“The person next to you needs you,” reads the brilliant 40-foot block lettering that illuminates the massive stage as a passionate DJ flails to the beat of his creation. In a sea of thousands of people, some of whom have traveled across the globe just to be here, the body heat is almost unbearable, but the magic of being a part of something bigger than yourself helps you forget. You are forced within inches of strangers, creating a rush of intimacy in the crowd as a sultry female voice echoes through building-sized speakers.
“Being young and feeling high,” he sings, and the eyes of those around you close as hands begin to rise. Sparkling confetti lights the black sky, while fireworks burst and sizzle in front of your eyes. The music builds until you feel the bass in your chest. As the beat drops, the crowd unites to jolt into the air, crashing down hard to the blaring beat and dancing until the temporary calm returns. Welcome to Electric Zoo 2013.
The scene at Electric Zoo (stylized EZoo) is similar to any electronic dance music (EDM) event. Everyone is dressed in vibrant colors, decorated with glitter and paint. Some attend in costume to express their “inner animal” in a place where they feel accepted. A sign in the crowd reads, “everyone here loves you.” This is the motto of rave culture, motivated by its signature acronym ‘PLUR,’ standing for Peace, Love, Unity and Respect. When I first learned about dance festivals, I was told that while there you can be your true self. No one would judge the way I danced, looked or dressed. Everyone is there for the same reason: the music and the energy.
It is safe to say that EDM has exploded in America. At EZoo, attendance has risen from 10,000 in 2003 to over 185,000 in 2012. During the performance of a headliner at EZoo, the sheer mass of people confirms those statistics. Above and Beyond, a British DJ duo flashed a series of declarations throughout their set. “This is our time,” the words read. “The 70s had disco, 80s had rock, and 90s had pop… The new millennium brought something new and exciting. Together, we are the electronic music generation.”
Each genre of music mentioned has a stereotypical drug association. Hippie culture of the 70s is connected to cannabis and LSD, and rock culture is often associated with heroin. Today, you can tune in to any popular radio station and hear the nonchalant mention of “molly,” slang for MDMA, also called “ecstasy,” which produces euphoria, a sense of emotional connection with others – and an increased appreciation for sound, color and light. The elements of raves, such as the intense light shows and the mesmerizing repetitive melodies, happen to stimulate the psychoactive components of “molly.”
It is easy to see why many speculate that these shows are tailored to MDMA’s effects, therefore promoting its usage. It’s no secret either that this usage is common. Some websites such as thedea.org claim that MDMA is a “safe” substance in moderation, whereas drugabuse.gov warns of cardiovascular failure and death. Unfortunately for Olivia Rotondo, 20, and Jeffrey Russ, 23, the worst-case scenario occurred. They passed away due to MDMA-related illness, leading to the cancellation of closing night.
Following the deaths, social media roared. Countless people on the internet belittled festivalgoers for being “druggies.” Some felt the cancellation was extreme, but most were frightened and empathetic. Several voiced disappointment that dance culture is now associated with drug overdose and danger. Fans proudly publicized their sober attendance to festivals, explaining that the music should be enough. For most music lovers, it is. Regrettably, festivals have become a place for our generation to experiment with drugs that have the potential to go gravely awry.
Through tragedy, there is a lesson to be learned. Street drugs are not safe. Those ingesting these substances are not scientists, and you can never be sure what you are taking. Even if MDMA in laboratory settings has not proved fatal, do not be fooled into thinking someone is selling you pure MDMA. Many pills are cut with fillers like speed and heroin, and none of us are invincible. Consider this before you make a decision that could take your life, and remember that the music and unity of the crowd are enough to have a beautiful EDM experience.