I'm seeing a cosmic baby floating at the center of the universe. It's me, detached, out there in transcendental space. At least, that's what I think I'm seeing. As the image comes more clearly into focus, something starts shaking my arm and the vision disappears. There is a person on the ground nearby that has begun convulsing. His breathing is irregular, I can hear his chest expelling air in powerful bursts. His whole body shakes with intense paroxysms.
This was how my first sound therapy session began.
I'm lying on my back of the floor at a downtown events space experiencing Lovelution, a Toronto-based dance party, with about 40 other people mostly in their twenties. As the hypnotic instrumentation of the sound therapy comes to an end, a thumping 4/4 rhythm starts pounding through the PA. The crowd comes to its feet, many hugging one another as the dancing begins. I'm still in a bit of a daze as one member of the crowd extends his arms towards me. "We're brothers you and I. I've never met you, but we're brothers."
Started by a group of Ontarians, Michael Sanders, Chrissy Briel, and Justin Roy, with the help of Vibe with the Tribe, a group of self-described "healthy living enthusiasts" who facilitate the sound therapy treatment, in the summer of 2015, Lovelution is influenced by the ethos of Burning Man but with its own spin of mysticism.A few weeks after attending the event, my curiosity still piqued, I invited the two into the VICE office to find out more about Lovelution. Dressed in loose, flowing clothes and sporting long golden brown tresses, they attract plenty of attention from onlookers as they stroll in. Standing to greet them, my extended hand goes entirely unnoticed. Tuesday morning, pre-coffee, I find I'm somewhat unprepared for two of the most firm, affectionate embraces of my life.
The story of how the duo met is by complete accident—both were attending Toronto's Electric Island festival in May 2015, when they made eye contact. Sanders, an author and entrepreneur, says the connection was immediate. "My roommate was with us at the time and afterwards he said, 'When I saw you two guys walking towards each other, I knew some explosion was going to happen.'"
Roy, a DJ and producer, wanted to create a new type of event based on his global dancefloor experiences and passion for meditation, yoga, and what he refers to as "different transformative modalities."
"We talked about how in the nightclub scene there's a lot of drug use, ego, and negativity," says Sanders. "There's also a lot of DJ worship and praise—everyone is facing the DJ. In the super spiritual communities, like the conscious dance parties where there's no alcohol, no talking, no drugs, sometimes it feels a bit prohibitive."
They started Lovelution shortly after with Roy serving as the series' musical curator and Sanders handling the business side of things.
For some, sound therapy is an incredibly powerful form of meditation. Roy explains that the sound therapy before the dancing is "to really bring people into an ultra-comfortable space with themselves, with their surroundings, so as to provide an ability for them to really let go when the dancing component does come."
While my own vision of the cosmos brought on by the sound therapy was vague and obtuse, Sanders recalls far more powerful experiences. "It felt like I was transported to the plains of Africa. I was seeing antelope and lions running."
Perhaps he notices a smirk on my face, because he immediately addresses what I'm thinking.
"It was like 7:30 PM on a Friday and I was dead sober," Sanders tells me. "It was one of the most transcendent experiences I ever had and it was facilitated all through sound."
Given dance music's already well documented history with psychedelics, it seems opportune that they explain what role (if any) drugs should play in these events. Sanders and Roy both cite experiences with ayahuasca, the hallucinogenic, medicinal brew of indigenous peoples from Central and South America, as having profoundly changed their lives (the former has even written a book about it).
Roy starts off, "Psychedelic and plant medicines are a very useful tool to show us a heightened sense of awareness and open us up to higher energetic realms. Now, they certainly aren't a necessity, but I feel as though once you've voyaged to these depths, at least once, it then becomes much easier to get there naturally."
Now, it's all about the dancing. "When I dance I can go to incredibly psychedelic experiences, even without the substance, where I feel as though I'm receiving infinite downloads of cosmic wisdom," says Sanders.
The goal of Lovelution, according to Sanders, is "to infuse humanity and the universe with love." On the micro-scale of these events, Lovelution attempts to create a space that is able to tap into not just the psychedelic nature of music, but, as Roy puts it, "a heightened sense of awe for life." And harnessing the complex properties of sound are at the centre of that mission.
"All of a sudden miraculous things are happening to humanity as a whole," says Roy. "Scientists are levitating water droplets now with particular frequencies, so I bet one day at Lovelution, we're going to be levitating people."
Although levitation probably isn't in their immediate future, Sanders and Roy will be expanding Lovelution in 2016. They plan to bring the event to New York City in February or March, followed by a tour through California in May.
Just as our conversation comes to a close, Sanders turns to me with a smile and adds a winking post-script:
"Just so you know, we're quite conscious of the fact that we sound like raving lunatics a lot of the time. I just want to throw that out there."