Photo by Milan Loaicono
Modeled by Nicole Garza and Allison Nguyen
“Just go to a festival, even if it’s some wack, local one … experience the people, experience the magic, wear whatever you want,” said Caroline Whitney, a rave enthusiast from Boston, Massachusetts, as advice to those unfamiliar with the many aspects of rave culture.
For those outside of rave culture, raves may be known primarily by their recreational drug use, especially the use of euphoriants and stimulants, by rave-goers to alter their experience.
Raves originated as small, underground parties in the 1980s, according to an article by DJ Tech Tools. Today, raves are most commonly known as all-night dance parties that can go on for three days in a row or even two weekends in a row. Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) draws in the largest crowds with an average of 106,000 attendees per day over a three-day period, and Coachella draws in about 85,000 attendees per day, according to Infogram. The festivals mainly cater to different types of electronic dance music, or EDM, which play at different stages scattered throughout the venues.
EDC and many other festivals managed by music event promoter company Insomniac say they enforce a zero-tolerance drug policy, yet seven people have died since the festival moved to Las Vegas from the Los Angeles Coliseum in 2011, according to Rolling Stone magazine. This is a nationwide problem. Over the past 10 years, there have been at least 29 confirmed drug-related deaths nationwide since 2006 among people who went to raves organized by Los Angeles-area companies, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Use of illegal drugs is common at festivals, especially MDMA, cocaine, LSD and shrooms. As MDMA, also known as “Molly” or “Ecstasy,” gains popularity at festivals, it is no coincidence that some artists like Tyga and Future drop references to the drug in their biggest hits.
“The DJs talk about it in the music,” said Whitney. “When I went to Ultra, ‘Mask Off’ by Future was the staple song. The opening line — ‘Percocet, Molly, Percocet.’ Or that song [“Molly” by Tyga] that goes, ‘Hi, I’m looking for Molly. I’ve been searching everywhere and I can’t seem to find Molly, Molly, Molly …’ You’re literally endorsing drugs to the community, and then you wonder why people want to do drugs.”
Aside from drugs, the rave scene also includes laser lights, kandi bracelets (plastic bracelets with designs or wording of some sort), holographic prints, kaleidoscope goggles, colorful hair and lots of glitter. These items adorn ravers as they stand in line for routine security checks before entering the grounds of EDC. This festival is one of the biggest in the United States, boasting more than 400,000 attendees over three nights, according to iHeartRaves.
In 2017 alone, 1,000 people needed medical treatment during the three-night EDC music festival, according to Rolling Stones Magazine.
Festivals like EDC have become a venue for attendees to do drugs.
“It’s such a free atmosphere,” Whitney said. “When we went to Hard Summer, we were doing it [drugs] out in the open and nobody cared. I think there’s something about a free environment where if I’m walking to go to a stage and I look to my right and these people are doing drugs, it’s normalized.”
The misuse of recreational drugs, however, can overshadow the dancing and social atmosphere at raves.
“At Lost Lands, it’s full send,” Whitney said. “I literally watched some kid try to make himself throw up for 30 minutes outside of his tent. And that’s the thing about rave culture. We’re just like, ‘Yup we’re out here, camping in the wilderness, come find me if I overdose!’ As millennials we normalize things because we can do research now.”
Yet, using a recreational drug after doing research or in moderation is not enough to prevent possibly fatal overdoses.
Suzannah Weiss’ experience with developing tolerance to MDMA after she used the drug for both rave experiences and MDMA-assisted writing sessions proved that what comes up must come down, according to Tonic.
“Writing became harder as my eyeballs darted around,” Weiss wrote. “I shivered and sweat at the same time. My legs shook uncontrollably. Every time I stood up to use the bathroom, my vision went black momentarily. And I couldn’t pee no matter how hard I pushed. The drug began having psychedelic effects, putting strange words into my head and warping the text on my computer. Were it not for the euphoria I was experiencing, I would’ve panicked.”
