by Levon Shant Ekmekjian
In a mountainous breeze of nothingness stood a typical post-Soviet factory building— alone and out of place in the greenery of Byurakan. The building had all the common attributes; hole-filled walls, missing windows and a dilapidated interior. As I approached the building, I could see how it stood out from those around it with blood-like beams of light trying to escape through its windows. As I got closer, I felt an undeniable tremble that shook my body. It was growing louder by the second. In its solitude, this building seemed like a pigmented portal, where people altered their realities through the freedom of music and mind-altering edibles.
As music evolved throughout the years, music festivals became a focal point for authentic artistic expressions and creating an interactive community of people with similar tastes. Just as Woodstock was so provoking and mind-opening for many boomers, the DkTsk festival was having the same effect on me.
Inside the building is where most of the dancing–or should I say, expressional physical movements–occurs. An almost-empty bar awaits for mislaid consumers of alcohol. However, almost everyone has a water bottle within their reach. A typical dancing crowd consists of scattered people dancing in random positions, squished together, skin-to-skin, but that wasn’t the case with this crowd. Here, everyone is exclusively facing the musician, a DJ, in perfect rows and identical space range between each person, allowing them to move freely within their given space. In a place that feels like it’s organized by anarchists, the dance floor seems very controlled and in order. The music is unlike anything I’ve listened to before, and I like to think of myself as someone who has listened to the whole lot. At first I thought it was techno, but after an hour, it evolved into something else, something much harder and faster. A repetitive beat so fast that if you listened to it at a slower tempo it would still overwhelm your ears. So I join in and try contributing by moving with a pace so high that after a while, the music takes over my body and decides my movements for me.
Outside there is comfortable yet scratchy furniture made of blocks of hay, with a pile of people resting their legs by lighting a tobacco roll. As I start reflecting on everything, a fellow Diasporan Armenian young man starts making conversation with me. He’s wearing a dark jean jacket and a dark eye bag matching his overall look.
“The first time I listened to electronic music was Acid Trance and the whole experience was so profound that I almost broke my back,” Arman says. A person next to him pukes silently on the floor, to which he has no reaction whatsoever.
“Yes, mind enhancement through drug use can be a part of the whole Trance music experience, but true enthusiasts prefer to enjoy the artists while being sober,” Arman utters before someone rushes in and takes him away. While hurling upstairs, he yells, “Sorry brother, we’ll talk again in light, it’s my turn to play my set!” Turns out, I was talking with one of the main musicians from the lineup.
Outside, there’s a cleared pathway where people are walking towards a dark forest. I follow them. Turns out, another abandoned building is being used for all kinds of accommodations; hang out spots, tents full of people and a food court that feels like mother’s kitchen, where they serve za’atar and cheese sandwiches, amongst other refreshments. Inside, the ambiance is the polar opposite of the music factory. It’s like walking through a portal and all of a sudden, you’re amongst a very moderate and positive group of people who enjoy meditation, smiling at strangers and have a knack for smoky herbs.
With no more dum-dums piercing my ear drums, I order a cup of tea and wait on a block of hay. At this point, I’m finding these blocks to be surprisingly comfortable. “You seem like you’re enjoying that hay,” a heavy redheaded guy says to me, with a silly yet innocent grin on his face. After asking me if I want to taste some, I answer with “Just got out of rehab cause I overdosed on these,” and he laughs so hard that his voice hardens while coughing and his face turns blood red.
Seeping on my steamy tea, I listen to him talking about his passion for music and the Psychedelic Trance scene. “What I love about our community is how open it is to anyone who wishes to explore their inner selves and navigate their minds through music.” Meanwhile, a 40-year old looking man, who is dressed fully as a hippie, is conducting a meditational ceremony in the corner. On the other side of the room, two artists are painting alien-like figures on the walls, while laughing hysterically, every time they dip their brushes in a different paint. “Any form of art is appreciated in the community,” Nersig continues, “The ultimate goal for most people in the community is to implement their passions by contributing to the community and surviving off of it.” His pupils get darker as he senses my increasing curiosity. Just as I offer him a cigarette, his walky-talky calls his name and he rushes out to the dark forest. A minute later, one of the artists asks me whether I’ve seen the festival’s head planner, only to find out that I was just speaking with him.
Walking outside again, I notice a change of hue in the sky— the sun is about to arrive and I haven’t even had a sip of alcohol yet. There, in front an old tree, sat the hippie shaman in a standard yoga pose, meditating by himself. I start walking past him to head for some more repetitive beats and I hear a voice asking me my name. I turn around and it’s the shaman. “Don’t be shy, sit down,” he says to me. So I did. He gets comfortable with me and starts talking about the scene culture. “You see all these people, most of them think they’re smart and want to cheat their way to higher consciousness,” the shaman tells me calmly. He starts explaining how years of daily meditation can lead a person to “awake” their minds and free themselves from the limitations of a human-animalistic vessel. “Throughout history, we’ve had many enlightened figures, like Jesus, Buddha and more recently, Osho,” he explains. The shaman says that drugs can provide a glimpse of “higher reality,” but aren’t the proper way of reaching the ultimate destination, Nirvana. But, meditation is.
I head back to the abandoned factory and try to connect with the music, with only water and tea streaming through my blood vessels. Five minutes go by and my heart starts beating as fast as the thundering music beat while my legs start stiffing up so hard that I can’t move like the rest. I’m stuck. I can’t dance and I’m not enjoying myself as I should. Why, what should I do, I think to myself. Standing under the entrance’s door frame, I spot Arman counting what seemed to be a handful of coins. I walk up to him and before I can ask him about how well his set was, he puts one of those coin-looking objects in my mouth and tells me to swallow it. “You’re one of us now,” he tells me with a big smile. “Now go, enjoy your sins before the Gods catch you knocking on their doors!”