A novel: Goa 1987-96

Every epic era needs its chronicler, and in Moon Juice Stomper, Goa has found its Homer. Set in a Golden Triangle for cultural exiles and outcastes, a haven for human flotsam and jetsam surging up the electric shores of the Arabian Sea, where bodies are levitated above the sands of distant languid beaches, this story does not release the reader from its spell. Remixing the music, politics, intrigue and psychodrama of the era, Ray Castle amplifies a movement in its un/making. Under the guidance of a master dada-jockey, we are transported through cosmo-psychic dimensions of this scenius, with the building tension achieving climax at full moon party under the Banyan Tree in 1988. In a story sculpted in peerless patois, and with attention to detail reminiscent of Castenada and HS Thompson, Castle commands a scintillating white-knuckled ride though the mystical anarchy of “Gonzo Goa.” Capturing the atmosphere of this freak nadir at its explosive peak, Castle gets inside the minds of the habitués of this remote crossroads, even as they’re going out of their minds. And in doing so, he does what any freakologist worth his salt should do: he delivers us into the heart and soul of the matter. — Graham St John, author of “Mystery School in Hyperspace: A Cultural History of DMT”

Asia traveller, Jules Nightingale, falls under the spell of a bewitching siren beckoning him to a party paradise where he dances out of his body. In Disco Valley, in a trance, an Omen is revealed to fashionista, Zsu Rivieria. Bollywood actor, Naresh Kumar, undertakes an undercover assignment in a subculture which turns his life upside down. Up-for-it enabler of edgecore dance floors, Doc Silver, on his Enfield chopper works the jungle telegraph between Spaghetti Beach and Joe Banana to keep the scene grooving against all odds. As a lost tribe of the future seeks redemption through rave, their party paradise becomes imperilled by its popularity.

A novel by Ray Castle

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Review by Paul Chambers

This book transports the reader back to the genesis times of psy-trance and doof/festival culture. Set in the old Portuguese colony of Goa, situated on the Western shores of India by the Arabian Sea, a community of semi-permanent residents began putting on parties in the early 1980s playing radical electronic dance music. Held in a range of exotic locations, from beaches, jungle clearings, ruined fortresses and private properties, the events were held every few days in the winter months before the heat built up again and people headed elsewhere. Sites were frequently decorated by painted banners and lit by black lights, the trees painted in garish day-glo colours. Party participants favoured brightly-coloured clothing, including stretchy lycra and spandex, perfect for all-night dancing under the stars. Those enjoying this paradisiacal milieu were fortified in their enjoyment by refreshments provided by local “chai mummas” and a cornucopia of recreational drugs, in particular charas, the psychoactive resin of the cannabis plant, and LSD.

As Moon Juice Stomper magnificentlydocuments, this was all extremely good fun, so much so that it proved impossible to keep under the radar. From the time the novel’s central character, Jules Nightingale, arrived in the area in January 1987 to the book’s close in 1996, this laid back scene was transformed into a mecca for global ravers looking for the perfect party. It all got too much for local authorities who demanded more and more baksheesh to turn a blind eye. The eclectic sound of the original parties crystallised into stomping, kick-driven ‘trance’ music characterised by uplifting melodies and machine-gun bass lines, released on a burgeoning plethora of overseas labels. Colourful dance parties clearly influenced by those experienced in Goa began popping up around the world, attracting a similar cohort of hedonistic attendees. Back in Goa, many of the scene’s original participants moved on, unable to live the carefree dolce vita of old.

The author adopts a writing style of fictional realism in order to describe this moment in time. This is a good policy, acknowledging the difficulties and limitations of conducting interviews with those involved, several of whom would have sadly passed away. It also side-steps associating individuals with the potentially contentious issues of illicit drugs, corruption and participation in notorious cult activity. Instead, the book’s main characters are invented and fleshed out with archetypal attributes, all within a constructed psychodrama with all the depth of a Greek epic poem. Such is the richness of ethnographic material, with a keen eye for the rituals and lifestyles of those described, that the reader is bought back vividly into this time and place.

The novel is separated into broad sections associated with particular party locations or key times of transition, while smaller chapters interweave various narrative strands. ‘Paradise Precipice’ kicks off with a full moon party in 1990 that introduces many of the primary characters and sets the stage for the growing tension between Goan authorities and party-goers. ‘Beatific Headland’ tracks back to the arrival of Jules in Goa and his quick discovery of the area’s fertile party culture. It isn’t long before he becomes immersed in the utopic lifestyle, and falls for Zsu Riviera, a fashion designer he encountered in Bali who first told him about the scene.  In ‘The Spice Must Flow’, the author reveals the back stage to the “full tilt” party shenanigans, in the form of international drug trafficking, deejay politics, and the placation of the authorities with bribes. ‘Serpent in the Seed’ describes how Zsu has to extricate herself from a troubled relationship that reveals the shadow sides of her own character, and introduces the “cock cult” of the O.O.O.

‘Disco Valley Party’ is a longish section, where the author’s signature creative wordplay is given full rein. Ray Castle’s baroque descriptions of dance floor experience, from the perspective of both the dancer and the deejay, are unparalleled. A playful use of language, drenched in alliterative exuberance, contorted in contextual nuance and in-the-know lingo, unfolds in a non-stop flow of discursive novelty. Jules then returns to Sydney, Australia and his old social world of punk aficionados. But Jules has changed and turns Zane, his old bandmate, onto the new dance music and together they compose a future Goa classic. ‘In Ya Face’ features Zane’s arrival in Bombay, vibrantly portraying the initial culture shock and then connection to the hippy trail leading to Goa. ‘Spaghetti Beach’ introduces the subplot of Naresh, an undercover reporter for the Goa Voice newspaper who becomes compromised by the pleasures of the party and his relationship with Sonia, a UK Indian and enthusiastic scene insider.

‘Banyan Tree Party’ is the climactic crescendo of the book, a three day party powered by the “perestroika punch” of “blotta baba” Shazam. In the global zeitgeist of the Second Summer of Love, on the eve of the Berlin Wall coming down in Europe, egos are shredded on the carnivalesque dancefloor of Goa, to a soundtrack of freshly-squeezed sonic juice from the studios of simpatico producers. As in the book as a whole, track titles of the music played are peppered throughout the text, allowing the reader with access to YouTube the ability to listen along to contemporary music of the time. “Mental masonry” crumbles and is then re-established in the afterglow, as relationships between the key protagonists are resolved.

‘Redemption Through Rave’ begins the scene’s transformation as the combined pressures of wider popularity and authority scrutiny take hold. As drug searches and music curfews curtail hedonistic pleasures, the Anjuna Flea Market reopens for business, disseminating colourful fashions for new arrivals as word of Goa travels across the planetary grapevine. Alternative venues in nearby Maharashtra temporarily quench the insatiable party thirst. The final section, ‘’ charts the Goa music style’s appropriation by overseas record labels as psychedelic-trance became the flavour-de-jour on European dancefloors.

Moon Juice Stomper is an incomparable insight into a party wonderland that became a victim of its own reputation. Told from the centre of the action, the narrative moves along at a cracking pace and is hard to put down. It also doesn’t shy away from the nightmare behind the nirvana; the sexual assaults, psych-outs, busts and gang violence. Even the book’s occasional language that fits uneasily in today’s climate of political correctness, does not attempt to airbrush out the reality of the era. For a scene in many ways so hip and right on, it could also be patriarchal and self-centred. Flawed it may have been but a paradise nonetheless, Ray Castle chronicles this hugely influential moment in time in all its euphoric transcendent glory.