Whitney said she enjoys video blogging, or vlogging, about her festival experiences and making connections with ravers all over the nation as she travels from coast to coast to attend festivals, whether that be in Ohio for Lost Lands or California for Hard Summer. She attended her first EDC festival in 2016 where she had a near-death experience using MDMA for the first time at a rave.
“My first festival experience could have ruined all my other experiences,” Whitney said. “My friend’s dad gave us Molly. I remember him giving it to us with a weird energy and saying, ‘Be careful.’”
The drug Molly is the crystal or powder form of MDMA, a chemical used in the street drug ecstasy. Molly is touted as being a safer drug than ecstasy. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies MDMA as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it has high potential for abuse and no accepted use in medical treatment, according to an article by LiveScience.
Websites like RollSafe.org exist to help provide information on MDMA. Supplement kits sold on Amazon, or iHerb or RaveBox can reduce side effects and comedowns and help keep an individual safe. For example, supplements like magnesium can reduce jaw clenching and electrolytes, or isotonic fluids, help reduce risk of the serious condition hyponatremia, which occurs when the level of sodium in the blood is too low and can cause nausea, headaches or confusion.
One such company, RaveShield, writes on its website that kits include up to nine different supplements, which contain powerful antioxidants and are scientifically proven compounds that work in harmony to prevent MDMA-induced toxicity.
The accessibility of supplement kits and breadth of information on the routines a raver should undertake if planning to take drugs reveals how common the practice is, though some people engage in drug use without educating themselves first.
During her first drug experience at a rave, Whitney recalled taking MDMA with no food in her system because she thought she could eat when she got inside.
“In the security line, I literally started shaking and tweaking out,” Whitney said. “I was [messed] up for 11 hours, walking up and down the streets of Manhattan afterward just trying to make myself sleep.”
Whitney said that she did not know anything about the drug prior to the experience, but that the incident taught her the importance of researching a safe routine needed for a “good roll” — a term used to describe someone tripping off of MDMA.
“Your whole body tingles,” Whitney said. “You get this rush of excitement that flows throughout your body. Everyone around me is free and happy. You get this new outlook on life, like ‘Wow there’s actually genuine people in this world.’ It’s this rush. It’s electric.”
There are serious, even deadly, effects from using MDMA. Real-life cases of MDMA misuse have included death through impaired judgment, psychosis and attempted suicide after heavy abuse, death when taken while heavily intoxicated, drugged driving and self-inflicted lung injury, according to the DEA.
While Whitney said she is aware of these dangers. She said she exercises extreme caution after her bad experience with MDMA.
“Doing drugs is a process,” Whitney said. “For my other EDC Vegas event, I didn’t take any [drugs] a month before and ate healthy to prepare.”
Pepperdine junior Carina Boustany said she believes that rave culture is tied to drug culture.
“It’s not even a question,” Boustany said. “It just is. People that say it isn’t, haven’t been to raves.”
A huge part of the rave culture is a set of principles called PLUR, which stands for peace, love, unity and respect, according to an article by ThatDrop. The creation of the term is attributed to New York techno DJ Frankie Bones, according to an article by LA Weekly. A raver abides by these principles to foster the growing EDM community.
Ravers who believe in this ideology often sport beaded bracelets called kandi. The process of exchanging these bracelets involves two ravers touching their fingertips together to form a double peace sign and reciting “peace,” “love” as their hands form the shape of a heart, “unity” as they intertwine their fingers and “respect” as they slide their bracelets from one’s wrist to the other’s.
A myth associated with kandi is that the bracelets began as drug-dealing signals according to LA Weekly. However, in speaking to Shana Steiner, an old-school raver from the early ’90s, LA Weekly found a more plausible origin — friendship bracelets.
Boustany believes PLUR culture is fueled by being on drugs.
“That culture represents exactly what it feels like to be on Molly, like good intentions and feelings of love,” Boustany said. “It becomes part of the culture.”
Substance talk on Instagram was analyzed for nearly every music festival in a study by Detox.net. Alcohol and marijuana-related search terms came up most frequently, while MDMA related terms were the next most frequently discussed.
