things like that notable enhance an event?
- Chooch: Coming to Psyforia for the first time was a clue to me that I wasn’t just going to a club advertising RedBull and Bud Light. I was going to a place with a community of people who loved this music and wanted to express their love for this music in many different ways. To see all those different ways – the paintings, visuals, sculptures, different forms of artwork – made me notice I wasn’t just walking into a place that was trying to make money and sell me expensive drinks, or a place that hired a random guy to DJ that night hoping to get enough people to dance. This was people who loved the music – they truly loved it – I could see it all around me.
- Keith: Everyone is there to enjoy the common goal of enjoying the music. People don’t go to this club to pick up some girls, they go there because they love the music and that’s what they’re into, with like-minded people.
- Ammon: When you walk into a room and you see it filled with hand-stretched lycra, UV-reactant string art installations and paintings that color and fill the space, and have taken hours of work not only to set up but also to actually fabricate, you can see a lot of intention has been put into it. I think that, above all else, makes it a unique scenario within the visual environment
What’s next for Sonic Beating?
- Ammon: Towards the future, there is a lot of talk and organizational effort to continue to collaborate with others. After Psyforia, we saw it as the turning of a page – why just focus on one style of music when you can continue to integrate and expand and grow? A lot of us are focused on so many things, so why stop with just psytrance?
In addition to interviewing the three of them about Sonic Beating, Psyforia and the music scene, I got to ask Keith some questions about his role as a DJ for a Sonic Beating artist feature.
Keith, did you start with psytrance?
Keith: Psytrance was the first type of electronic music that really hooked me. I’d listened to The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers when I was in high school, but psytrance was the point when I was like, “this is going to be part of my identity, electronic music is my thing.”
Looking at your SoundCloud, I’m seeing genres other than psytrance. What else do you work with?
Keith: Lately, I’ve been into a lot of lounge-y house music. Last time I played at Rise with Ammon, we tagged all night and played deep house and lounge-y stuff. It all comes down to the situation.
Who’s your greatest influence?
Keith: John Digweed, from a technical standpoint because of how he creates an entirely new project out of a bunch of songs that aren’t even his. The way he flows, how he programs from the starts of songs to the endings of songs.
If you could play with any artist, who would it be?
Keith: Digweed would be one of them. The other would be Simon Posford (Shpongle) because he was one of the first psychedelic artists I got into; I’ve actually already had the honor with him which is pretty cool.
Have you gotten to experience the scene in other areas, and can you compare it to Boston?
Keith: I’ve been to New York quite a bit for the psytrance scene and played there a few times. It’s a different vibe. Around here, it’s much more close-knit and everyone knows each other. People are kind of competing [in New York]. Everyone’s in it together around here and that’s what I like about Boston.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into DJ’ing?
Keith: Don’t even try and learn to DJ until you have lots of music collected and have listened to a lot of music. Track selection and library of tracks is almost more important than technical ability. Having the right song for the exact right moment separates a good DJ from a great DJ.
What makes a track totally awesome for you?
Keith: From a mixing standpoint playing at a club, it comes down to the mastering. A track could have the best bassline you’ve ever heard, but if it doesn’t make the subwoofers knock people on their faces in a cub, it’s not going to have the effect you want.