“It’s all fun and games until someone dies.”
Even though the first half of that phrase is usually followed by something a little more darkly humorous like “someone loses an eye”, that was the stark reality faced by Los Angeles ravers when two girls died of overdoses at the 2015 edition of HARD Summer Music Festival this past August. This tragedy revived the controversy surrounding the death of 15-year-old Sasha Rodriguez at the 14th annual Electric Daisy Carnival in 2010. Since then it’s been a constant battle between the city of Los Angeles and promoters for raves in LA.
2010 was around the time these events started to grow exponentially. However, even with a row of ambulances parked outside the coliseum, twice as many police officers as the number used for USC football games, and local hospitals increasing their staff size to levels used for “multi-casualty incidents” like earthquakes and train crashes, an underage girl still ended up dead.
This was not the only example of how dangerous raves can be. 18 ecstasy overdoses were treated during a New Year’s rave at the Los Angeles Sports Arena that year and two men died of suspected overdoses over memorial day weekend at a rave in San Francisco as well.
In response to these unfortunate situations, the Coliseum placed a temporary ban on raves, but that wasn’t enough for opponents of the prospect. Assembly Woman Fiona Ma of San Francisco drafted legislation called “The Anti Rave Act of 2011” to the new formed Electronic Music Task Force, the purpose of which was to investigate ways to make electronic music festivals safer. The legislation in question would place a ban on “all public events that includes prerecorded music and lasts more than three and one half hours,”.
While Ma would later withdraw the bill, the amount of resistance to such events was significant enough to the point that The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission forced large scale music events to undertake new policies. The ban on raves was lifted, but there were new restrictions put in place such as an 18-and-up age limit, increased security with pat-downs upon entry, and shorter hours.
Before these restrictions were put in place there was little regulation on raves at the Coliseum. EDC 2010 was advertised as “16-and-up”, but considering most 16-year-olds don’t have a government issued ID, there was no real way to check for age.
Even though the Coliseum had been sufficient for every EDC in the past, the increasing popularity of these events almost doubled the attendance from 2009 to 2010, with 100,000 and 185,000 attending both respectively. Which means the amount space was the same for nearly twice the people, leading to overcrowding among other issues.
EDC ended up moving to Las Vegas because of both the controversy surrounding their 2010 event, and evidence being found that a Coliseum supervisor was paid by Insomniac events (the promotion company responsible for Electric Daisy Carnival). Regardless of the tragedies surrounding these events though, their popularity continued to increase. EDC 2011 found even more success in Las Vegas, increasing both attendance and ticket prices, and now that it was gone from LA there was a huge market left to fill.
This task would fall to the shoulders of Gary Richards, founder of HARD Events, Insomniac’s biggest competitor. HARD events have continued in LA county since EDC’s departure by branding their events as “music festivals not raves”. This meant there were a few artists that did not fall under the category of “prerecorded music” as detailed by Ma’s bill, and “rave attire” such as beaded bracelets known as “kandi”, LED toys like light gloves, were banned from them as well.
Just like EDC, they annually increased in both size and price in addition to falling under new restrictions every year. HARD Summer 2011, which took place at Los Angeles State Historic Park in downtown LA, cost between $45 and $60, ended at 2 a.m., and 30,000 people went. This year, the festival was at the Pomona Fairplex which is much more commonly used for large scale events like the LA County Fair. Ticket prices were anywhere from $140 to $180 and the 130,000 people that attended over both days were forced to leave at 11 p.m, yet two girls still died from drug related incidents.
As a result of the deaths, LA’s electronic music task force was reinstated in response to a proposed a ban on large scale music events throughout all of LA County, HARD was forced to cancel their event “The Night At The Fairplex” and HARD’s Halloween festival, “Day Of The Dead”, was forced to lower their capacity from 65,000 per day to 40,000 and adopt a new 21-and-over age limit. HARD Summer will continue in 2016 on July 30-31, but no details have been released as far as a location other than that it will be in Southern California.
LA’s electronic music task force ended up rejecting the overall ban, and instead decided to focus on educating attendees about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. 55 recommendations were made for changes including placing amnesty boxes for disposing of drugs at the entrance to events, having four police officers present for every 1,000 attendees and ceasing the sale of alcohol one hour before the event ends.
Taking into account that similar actions have failed in preventing drug use in the past, such evidence suggests that these restrictions are insufficient in preventing the abuse of drugs at raves, regardless of the actual venue or the amount of security. The issue that arises when considering a ban is whether forcing raves and music festivals back into unregulated environments would help prevent drug related incidents.
The term “rave” is used in this situation to describe electronic music festivals, which have become increasingly popular over the past five years, but have existed for over 20. With this increased exposure the less than reputable aspects of these events are also coming to light as well, i.e. drug use.
Commonly held in venues like abandoned warehouse and underground dance clubs, these events started as being known for such behavior, and now they’re the new “cool thing to do.” In order for the rave community to reject the stereotype that has become paired with the term “EDM”, we have to look out for ourselves and we have to look out for each other. What most people on the outside looking in don’t realize is that EDM culture is actually about love and acceptance. People may laugh at things like PLUR, but without all the beads and hand gestures, aren’t peace, love, unity, and respect just good values that frankly, everyone should have. It’s pretty basic stuff after all, except there’s the added bonus of the music. Truly beautiful music that has to power to induce endless motion, create the fondest memories, and bring people together. Together ravers can show the world that these events aren’t just glorified beer commercials. They’re places where people can truly be who they are.