A Trax feature recounted one of Dharma Techno’s retreats: four nights of silent meditation in a remote villa in the south of France under the guidance of Robberechts, and in the middle a (sober) six-hour rave courtesy of Spiral Tribe artist 69db. It seems like a rejection of rave’s usual values—sociality, substances. But Dharma techno’s organisers see it as the opposite: a return to the essence of dance music culture.
“So many people, like myself, find themselves in a loop with the scene,” says Griffith. An initial profound connection with the music weakens over the years, and growing quantities of drugs are needed to reestablish it. Dharma techno is about breaking that self-destructive spiral. (Though Griffith emphasises that the retreat isn’t intended as rehab, Trax reports that some attendees used it to reexamine their relationship with substances.) “I totally reconnected with techno music at the first Dharma Techno retreat we did,” she says. “I finally remembered why I had loved it so much for so many years.”
Sebastian “69db” Vaughan agrees. “Dharma techno has definitely reinvigorated me. I really get the feeling of finding something that could help me and many others advance towards true freedom.”
The free party scene isn’t representative of the dance music world in its entirety. But Griffith and Vaughan’s story echoes a broader one. Dance music is bigger than ever worldwide, but the rave dream, that initial burst of utopian energy that propelled it into the global consciousness, has been subsumed in a complex and money-driven industry.
“A few artists are definitely saying that the industry is getting too much,” says Intrinsic’s Nathalia Petkova. “Many people are bored and are finding something different. I don’t have anything against the industry or against dance music, I just think that it’s expanded to a point that it’s overdone now, and most people don’t do it for the right reasons.”
Petkova’s view is shared by several of the people I spoke to for this feature. Whether DJs jaded by the circuit or festivalgoers looking for a new rush, they’re dance music lifers trying to rediscover something lost along the way. Wellness culture has helped them to reconnect.