Welcome to Ektoplazm, the world’s #1 source of free and legal psytrance, techno, and downtempo music. I am the founder, commonly known as Basilisk, but you can call me Alexander. This post exists to introduce new visitors to the site—and to psytrance and electronic music in general. I will start with a brief explanation of what psytrance is, outline the history of Ektoplazm and my involvement in the scene, explore the question of why labels and artists choose to give their music away for free, and finish with a grand tour of a baker’s dozen of Ektoplazm’s finest releases—all yours to download in MP3, FLAC, or WAV format! (If you wish to skip straight to the music simply click here.)
To begin with, psytrance is a type of electronic dance music with its own distinct history and customs. Partly because of its unique origin on the beaches of Goa in the late 1980s, psytrance has developed in varying degrees of isolation from electronic music culture as a whole. This unusual situation fostered a great deal of creative experimentation; the music of psytrance culture is anything but homogeneous, encompassing a wide range of approaches from high-energy beats for the dance floor to chilled and relaxing sounds for deeper moments of contemplation and introspection. If you’ve never heard it before the best way to get a feel for the range and diversity of psytrance music is to explore the site and listen to whatever catches your ear.
My involvement in this culture began when I first encountered psytrance at a party in 1996. Not long afterwards I was browsing the web and discovered a web site offering illicit psytrance MP3 downloads. I was hooked by what I heard and rapidly became a devoted fan, record collector, and DJ. When I founded Ektoplazm in 2000 it followed that I would focus on my musical interests at the time, namely psytrance and several related styles of electronic music. Back then it was just a personal homepage for my activities in the local scene. Before long I decided to start a record label, naively settling on vinyl as my release medium of choice. My first (and only) release in 2002 was a total disaster but I learned a lot about the music industry in the process.
In the years that followed I became embroiled in the ongoing debate about file-sharing and music piracy. The Napster revolution had come and gone, forever changing how we consume music, but the recording industry was doing everything it could to resist progress. Apple launched the iTunes Store with major label support in 2003 but this didn’t do a lot of good for fans of an underground style like psytrance. Even if you actually wanted to pay money for digital media you were out of luck: there were no legal download shops offering a wide selection of psytrance releases (and perish the thought of being able to procure lossless/CD-quality audio files). Pirate sites had it all, of course.
At this point the labels and distributors of the psytrance scene could have joined forces to innovate and offer something better than free to combat rampant piracy and weakening sales. Instead, they took a cue from the major labels and sunk most of their effort into shaming potential customers with an anti-piracy campaign. Their dubious choice of slogans: “copy kills your music” (and no, I am not making this up). When a few emerging services began to offer legal psytrance MP3s they were always priced above the average per-unit cost of a song sold on physical media (e.g. the cost of the CD divided by the number of songs on it). This struck me as particularly insane: charging more than the cost of a CD for a lossy version of the music it contains? The selection in these shops was quite limited as well, though it wasn’t necessarily the fault of the shop itself. I suspect that a lot of label owners felt as if digital downloads would eat into their CD sales. They were probably right to be concerned—but their failure to adapt to changing listener habits did nothing to address piracy. Guilt trips and expensive, poorly-stocked MP3 shops appeared to be the extent of the underground establishment’s response.
I observed another issue, one that is somewhat specific to smaller musical subcultures: as sales figures dwindled labels were becoming increasingly risk-averse. Unconventional artists and newcomers were having a tough time getting their music released—and there was no way to reach listeners except through established distribution channels. No one paid much attention to anything else. The labels, then, were the gatekeepers—and they strongly preferred trendy, marketable music from known names. Meanwhile, many old-timers were griping about the creative bankruptcy of newer psytrance releases. This situation struck me as being antithetical to psytrance culture itself—after all, this culture values the unconventional and elevates “thinking outside the box” to a virtue. Unconventional artists were always welcome to start their own labels—and many did—but the distributors were not always helpful. Since the market was contracting every additional release forced existing label partners to accept a smaller slice of the pie. For a lot of artists the choice began to look like this: conformity or obscurity.
After digesting countless books and articles about free culture I relaunched Ektoplazm in 2006 with the intention of promoting free music licensed under the Creative Commons as a viable alternative to the traditional music distribution system in the psytrance scene. I meant to agitate for change, lead by example, and disrupt the status quo. I aimed to provide artists with another choice beyond conformity or obscurity: massive exposure, artistic freedom, and good karma. At first there wasn’t much of a response to the concept; no one—not even the free labels and artists—took free music seriously in those early days. “You get what you pay for” was a common refrain. To address this sentiment I became a tireless advocate for higher quality standards in free music. My vision: free releases every bit as good as what could be bought in stores. This called for high-resolution album artwork, lossless/CD-quality audio files, and proper mastering. Gradually this vision became a reality as more and more labels and artists came on board with the concept. Nowadays there are many examples of free albums that rival the quality of their commercial counterparts.
