The grandfather of psy trance Raja Ram shares his secrets for the Elixir of Life
Reported by Tara
Submitted 20-12-11 20:18
Since the ’60s when he started jazz-fusion Indian rock band Quintessence, Raja Ram has established himself as a leader and inspiration to many. Yet despite studying jazz improvisation in New York under Lenny Tristano, he returned to his native Melbourne to retire. But the jazz world’s loss eventually became dance music’s gain, for his subsequent switch to electronic music and the formation of The Infinity Project was a defining moment in the genesis of what was to become psychedelic trance.
With Raja Ram and his project Shpongle headlining two of the five rooms at the Elixir of Life NYE Celebration at Hackney Downs Studios, HarderFaster managed to secure a rare interview with the flute-playing psychedelic petrolhead on the eve of his 70th birthday…
Hi Raj, thanks for taking time out of your busy birthday weekend to answer some questions!
First, happy birthday, I hope you had a fabulous day. I also hope you do realise just how much of a source of inspiration you are to so many people!
Which leads to my first question…. Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, who or what inspired you to start playing and making music? Were you ever a petrolhead like so many Auzzie teenage boys? I can’t quite see you in a Holden and a black singlet…
The world is a pretty inspiring place... Oh god I was such a petrolhead. Had a Ford Fairlane with the fins and a triumph TR3 Sports Car. I bought old cars and fixed them. I just loved the sound of the exhaust going down the highway to the summer spots. I just loved cars, but first it was push bikes. My Mum loved music and Dad took me to hear jazz quite a lot.
You started up the ‘jazz-fusion Indian rock band’ Quintessence in the late 1960s and played at the first two Glastonbury Festivals in 1970 and 1971. This must have been an incredibly exciting time! Are you ever tempted to reform the band and tour, Gong-style?
The scene in London was exciting. We got on Island Records, it was so cool. Just round the corner were all the bands and we hung out with Jethro, Mot, Marley and King Crimson – it was a large family.
It was easy, I put an ad in Melody Maker and 200 people came around to the pad. I interviewed them on vibe, not talent. We did six shows in Drury Lane, then went on to have the residency at the London Roundhouse on Sundays. After six weeks we got the cover of Time Out and eight recording offers.
Reform... NEVER... I live in the future and have so many things going on at the moment. The way is forward, though big respect to the past as well.
You were classically trained in the flute and after falling in love with ‘the coolest sound in the universe’ went to New York in 1965 to study jazz and improvisation. Was it worth growing your moustache for?
The moustache was the big turning point. It was 1961 and I’d just got back from India. I grew a moustache so I wouldn’t have to shave near my lip and started learning classically at the Melbourne Conservatory. I then went to New York City to study jazz improvisation with the late great Lennie Tristano for a few years.
Why the turnaround to electronic music? How did Ronald Rothfield become Raja Ram?
In 1989 I went to Goa for the first time and blew me away – all the free parties and the wonderful new music. So Graham Wood and I started The Infinity Project and wrote 60 or so tunes.
Ronald Rothfield became Raja Ram in ’69. The man came to the door and said “from now on you are going to be called Raja Ram”. Despite my objections and spluttering I have had that name ever since.
By starting up TIP Records in 1994 you helped create and define what is now called psychedelic trance. Did you consciously set out to start a whole new genre of music, or was that something that happened along the way?
We didn’t set out to do anything but to have fun. It was just the joy of manipulating electronic pulses. It was new, and still is sometimes. We just wanted to dance and make our friends dance and so we found a way...
TIP (The Infinity Project) became a label and wow we have had some terrific times in the last 15 years. Having a label is like having a best friend, like a dog. The music developed like a sub atomic particle – it just developed and is still being born each second.
Did your parents ever stop asking you to get a real job? And is this partly why you retired from making music in the early ’70s to become an envelope and car salesman – or was that a chiropodist in a centipede farm?! Why did you have such a dramatic change of career?
We had a baby girl. Responsibility came with a wife and a home. But it wasn’t long before I got it together again and in the early ’80s bought loads of synthesisers and a music computer (msx5 Yamaha) and started writing electronic music with the flute. You gotta flow with the go. I had to be a little inventive to survive.
