Click here to read Part 1: The Importance of Ecstasy.

Click here to read Part 2: Shifting Drug Consumption Patterns.


Previous installments of this series have detailed how MDMA, or ecstasy, has been a predominant force in the development of rave culture. While ecstasy is generally considered to be the dominating drug in dance music culture, other drugs, such as LSD, GHB, and methamphetamine, are also quite common at large-scale dance events, due to the significant enhancement of light, sound, and tactile sensations offered by polydrug use. But while the study of drug use in rave culture remains the primary focus of research, raves are not the only form of nightlife that features substance consumption. In a sociological exploration of dance music culture, Kavanaugh and Anderson looked at the evolution of the rave scene over time and documented notable changes in its structure and overall themes. Originating in the 1980s, raves began to face police crackdown due to excessive drug use and noise ordinances in the 1990s; since then, raves have experienced a change of scenery, moving from illicit underground parties to licensed indoor nightclubs and bars under corporate ownership (Kavanaugh & Anderson 2007:181). This merging of worlds—rave culture colliding with nightclub culture—had pronounced effects on drug use and attitudes towards drugs.


This schism in the rave scene is a detailed example of how a shift in the foundation and principles of a musical cultural movement can change its overarching attitudes towards drug use. After its collision with nightclub culture, many of the original participants in raves lost interest, due to the increasing mainstream tendency of the events; Kavanaugh and Anderson note that this same phenomenon occurred in the past, with the punk movement (2007:193).


The shift towards privately-owned indoor nightclubs brought about substantial changes to what drugs were used and how. For example, given that liquor laws in the US required nightclub patrons to be at least 21 years of age, use of alcohol rather than other drugs became more common (Kavanaugh & Anderson 2007:192). In addition to alcohol, cocaine became increasingly popular in nightclub settings, eventually driving out hallucinogens and MDMA, the traditional wellsprings of rave culture (Kavanaugh & Anderson 2007:194).


This shift of venue, values and drug use had profound effects on the character of the rave scene. Many viewed the shift from underground parties to popular nightclubs as breaking down the core principles of rave culture: according to one fan, rather than being a safe place where people gather to enjoy music, nightclubs became a place to “[go] out and [get] fucked up, and [try] to hook up with guys or girls or whatever… and it’s like the music is more of a background thing” (Kavanaugh & Anderson 2007:193-194). Many of the new participants in the nightclub scene who did not have roots in rave culture disregarded the paradigm in place and instead introduced new themes of hedonism and excessive drug use. Even attitudes towards the pillar of MDMA changed: one participant viewed younger newcomers to the scene as childish and infantile, noting how they bastardized the principles of PLUR and “[lived] in a candy-coated fantasy world” (Kavanaugh & Anderson 2007:194), rather than respecting the old ethos of raves.


After the shift from rave to nightclub culture, many who were formerly enamored with the scene and its drugs of choice began to detach from it. People began to use ecstasy less frequently, or on “special occasions,” rather than on a regular basis (Kavanaugh & Anderson 2007:194). Many cited the influx of new drugs, such as alcohol and cocaine, for breaking down the central tenets of PLUR: as has been explored previously, MDMA causes users to experience feelings of connectedness and unity with others (Davison & Parrott 1997:223), but cocaine and alcohol have an “egocentric focus congruent with status-seeking, a characteristic incompatible with PLUR” (Kavanaugh & Anderson 2007:195). One user even described cocaine as being “vile and rotten,” and mentioned that “you don’t feel personal with people”—that emotional closeness is not only an effect of MDMA, but also central to the rave ethos. The differing effects of these drugs fundamentally shifted the tenets of rave culture in a direction not befitting those who participated in it at its inception.


Another factor leading to shifting perceptions of drug use in dance music culture comes from its swing into the mainstream with nightclub culture benefiting financially from the expansion of raves into clubs. Seeing only profit in this shift, nightclubs began to exploit myriad resources at their disposal; one former scene participant noted that “they [clubs] had people coming in and selling drugs in there… kids were getting robbed for drugs… they weren’t paying DJs sometimes…” (Kavanaugh & Anderson 2007:195). This behavior is consistent with research on drug acquisition methods, which indicates that a fairly significant number of people obtained drugs either at or from the establishment they attended to party at (Feinrich et al. 2003:1697).


This obvious exploitation by the nightclub industry, fueled by increasing numbers of attendees at their parties, ignited a widespread vendetta against club drug use, establishing stigmas and stereotypes in popular culture. This also led to a demonization of corrupt nightclub owners in those affiliated with the former rave culture. Another DJ noticed the change in drug consumption at nightclubs, noting that he would see people “laid out on the dance floor from drugs,” and claimed that “they [were] not hearing the music” (Kavanaugh & Anderson 2007:196). This shift in attitude towards drugs by those involved in the scene can partially be attributed to the management styles and corporate greed of nightclub owners.


The increasing use of alcohol in commercialized nightclub settings also had a stake in the schism of these two movements: in Philadelphia, for example, traditional bar and nightclub liquor licenses cease alcohol serving after 2:00 a.m., but dance music-focused venues can serve alcohol until 3:00 or even 4:00 a.m. (Kavanaugh & Anderson 2007:197). As such, partiers with no previous interest or involvement in the rave scene who wish to continue drinking past 2:00 migrate into these late-night clubs, which are often populated with ravers; this leads to a division between the two groups and a budding animosity towards the newcomers, who are often only present to meet sex partners or get into fights (Kavanaugh & Anderson 2007:197).


Works Cited


Kavanaugh, P. R. and Anderson, T. L. (2008), Solidarity and Drug Use in the

Electronic Dance Music Scene. The Sociological Quarterly, 49: 181–208. doi: 10.1111/j.1533-8525.2007.00111.x


Davison, D. and Parrott, A. C. (1997), Ecstasy (MDMA) in Recreational Users:

Self-Reported Psychological and Physiological Effects. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, 12: 221–226. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1099-1077(199705/06)12:3<221::AID-HUP854>3.0.CO;2-C


Fendrich, M., Wislar, J. S., Johnson, T. P. and Hubbell, A. (2003), A contextual profile

of club drug use among adults in Chicago. Addiction, 98: 1693–1703. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2003.00577.x