Ektoplazm fulfilled its primary mission to legitimize and popularize the distribution of free music in the psytrance scene sometime in 2010. Since then I’ve focused on adding more and more releases to the site to keep up with surging demand for new music—and for access to the platform. By now (summer 2012) Ektoplazm has served more than 6.7 million full releases and 30–35 million tracks to millions of listeners all around the planet. This is rather impressive given that Ektoplazm has catered to such an obscure niche market. To put this in perspective, Bandcamp, the most comparable distribution service for independent musicians of any genre, claims to have served up 34 million downloads to date. How can this be? I attribute the success of Ektoplazm to a number of things:
- Ektoplazm is a curated resource. I pick and choose what I post on the site. It isn’t like YouTube where just anyone can upload music. I have a rather stringent process for demos and release submissions. I can’t promise that every release will appeal to every listener—but I can promise that the releases on the site will tend to meet a minimum quality standard.
- Ektoplazm is committed to artistic expression. Commercial labels have to play it safe and keep an eye on the bottom line but I consider it my duty to take a chance on weird and unusual releases. This is the other side of “free”: not only are you welcome to download the music free of charge (gratis) but I also do my best to remove restrictions on artistic expression (libre). This benefits artists as well as music lovers everywhere.
- Ektoplazm connects independent labels and artists with a massive audience. This is not just a happy accident; the site was designed to take advantage of the power of digital distribution. With no registration necessary the barriers to access have been lowered and individual releases are primed to go viral. Ektoplazm regularly facilitates 5,000–10,000 (or more) downloads per release. How does this stack up against the other options? Assuming Beatport, the largest commercial portal for electronic music downloads, has 1 million tracks in its catalog and 80 million sales. That’s about 80 sales per track, each earning less than a dollar. If an artist is keen to earn some cash for their work (and not everyone is) they might be better off giving their music away if it leads to even one paid booking. How about other free offerings? Bandcamp allocates 200 free downloads per account per month. Ektoplazm presently has no such limit thanks to Dreamhost (referral link; sign up for hosting and Ektoplazm will get a small kickback).
- Ektoplazm is fanatical about lossless quality audio and kick-ass metadata. Why should we take a step back from the quality standards set in the 1980s? Bizarrely enough, some commercial shops still refuse to offer lossless/CD-quality downloads. The shops that do often impose frivolous “WAV handling fees” (I’m looking at you, Beatport). Here at Ektoplazm you have a choice between WAV, which is still useful for burning direct to CD, and FLAC, a newer, more compressed (yet still lossless) format that allows embedded metadata such as album artwork and track information. And that’s another thing—buy a song from one of the commercial shops and you’ll be stuck downloading some horribly-named file (e.g. “92809_The_Muddy_Morning_Hymn_Original_Mix.wav”) lacking any kind of useful metadata. Ektoplazm does it right: simple, standardized file names with all the obvious metadata embedded alongside album artwork and BPMs (for the DJs out there).
- Ektoplazm feels good. Independent labels and artists share music here because they want to. Music lovers enjoy guilt-free downloads. Everyone wins!
The wonderful thing about working on this project is that I don’t have to simply talk about the music—you can hear it yourself! To start you off on the right track I’ve selected thirteen releases reflecting the creative and stylistic diversity of Ektoplazm’s offerings from 2006–2012. I’ve also written a short blurb about each release, sometimes about the style and other times about its historic importance. Most of the releases featured here are crowd favourites chosen by Ektoplazm’s visitors in one of our year-end polls but I slipped a few of my own personal favourites into the mix to spice things up. Flash is required for streaming previews; click on the big arrow beneath each release blurb to listen to the release while you browse. Click on the album artwork to find out more about each release—and to leave comments of your own. Direct download links are also available in the text below.
I am opening this list with one of the most accessible and all-round awesome releases I have had the pleasure of promoting here on Ektoplazm. Globular is a hugely talented chap from Bristol, U.K., who writes deep dubby downtempo influenced by the likes of Shpongle and Ott, some of the biggest names in electronic music. This isn’t psytrance in the conventional sense; this is “psychedelic dub” or simply psy dub, a creative offshoot that traces its origins back to the mid-1990s. Download, crank the bass, and let these lovely tunes sprawl across your stereo for awhile—I’m betting you’ll enjoy the experience.
