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Yesterday, one of the biggest EDM events in the US shut down a day early as a result of 2 deaths and several critical injuries. It has been reported that the deaths were related to the ubiquitous rave drug MDMA, commonly referred to as Molly or ecstasy. Having attended Electric Zoo these past two years, I can tell you there were many significant improvements from the last installment. Water was readily available, and I noticed an increase in crowd control and medical tents throughout the grounds. However, other important details were neglected or otherwise inconsistent with Made Event’s claim to rank the safety and well-being of festival-goers as their top priority. Security was much less stringent, and vendor tip jars with signs reading ‘Tip if you love Molly!‘ were quite frankly inappropriate.
The loss of life has undoubtedly struck our scene before. There have been deaths at events such as HARD Summer and Ultra Music Festival. But with two deaths striking a large Labor Day weekend festival in the heart of NYC, we find ourselves in an especially difficult situation that will further stigmatize the dance music scene. Unfortunately, these tragedies seem to be simultaneously uniting and stratifying the dance music community. Many people have united in lamenting the loss of two young lives, and taken this as an opportunity to remind each other of the importance safer drug use or promoting abstinence. Meanwhile, many aggressively complained about the cancellation, demanded a refund, or asked, “Why should the deaths of two people have to ruin everyone else’s fun?‘ I have even seen blatant hatred and disrespect towards the two who lost their lives, and towards anyone who uses drugs recreationally. That’s not what our scene is about, and that’s not the kind of behavior that will allow our scene to learn and grow from this adversity.
One of the biggest issues is the inconsistency in behaviors toward drug use in the EDM world. Parts of our rave culture glorify “Molly.” To make matters worse, significant pop culture icons, such as Madonna, have been actively promoting the term. Since then, countless companies started selling merchandise to further popularize the idea, marketing phrases such as “Where’s Molly?” and “Keep Calm and Find Molly.” Now, Molly is the key term used to refer to MDMA. Initially, only people on the inside knew what “Molly” meant, but that’s no longer the case; countless mainstream news reports and articles later, everyone from your boss to your grandparents know its meaning.
What’s even worse than the glorification and commercialization of the term “Molly,” is the supposed “zero-tolerance policy” at these events where “Molly culture” is so obviously prevalent. Event organizers and large festivals do not condone drug use in any form, and yet security starts giving up on bag checks, and allows drug imagery to exist throughout the festival (i.e. drug-related apparel, etc.) Tommie Sunshine brought up an interesting point on Twitter: ‘Our culture is also steeped in alcoholism & prescription drug addiction which is accepted for adults, BUT FOR KIDS…‘ It’s unfortunate that the media loves to focus on the EDM scene for its “Molly problems”, while drugs permeate numerous other music and entertainment scenes. Due to this, drug culture has grown, but has taken a turn for the worse because no one actually talks about it.
So where do we go from here? I have a few suggestions, but of course they are easier said than done. Nonetheless, I believe they could make a difference in the long run.
1. Increased Drug Education
Many of us know about D.A.R.E. from grade school, but once we reach high school and college, there is persistent peer pressure and a heavy glorification of drinking and drug culture. There are fewer opportunities for continuing education on the true nature of these substances and the effects they have on our bodies. What you introduce into your body is ultimately a personal decision, but one can make a more informed choice if knowledge is readily available. There are certainly resources on the internet (i.e. Erowid, Pill Reports, Wikipedia) that can lead to more informed decisions, but not everyone knows how to interpret the plethora of information or is aware that the information is available to them in the first place. Perhaps festivals and event staff can move toward promoting drug education as opposed to the strict zero-tolerance policy (forcing everything under the radar), although there is certainly a fine line between educating and condoning such activities. Constant reminders of drug safety at events could throw people’s spur-of-the-moment decisions in perspective. Tommie Sunshine brought an excellent suggestion to Twitter by having an “Ecstasy PSA” play in between sets to remind people of the dangers of certain drugs. Also at Electric Zoo, staff members came onto all stages and told fans to stay hydrated and to look out for people in need. Sometimes simple reminders can go a long way.
2. Age Restrictions
Many large events already enforce age limits (16+, 18+, or even 21+). Age restrictions at large events can prevent underage consumption of alcohol on festival grounds, as well as prevent event organizers from essentially being responsible for mass groups of individuals who are not legally adults. Also, from my personal experience, festivals that impose age restrictions can effectively create a more responsible and mature environment. At the same time, this is not to say that younger folks are more prone to unsafe drug use than older folks; evidently, the two who lost their lives this weekend were in their early twenties. However, as a general rule, age restrictions can have a positive impact on the atmosphere at music events.
3. Tighter Security
While no one will tell you they want TSA taking over festivals, more highly enforced security could save lives by preventing particularly hazardous substances from entering festival grounds. As stated before, the extremely lax security at Electric Zoo was simply worrisome. On the other hand, heightened security often means longer wait times and security officers could potentially abuse their authority.
4. Chemical Testing
The fact of the matter is, people take drugs. It’s not our place to tell individuals what they should or should not do to their bodies. But if you must partake, at least be fully aware of what you’re taking. It’s difficult, if not nearly impossible to discern the purity and origins of these substances without legitimate chemical testing. While it’s not always easy to plan ahead, the extra time, money, and effort it takes to test your substances could very well mean the difference between life and death for you and your friends. We do not condone the use of illegal substances, but if you must use, please consider chemical testing kits. Click here for more information.
What we need to learn from this is that communication and transparency are key. Drugs (and “Molly” in particular) are not going away. Instead of avoiding open discussion and thus creating a dangerous environment for users of these substances, we should focus on creating a safe and knowledgeable community, that supports and cares for each of its members. Ultimately, that’s what we’re about; this is a place where one should feel comfortable talking about the most taboo of topics without fear of judgment or persecution.
I understand that many of these suggestions are much easier said than done, and that they won’t singlehandedly pull our scene out of this rut. However, something needs to be done. When at these festivals, please remember this: the most important aspects of these events are the music and the people. Many attend these shows for the pure euphoria the music alone gives them. While some see an EDM event as an opportunity to overload on mind-altering substances, the fact of the matter is that the scene does not exist without the music, and the scene does not exist without each other.
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Documentary: The Chemical Generation