The new TIP Records site describes the evolution of the scene as:
IT HAD GROWN AROUND US AND OUR FRIENDS LIKE A PSYCHEDELIC FUNGUS…WITH ALL OF OUR SHARED EXPERIENCES IN GOA AS THE EPICENTRE, THE MOTHERLAND, THE HOME OF THIS GREAT SCENE THAT 20 YEARS LATER IS STILL SPRINGING UP IN NEW COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD.
With the ‘psychedelic fungus’ still growing all over the world, are you a justifiably proud parent? And looking back, is there anything you might have done differently?
Wow it’s changed… those tiny parties in Bahia, Brazil for 20 people and the last time we did 1200 Mics live in Sao Paulo there were 40,000. The scene has grown, and collapsed and re-grown, it will always be fairly small and personal. But what an incredible family we have globally – fabulous, so many new and old friends, coming together, dancing under the stars and getting high on the music with one’s loved ones. Russia is enormous right now and India, Hungary, Australia... many new spots are opening up, while others close like old lotus flowers for rebirth.
When did you first meet Simon (Posford) and what lead to the formation of Shpongle?
I met Si in the very early ’90s and we’ve been making sounds together for over 20 years. We met at Butterfly studios in Battersea, Youth’s place. We all hung out and made music there, did the [Mystery of the] Yeti, ‘Stilmuli’, loads of works. And then in 95/96 went to Glastonbury Fest, took acid and walked around for three days...and then went back in the studio and recorded our first Shpongle, ‘Vapour Rumours’, which was a musical picture of what we both experienced together... Of course Simon is the Grand Master Wizard of sound and it has been a joy to work and play with him.
How does the music that you make with Simon as Shpongle and also The Mystery of the Yeti, 1200 Micrograms and The Zap differ from your solo work? Please talk as through your various projects.
We have quite a few different things going, but it’s all the same, just notes and feeling strung together like pearls on a string.
I hear that you and Benji aka The Zap have got an artist album coming out next year, how’s that going?
Benji is phenomenal, it’s always a joy to Zap with him. Yeah we have some new stuff and I’ve also just finished a session in Ibiza with 1200 Mics, so that will be coming out soon. I like to keep it fresh and changing. I love Shpongle, Zap and 1200 Mics so much.
You put on the first Goa-style party in London, with the TIP parties in the early ’90s being the stuff of legend. Do you have any key highlights from back in the day – or was the whole time one entire highlight?!
That whole time was amazing, those early TIP parties with the decor by Brahma and the DJs. It was a magic time, mostly free, complete chaos and fun. It was a giant highlight.
said that ‘psychedelic’ is the ‘expansion of consciousness’ and ‘the opening of one’s consciousness to a higher dimension and something we should all be striving for’. Given the current state of the world, would it be fair to say you’d recommend dropping a large dose of LSD in the water systems to jolt people out of their current vegetative states?
Put it in the water supply – no no no, a bit terrorist that. No I would never recommend anything to anybody, it’s too much of a responsibility. Music is a drug to be inserted in the ears.
I know what goes on tour stays on tour, but what’s been the most enjoyable trip you’ve been on?
Impossible! Israel last month was a mind blower, in the desert at dawn with the full show, gigantic sound system and lights and 17 people on stage with Shpongle. Wow it was blaster. Then the USA concerts, a dream to play central Manhattan in New York and San Francisco. We did seven live Shpongle shows this year and all of them were super. Russia, all those 35 tours of Brazil, and then of course India. We’re going there in a few weeks to do another tour, I love it.
You played an epic set at Rainbow Serpent Festival in 2011. It must feel like quite a homecoming going back to Oz to play at psy events?! Do you have any hassles going back to Oz and would you ever consider moving back to live one day?
I have an Ozzi passport but I would never ever live there, oh no no no. No hassles going or coming. I will always go back as there’s so many relatives and friends there, it’s a great country.
If your granddaughter Bella told you she wanted to be a psy trance DJ and producer, would you be supportive? What advice would you give her?
Live the passion, go for it. Always have fun. Music is one of the best pay-offs in life, it will never let you down.
You’ve been running TIP World since 1999, how has the label weathered the storm of digital downloads and the widespread musical piracy that’s come with the digital age? Now that you’re planning a big TIP tour in 2012, is it safe to say the label is certainly back on track?