This album from the land down under is a creative mish-mash of influences reflecting the electronic music zeitgeist of 2011. Built on a backbone of progressive psytrance, it features a healthy amount of cross-genre experimentation, integrating glitch and electro into the mix of styles. The resulting style is accessible, fun, and hugely popular with Ektoplazm’s visitors; The Hass Effect was voted the #1 album of 2011 in last year’s site-wide poll. Take a bite of this avocado sandwich and you’ll hear for yourself what the commotion is all about. For more like this I’d suggest taking a gander at the discographies of the Electrocado duo, Mr. Bill and Ryanosaurus, both of whom have a strong following for their solo efforts.
Tribal progressive trance at its finest! Sweden’s Etnoscope is a big name from way back; the group was founded in 2000 and made a huge splash with their massive debut album Drums From The Dawn Of Time on Son Kite’s infamous Digital Structures imprint in 2003. Work on a follow-up album continued for years but the album never materialized; the psytrance industry had, along with the major labels, gone into decline, and the the nascent album only narrowly avoided being chopped up into little bits for release on various compilations. With the help of Panzar Produktionz the album received the release it deserves: whole and uncut. In acknowledgement of the awesomeness of this release it was voted the #2 album of 2010 by Ektoplazm visitors.
My friend Ekoplex (Ray Vincent) is one of the most successful artists to ever grace the pages of Ektoplazm. He’s been at it for a long time—longer than any other artist, in fact! I’ve been posting Ray’s music on Ektoplazm since 2002 or so, back when I hosted a few MP3 samples of his early work. Ekoplex’s sound has come a long way since then. In 2008 he burst onto the world stage with his magnificent debut album Journey Of The Turtle, the first big release from the in-house Ektoplazm record label, which has now been downloaded an astounding 46,000 times! Since then Ekoplex has polished and refined his organic brand of full-on morning psytrance, culminating with the release of Creatures Of The Forest which was later voted the #3 album of 2010. The story continues with Discovering The Ancient, a tribal downtempo epic released in 2012.
SubConsciousMind is an independent Swiss artist whose sophomore effort was voted the #1 album of 2009. His style is an emotive mix of modern full-on psytrance and old school Goa trance with a highly personal touch. This is music straight from the heart: nostalgic and even melancholic at times, but also uplifting, energetic, and life-affirming. To this day it remains one of the most eminently listenable albums in my collection.
Neogoa began as a web portal dedicated to modern or “new school” Goa trance, an ongoing revival of the classic 1990s style using new production techniques and an emphasis on cosmic sounds and exotic melodic scales. This compilation, the first from the newly born Neogoa netlabel, gathers some of the rising stars of this vibrant movement. Label founder Richpa’s focus on quality bore fruit: Dimensional Gateway was named the best compilation of 2010 by Ektoplazm’s visitors. If you enjoy this taste of new school Goa trance be sure to check out the sequel, Dimensional Gateway 2.
Jikkenteki is another old friend of mine from the very early days of Ektoplazm. His story was hugely influential on my thinking when I first got into free music distribution. Jikkenteki followed a somewhat standard course for an independent musician in the mid-2000s: he worked hard to develop an original style, sent demos to many labels, and was met with rejection time and again. The issue was simply that Jikkenteki’s style was too original; risk-averse label owners weren’t interested in taking a chance on new artists, particularly not when their music failed to conform to an existing formula with proven marketability. As a music lover I was outraged—isn’t psytrance all about brazen creative experimentation and breaking the rules? Jikkenteki did his best to work within the traditional distribution system by founding his own independent label, PAR-2 Productions, but did not manage to sell many CDs. Eventually he ported his entire discography to Ektoplazm and released Flights Of Infinity, an absolute gem of an album and a stellar example of psytrance at its most inventive and expressive. We later collaborated on his final album, The Beginning Is At The End, a haunting album that brought his time in the psytrance world to a conclusion.
Cybernetika is an enigmatic and reclusive German producer with a long history of releasing science fiction-influenced music for free via hobbyist forums. I lobbied hard to have his independently released album Neural Network Expansion added to the site in early 2007 and went on to host Nanospheric (2008) and Atropos (2009), an experimental fusion of psytrance and drum ‘n bass. For his next pure psytrance album, The Scythe Of Orion, I offered some help with professional mastering and design, and in 2010 the album was released to widespread acclaim, earning the best album of the year award in our annual visitor survey. Evidently I am not alone in considering it to be a masterpiece of modern psytrance! What makes this album so irresistible? Cybernetika has a way with storytelling: his music manifests thoughts and images in the mind of the listener exactly as good psychedelic (“mind-manifesting”) music should. Not only that, but he really captures the mood of hard sci-fi, with its ritualistic descriptions of far future events, galaxy-spanning empires, lost relics of vanished alien civilizations, man–machine hybrids, and the vast, inhuman emptiness of interstellar space.
