Caroline Koch // Arts Editor
EDM: Everybody Does Molly
Jimi Hendrix said, “music is a safe kind of high.”
The newly coined “Mothers Against Molly (MDMA)” Facebook group would argue against that, pointing to the rising numbers of drug-related concert deaths. As fans of the music, we have a responsibility to fix our scene.
“Dude, I have no idea who the **** is even playing; I’m just here to eat some drugs and stare at the lights.”
These words were casually dropped by a pair of “electronic music fans” behind me at this year’s North Coast Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park. More aggressive than the sentiment though, was learning the two boys were not yet legally allowed to buy cigarettes, when they asked me for one. I turned around to size up the situation; pupils like bowling balls, chomping on gum. These babies were peaking on Molly armed with only one water bottle and $20 from mom… and it was 2 p.m. Needless to say I sent them away with no tobacco and more water.
The age of Woodstock has long since past, but its smoldering remains still linger in today’s Americana pop culture.
The past five years have seen the rise in popularity of the music festival soar so high that monetarily, there is little to long for. However, the social and moral questions that surround such an event are often talked about publicly, then quietly swept under the rug. Counterculture remains to be a topic people skirt around because the cardinal industry is hugely lucrative, but what happens when catastrophe overshadows millions of dollars?
Never in the history of music has the industry seen such a commitment to live music, as it has in the past few years. Although we are digging our way out of a recession, folks seem more than willing to invest big money for their own personal entertainment. Mimicking the popularity growth cinema saw during the Great Depression, the music festival is the current young generation’s response to their own economic downtrodden times. Kids are saving up money for a year just to purchase one highly-valued ticket that will take them away from reality for a weekend. These mega-concerts have become a staple of the average music-lover’s summer; a destination where one can see all their favorite artists in once place, but also a paradise where attendees can more or less get away with anything.
Some would call the rave revolution a very weak generational trait; kids not old enough to buy
alcohol, running around in furry legwarmers, wearing neon trucker hats that shout DUBSTEP, carrying teddybears and rubbing each other’s heads is probably the lamest display of a musical identity. Having been an advocate for the electronic dance music genre for years, I myself have trouble identifying with what ‘EDM’ has evolved into. The community I have a deep passion for is being tarnished by our collective lack of responsibility – for the music, the artists and to each other.
Today, festival goers may not be as provided for by the economic boom of the 90s, but that is overshadowed by the impact technology has had on all industries – music included. One can get on the computer to hear, see, download and catalog any song, artist or show. The interaction between artist and fan has never been more prevalent with the aid of social media. Twitter and Facebook allow artists to talk directly to their fan base and find out exactly what they expect of them; in addition to what is going to keep them excited and interested. Also in this way, artists can talk to each other, keeping collaborations constant and out in public for the cyber world to watch.
Perpetual communication keeps fans hungry for the next level of entertainment, and since so much creative exchange is happening before our very computer screens, that next level of entertainment can only be the live show: a massive, weekend-spanning event with artists from all over the globe. But in a world where information is so readily available, influence stands a tough test. The never ending upkeep of social media outlets by DJs allows fans to be part of their world almost 24/7. Miss a concert? Consult YouTube or Vine, or just stream it live. The impact of artists documenting their lifestyle is easy to spot; Diplo almost single-handedly jump started the twerking phenomenon. Rihanna is smoking blunts on Instagram, Miley Cyrus is singing about doing “lines in the bathroom” and Kanye West is rapping about his girl, Molly.
When young kids see DJ Steve Aoki spraying champagne, chugging vodka and launching cake in people’s faces, it makes it cool. And to see it repeated consistently, makes it okay, but even more importantly, it makes you want to be a part of it. EDM is relatable: your favorite artists started making songs with nothing but headphones and laptop in their parents basement – you can do it too. And if you can’t, you can come party with us in this wonderful, judgement-free zone where we all feel connected on some higher level for a few hours while we get our dance-on, man. This is the brand of dance music bandwagon fans are subscribing to. EDM has become more about a fabricated, word-of-mouth experience and pills, rather than the craft of DJing, and therein lies the problem with the scene. With festival death and overdoses on heavy rotation in the media, it’s no longer easy to play dumb to the facts of what is truly going on.
Last year, Las Vegas saw over 320,000 neon-clad ravers for the sixteenth edition of the Electronic Daisy Carnival; the largest electronic dance music festival in North America, born in California from the minds of production company, Insomniac Events. The three-day extravaganza put an unprecedented $207,048,000 into Vegas’ Clark county, created over 2,000 jobs and generated an estimated $13.1 million in tax revenue for state and local government. It was a long road to get here though.
The historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was home to Electric Daisy for years, a staple of California’s summer fun, until a 15 year-old girl died from an ecstasy overdose. The event was supposed to have an age cap of 16, identification was to be checked at the gate and security was in place to take care of all things illegal. Out of the 180,000 attendees, 120 were reported to have been transported to a local hospital on account of drug use. The emergency room medical director working the night of the rave called the death tragic. He is also among doctors who have said that “raves at a publicly owned facility put people at risk. The director believed such parties should no longer be permitted at the Coliseum: ‘I think it’s tragic when a 15 year-old girl dies in this way as a result of a public policy that put her at risk. Can you imagine explaining that to her parents?’” (Los Angeles Times, 2010)
Whether you were a concerned parent or not, the death of the minor at the Coliseum was on the radar of every major city and production company, waiting to find out how the dust would settle. Organizers for other events like Chicago’s Lollapalooza, responded to the tragedy by beefing up security for their own scheduled events, hoping the backlash from the death in Los Angeles would not affect them too greatly. Conditions in the case of corporate party-throwers versus the protective townspeople of Los Angeles got heated when it was found that county police distributed health cards on ‘how to minimize the effects of ecstasy’ for the duration of the weekend. The officers claimed it was their way of campaigning to not have the legal rave anymore; parents took it as ‘you knew what our kids were getting into and you did nothing but encourage them.’ The carnival at the Coliseum remained the reason behind the fight in California; however, a national conversation was starting, and Insomniac Events sat in the cross-heirs of a courtroom decision.
After months of debate, a verdict emerged that set the minimum age for all Insomniac events to 18, but while the court-battle had raged on in Los Angeles, Insomniac was looking east. By the time it was made public that the Electric Daisy Carnival would not be welcome back to the Memorial Coliseum, the company announced its biggest, baddest, most exciting news to-date: the event would be held for three nights, in the middle of the desert, in Sin City.
“Good riddance,” the words from the Coliseum Commissioner, asserting the shows breed drug abuse and extreme behavior. “Last year’s Electric Daisy was marred by scores of drug-related arrests and trips to emergency rooms – let them go” (Los Angeles Times, 2011).
Would the commissioner retract that statement if he knew just how much money the festival was raking in over in Las Vegas? Actually, journalists in Los Angeles revered the Coliseum scandal as one of the most selfish, high-horse-fronts in the history of Hollywood. All of the jobs that could have stayed in California, all the money made from incoming tourists – how could the city have pushed them out? Yes, the outraged media made a return to the Coliseum verdict in a big way: by rubbing the county elect’s faces in the facts and figures of the millions that could have and should have been their own. But should it? Where does society draw the line? Millions of dollars in city revenues versus the safety and cleared conscience of citizens does not a make for a fair fight.
The stigma from the issue that arose via death and moral controversy in Los Angeles is one that silently resurfaces each summer, when cities prepare for their own mega concerts. In the case that something does happen, organizers will have to deal with it as it comes, which is what the city of New York was forced to do just two months ago: confront the problem head-on.
In the case of EDC, the problematic event simply moved venues to a new location. New York City took a different approach in August, after two died and four were hospitalized due to the effects of MDMA. Mayor Bloomberg’s office shut-down the last day of Electric Zoo (in its fifth year), citing “serious health risks.” New York made a very clear statement about their view of the trending mega-rave that day: it’s not worth the risk. Earlier in the summer, a 20-year-old from Staten Island collapsed at a show on Governors Island with a 107-degree temperature; if the nouveau raver community can’t get it together, expect to see other cities follow suit.
On the other hand, for a festival that has had zero problems it is easy to nourish the success and future of the event. Take our very own Lollapalooza for instance, “We knew our tax-exempt status would change as the scale of the event changed, the (success of the festival) greatly exceeded all our expectations (Chicago Tribune, 2012).” The Cook County Commissioner’s quote refers to the new deal between the city of Chicago and Lollapalooza organizers, signed just months ago to keep the event bound to Chicago until 2021. The deal is expected to see a $1 billion economic boost over the next decade.
While Lollapalooza claims the safest crowd in America people are still in the audience, out-of- their-minds high on illegal amphetamines having the time of their life. Massive music festivals are in global demand, raking in billions of dollars in revenue each year – sometimes rivaling that of beverage and food industries. Festivals presents major risk with major reward, but also the chance of stellar catastrophe. Should mass amounts of money be allowed to keep events running that put attendees or even entire cities in danger? Some might say that is big corporate business as usual and dance music is being singled out by the media. I’d say the scene is at a crossroads, and it’s up to the fans to hold themselves – and each other – accountable for actions of the whole. Ignorance is unacceptable at this point; the facts are readily available.
A simple rave culture mantra calls fans to Peace, Love, Unity and Respect (PLUR). With this is mind, attend these events with awareness and responsibility; know what you’re getting into, and be mindful of not just your friends, but others around you. The sense of togetherness makes festivals feel like no other community on Earth – it’s high time people start acting as a sum of all the parts. Let’s get back to the music, not self-perpetuating a reputation that says “yeah, we came to get high and that’s it.” Time to tune in, turn on and drop the notion that someone else is going to fix it.