Geschreven voor Tomorrowland Today – de festivalkrant van dit megafestival – op 21 juli 2018.
Firaga: an antiquarian in a world of psytrance
Psytrance DJ Firaga (1984), real name Michael Kiriloff, was born in Venezuela, but moved to Belgium as a toddler. Although his father is Dutch, he is descended – the last name is a tell – from Russian nobility. By everyday profession, by the way, he is an antiquarian: he trades in Chinese porcelain and collects Russian icons. But Firaga loves the apparent contradictions and paradoxes of life and has been organizing psytrance parties since he was 18 years old, too. This year, for the 11th time in a row, he’s hosting the PsyGathering stage at Tomorrowland, which has grown considerably in size, as the popularity of the genre is increasing. Hey, Firaga! Please tell us more about you and your scene…
Psytrance originated from the party scene in the hippie pilgrimage destination Goa, India, in the mid-’90s. Is the scene still influenced by its origins?
“We’re all still kind of hippie-like. You wouldn’t be able to tell if you saw me walking down the street – I often wear button-up shirts and dress shoes. But in the psytrance scene, it doesn’t matter how you look or what you do. Everyone’s welcome, as long as you appreciate our culture. We’re still idealists. PLUR (a set of values that is associated with the dance scene meaning Peace, Love, Unity, Respect) is still very important to us. There’s just no fighting in psytrance. On the other hand, that spiritual part of Goa trance is ridiculous. I am too much of an atheist for that. For me, psytrance is about compassion and humanity. Religion and spirituality have done the worst for mankind. Then again, we’ve had to deal with other problems related to our origins as well. In the past, lots of psytrance events were shut down by the police. We had to deal with so many prejudices. People thought we were extreme trippers. That’s just not true. At a certain point, in 2006, the police called me. Undercover they’d visited some of the parties I organized. Yes, some drugs were taken, they concluded. But no more than in any other dance scene. ‘Michael’ they said, ‘we have nothing to worry about.’ You know, we are just soft people who love hard music. Initially – before it got commercial – Goa trance had the same intention.”
“We are just soft people who love hard music”
How did psytrance change over the years?
“Psytrance went through an all-time low between 2010 and 2014. From parties of 3,000 people we went to parties of 600 people. The scene disappeared almost completely. I don’t know exactly what happened; I think it was partly because the old guard was now in their thirties and forties. They had children, preferred to stay at home. Now, we’re suddenly on the rise again. If you look at Brazil, Japan, France, Germany, the United States and even China, you will see the popularity of psytrance increasing massively. The old school DJs do have a different standard in terms of production than the new ones, though. EDM productions are starting to tend more and more towards psytrance. DJ duo Vini Vici even came out with a collaboration with Armin van Buuren. It seems Armin’s also thinking, ‘This is the new thing!’ Perhaps because of this trend, BPM’s in EDM are going up while BPM’s of new psytrance productions are going down. Nowadays, psytrance tracks are produced at 140-142 BPM, slower than in the old days. Some are mixing their productions with dram & bass to go more mainstream. I still notice that if your melodies are spot on, 145 BPM lets the audience explode.”
Who are some of the new names to keep an eye on?
“Guys like WHITENO1SE and WAIO. Mark my words, they’re going to go through the roof. Now that the scene is getting bigger, so many artists can surprise the people.”
PsyGathering is hosting a stage at Tomorrowland for the 11th year in a row. How did your stage evolve along with the festival?
“Twelve years ago, I came to Tomorrowland as a visitor. I bet a case of beer with a mate on coming back the following year. Not as a visitor, but as a DJ. I won the bet and he owed me that case of beer. When the time was there, I had to drink a bottle of champagne before I had enough courage to go on stage. But I must have done something right, because I’ve been hosting the festival’s psytrance stage ever since. I remember I built part of my own stage the first time, driving around with blocks and building the roof myself. It was just wonderful. Now, when I arrive everything is arranged. Tomorrowland’s productions are simply the best in the world. Last year I had a small indoor stage. Big names were on the line-up, though. But those artists didn’t want to come back. ‘Yes, we’re talking about Tomorrowland, but we can play at other festivals of 2,000 people,’ they said. So I spoke to the organization, and this year they gave us a much bigger stage. They even programmed Vini Vici on the Mainstage. Psytrance is breaking through and Tomorrowland responds wisely to that. There’s just so much more to come…”
“Well, we will have a PsyGathering at IKON, Antwerp, on the 6th of October. And a few days before that, I am launching a PsyGathering record label, too. But first, let’s see how we do at the Arch this weekend!”