Darkpsy and forest music are two of the most popular styles of psytrance on Ektoplazm—and also two of the most challenging for new listeners. The distinction between darkpsy and forest music is subtle. Generally speaking, darkpsy is harder and more aggressive and often concerned with very dark and sinister themes (hence the name) whereas forest music, which often sounds superficially similar or even indistinguishable to the untrained ear, is in fact more involved in organic and biological themes, and will tend to sound more enchanting with time. To ease beginners into such an acquired taste I’ve selected this excellent release by Forest Freaks, a Lithuanian collective, which exhibits a wide variety of approaches to night-time psychedelia without sliding too far into the darkness. For more in this vein check out DoHm – Swampology, Schizoid Bears – Bearsky Dreams, the Voices Of The Trees compilation, the original Under The Moss, and Cycle Of Secrets. Trust me: there is a lot more to explore once you begin to appreciate the dark side of psytrance! This guide contains few examples of the more extreme forms of psytrance; I don’t want to scare anyone off!
Robert Hundt is a machine. Apart from operating Glitchy.Tonic.Records, an acclaimed label responsible for numerous high-quality releases over the years, he is also the man behind the unconventional Radioactive.Cake and Zeitgeist projects, both of which explore different aspects of experimental progressive psytrance. This particular album, the #2 album of 2011, is a minimalistic monster loaded with chewy grooves and mental atmospheres. This particular style is heavily influenced by the pioneering work of Sensient and Zenon Records—hence why you will sometimes see the term Zenonesque bandied about when describing releases like this one. To be honest, this is one of those cases where yours truly got involved in popularizing a name for a style that had previously aggravated my attempt at neatly organizing the music of Ektoplazm, though not without controversy (some people are very opposed to my cavalier attitude toward assigning styles around here). I feel as if I am justified, however: Zenonesque isn’t exactly techtrance, which is generally more cold and mechanical, nor is it straight-up progressive, which often carries connotations of lighter and more airy productions. No, it is somewhere in between—and it has something original going on, that curious emphasis on jazz and funk influences. Confused yet? Just give it a listen and you’ll hear! If you’d like more in this vein I encourage you to rifle through the Glitchy.Tonic.Records discography; it’s loaded with thrillers like this.
A captivating work of moody, futuristic techno music from Hungary. Released in 2010 on the Digital Diamonds advanced audio netlabel, one of Ektoplazm’s oldest and most reliable partners, this “space age fairy tale” is filled with subtle details that reward patient and attentive listening. This is not an album that gives up its secrets easily, nor is it designed for prime time dance floors. Instead, the rich panoramic atmospheres and emotional nuances create an immersive and enchanting listening experience that is great on headphones and excellent for coding and other background tasks. Be sure to pick up Kisses & Tears, a companion piece released earlier in 2010, which contains a stunning 24-minute epic.
This guide would not be complete without the free album that started it all! ManMadeMan, a legendary project formed in 1994, are rightfully considered to be some of the original pioneers of psytrance music. In 2007 they independently released Free To Listen on their own web site and I jumped at the chance to help cross-promote. This was the first major free release from a veteran act in the psytrance scene—and it was, musically speaking, an unusually creative album that the group might have had some trouble releasing through traditional distribution channels. So, what have we here? An extremely diverse journey through many different styles of psytrance and downtempo. ManMadeMan went on to release a second free album with Ektoplazm, Children Of The Light, in 2010. Give it a try; this is history!
The journey concludes with another dazzling downtempo album, the remarkable debut of Hinkstep, a talented musician from Sweden. I was completely unfamiliar with his music before a long-time fan and supporter passed on his contact info. When I first heard the demo for this album I knew it was something special—but it took some time before I realized just how special it is. Much like Globular’s debut, this album is loaded with psy dub bass lines, but with a very different approach. The use of real-world instrumentation and vocals sets it apart from other releases in this style. Try it out; I hope you fall in love.
That about wraps it up! If you have any general questions about the site please refer to the help page. For more recommendations check out the best of Ektoplazm (as voted by visitors like you) for 2011, 2010, 2009. For the veterans out there: did I miss any of the essentials? Feel free to make additional recommendations in the comments.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the music!