The label is back on track. We have had so many good years and bad years, but we keep the flame lit, like an Olympic torch. Keep running with it and continue to continue. It has been a great musical year though – DJ Lucas, DuoTEK, Logic Bomb, 1200 Mics. The quality is high and we still believe.
At 70 you’ve got a touring schedule that most DJ/producers would be envious of and a few years ago you said that you felt like you were only just getting started. What else is there on your mental list of things to do that you still want to achieve?
To achieve... the ultimate Shpongle album to come out in 2012. The possibilities are infinite and we have a lot to do. It is the most exciting time EVER, that’s for sure...
What’s your favourite magic trick?
To become invisible...
Please describe the silliest, scariest and most incredible things you’ve experienced on hallucinogenics…
Three weeks ago I had a double Colombian mushroom trip in Ibiza. I must have tripped a thousand times, everything, but this was the bomb, the highest and weirdest... I was taken by aliens and after they abducted me and examined me, they replaced my whole body and brain with a replica, and it felt great. Then I went into a weird hallucinatory world, with millions of changing rooms and scenes, mondo bizarro. I thought I was never going to come back. It was so beautiful and weird, the highest for sure I have ever been, even Stomonium and Ayahuasca was tame, even DMT. This was incredible, I was in another dimension for a long time and brought back a lot...
You’re a regular user of MySpace, Twitter and Facebook. Do you reckon social networking has made music promotion easier, or is the danger of getting bogged down in the details of what some bloggers have had for breakfast turning into too much of a time-waster?
I try to reply to every single request and talk to the whole world though the internet.
Your set at the last Elixir of Life actually moved one DJ friend to tears it was so powerful… are you looking forward to your set at the Elixir of Life NYE Celebration? And will you be sticking around afterwards to party?
Of course I am looking forward to playing. Out with the old in with the new, and there will be a lot of friends there.
Will you be making any New Year’s resolutions and if so, can you tell us what they are?
The new year’s resolutions: look after myself better, be more forgiving and accept what’s going on, rise in love, have more fun, make more far out music and to stay alive.
Finally, if a fan sees you at the bar at Elixir, what should they buy you to drink?
Coca cola with ice and lemon please.
Thanks so much Raj! Looking forward to seeing you at Elixir of Life on the 31st!
For more info about Raja Ram check out: http://www.facebook.com/#!/raja.ram.tip
For more info about TIP Records check out www.tiprecords.com
For more info about the Elixir of Life NYE Celebration check: http://www.facebook.com/#!/events/247736505275872/
Images courtesy of Raja Rama and TIP Records. Not to be reproduced without permission.
Elixir of Life NYE Celebration
Saturday 31st December
Hackney Downs Studios [map]
£26 advance/£30 on the door
Access All Areas Network Ltd
2nd Floor, 30c Camden Lock Place, London, NW1 8AL.
Tel: +44 (0)20 7267 8320 & +44 (0)20 7267 6148
Click here to buy tickets
Elixir of Life joins forces with the cream of London's underground to bring you our biggest and most ambitious production yet. Over five rooms in an incredible new licenced warehouse complex, the line-up is better than most festivals...
*Fully legal licensed warehouse complex 100% confirmed
*Our own hand-picked security team
*Licensed bar with fair bar prices & free drinking water
*Giant chill-out & visionary arts gallery
*Cafe with food, bizarre market & ample toilet facilities
Psy Trance. Electro House. Breaks. Electro. Disco. Chillout / Leftfield.
Room 1 :: Elixir Psychedelic Room - Psy Trance
Man With No Name
Room 2 :: Mindscapes and Friends - Chill Out and Live Acoustic
Digital Mystery Tour
Room 3 :: Shindig vs Archangel - Electro Breaks and Beats
Tongue n Groove
Dave The Hair
Room 4 :: Wonky Turtle and Group4Peas - Progressive Techno and Electric Filth
So Called Scumbags
Ben Zaven Crane
Room 5 :: Visionary Art Gallery hosted by and featuring Emma Watkinson exclusive new artwork from...
and more tba
with inOrbit, Shindig Opus and Funktion 1, Cognitive Dissidents UV Active Decor, Lucid Illusions, Robbie PsyArt, Deliberate Animations, FaeDaLites Dance Troupe and loads more
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The views and opinions expressed in this review are strictly those of the author only for which HarderFaster will not be held responsible or liable.