Every time Simon Posford rolls into town, two things are certain: He’s bringing something (or someone) that will absolutely blow minds, and a large crowd of vision-seekers will gather to stand directly in its line of fire.
Those lucky enough to catch Posford’s latest attempt to up the ante will experience the Shpongletron, a beautifully terrifying structure that stands almost 20 feet tall and includes four levels of projection screens, animatronics, dancers on lofted platforms and 3-D mapping, all designed by the infamous VJ Zebbler.
“He’s probably one of the only people I know who has managed to close down a whole city,” Posford says, referring to a promotional project the visual designer undertook for a cartoon show that was misinterpreted as a terrorist attack. “He’s got a very artistic sort of personality and is very creative. We’re really happy to have him build this thing and do all the lighting.”
Anything Posford touches turns to psychedelic gold. In 1996, he paired up with Infinity Project member Raja Ram to launch Shpongle, creating an energetic yet meditative brand of trance music that incorporates Eastern instruments with backwards vocals and a universe of synthesizers. Aside from his solo DJ project, Hallucinogen, Posford frequently collaborates with Benji Vaughan (aka Prometheus) in the instrument-driven project Younger Brother, featuring Furthur drummer Joe Russo, among others, as well as a No. 2 spot on iTunes’ Dance chart for their latest release, Vaccine.
If each collaboration represents an inner creative child within Posford, Shpongle would be a 15-year-old guru with four heads. It’s heavily driven by psychedelica and creating a convincing alternate reality through light and sound. Posford nearly begs you to ask what drugs he’s on; in actuality, performances are a sober endeavor.
“It works for some people,” he says, citing artists ranging from Pink Floyd to Bob Marley who have been open about the positive effect of drugs on their music.
“For me, I can’t do it, certainly with a computer,” Posford says. “At times, even when I’m just DJing, I’ll find myself playing the same song twice, forgetting whether I’ve played it or not … y’know, ‘This sounds amazing! Ah shit, I just played it. Or have I?’”
Drugs of all kinds continue to influence music, and electronic music in particular exists in a chicken-or-the-egg relationship. Much of Shpongle’s art caters to those who see with their third eye, or at least have taken something to make their other two eyes pop wide open. But when contextualized against rave music that is fueled by self-serving “love” drugs, or basement electronic styles that pair aggressive music with tranquilizers, Shpongle is mellow and holistic music that will take you on a trip with or without drugs.
“Someone could say, ‘What’s it like to be on acid?’ And to confer that experience into language, I think it’s an extremely poor medium,” Posford says. “It’s like having a vocabulary of five words to describe it. Music provides the extra keys on the typewriter you need to express the whole experience.”
Shpongle’s songs start from mental images conjured by Posford and Raja Ram, who conceptualize the music as surreal landscapes of light and color. Posford describes a few from Shpongle’s first album: a lake shimmering in the sky; a journey to a waterfall amongst whirlpools and giant moths, with the “massive, raw power of [the waterfall] pounding on you; then you go through the waterfall into another sort of reality — the drips from the cave and the echoey space of the cavern,” he says.
Whether your imagination can handle this journey without chemical assistance is not Posford’s concern.
“I really have no judgments on what people want to do at my shows at all,” he says. “Whatever floats your boat, really. The music is out there, so listen in any state you like. I would be disappointed as an artist if my music could only be appreciated by people on drugs. I would sort of have failed, because I myself am not on drugs all the time, so I want music I can listen to when I’m driving or sitting around at home, or reading, or whatever.”
If you can quietly read a book while a time-warping jester face blasts lasers from its mouth, you probably need to tell your drug dealer he was scammed.
Correction: A previous version of this article should have stated Joe Russo was in Furthur, not the Grateful Dead.