Data collected by DanceSafe, a non-profit that promotes responsible drug use, demonstrated the need for kits to be available at electronic music festivals, especially in the U.S. The group tested 529 total samples of substances thought to be MDMA from 2010 to 2015 and found that only 60 percent of the samples actually contained MDMA or its close cousin, MDA.
Pepperdine junior Andy Foo experienced raves in Asia, as he is originally from Singapore. He said raves in Asia are more like beach parties. Instead of being centered around drugs as they sometimes are in the U.S., people who go to raves in Asia prefer to drink.
“Drugs aren’t as common in Asia,” Foo said. “If you do drugs in Asia, you’ll probably go to jail. If you’re caught selling drugs, you can get the death penalty. So people don’t really do hard drugs, and if they are doing it, they wouldn’t do it at a rave or a public place.”
Foo said incorporating booths that provide testing kits could show festival organizer’s lax stance on drugs.
“If it was my first time at a rave, and I saw they have drug testing kits, I’d just be like, ‘Oh, they’re chill,’ you know?” Foo said. “Safety starts with the individual, though. You have to give yourself limits. You have to have a buddy or someone that you know can take care of you.”
The Loop, a drug testing and counseling service in Britain, recognized that illegal substances will inevitably make their way into festivals despite zero-tolerance policies. The organization provides ravers with the opportunity to anonymously visit their tent at festivals, drop off a sample of their drugs for analysis and return later to find out what exactly is in it from a professional drugs counselor.
When informed about proper dosing by Loop drug counselors, a group of young women decided to take much less of their strong ecstasy pills than they originally planned, according to an article by The Independent.
Overall, there were nothing but positive comments toward The Loop’s service by ravers, found The Independent after talking to various people. While some festivals remain hesitant to host the service and are sometimes forced to cancel it after disagreements with the local council, The Loop wrote that they are hoping after establishing the effectiveness of its service, there will be a point where it will be negligent not to have it.
Alexa Stoczko is a 2012 Pepperdine alumna and attends at least one big rave or festival a month, but she does not go for the drugs. Stoczko said she wanted to highlight the other aspects of raves, so she founded FestFashions.com, a blog dedicated to showcasing the fashion found at concerts, festivals and raves. Her first rave experience was at Beyond Wonderland in 2013.
“My experience wasn’t going there to do drugs,” Stoczko said. “Drugs were never a part of my life, and the party aspect of raves was never what drew me to them. That first rave opened my eyes — I love dancing and being around people. Here were all these people that liked the music I liked, and it wasn’t because it became pop culture.”
Her love for themes and themed parties inspired her to start her blog. Stoczko said she loved how people at raves, and even festivals like Coachella, dressed differently from what they would normally wear. All photographs from festivals are ones she personally takes, and she also features upcoming festival lineups and rave clothing DIY tutorials on her blog.
“It’s really cool how there’s this self-expression in what you get to wear to raves,” Stoczko said. “That’s something I’ve always connected with.”
Stoczko said she had friends die because of the drug scene and other friends who became heavy into drug use, which resulted in her disconnecting from them.
“When I would go to an event and invite some of my friends they’d be like, ‘Oh, can we do this and this?’ and I would say, ‘If the only reason you want to go is so you can be passed out in the corner on the floor, rolling, I don’t want to go with you because that’s not what’s it about for me,'” Stoczko said. “But, I believe that as long as you’re not hurting anyone, you can do whatever you want to do.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recently approved testing of MDMA in 2018 to see if, in conjunction with psychotherapy, the drug can help people overcome PTSD or other disorders.
While this indicates a possible transition in how people perceive drugs, the problem of there being no testing for clean drugs at U.S. raves and festivals still exists. Amnesty boxes exist at festivals like Coachella. These are mailbox-like deposit boxes located at the security checkpoints which allow people to dispose of drugs and other contraband items so that police will not have to.
“In the U.S., they don’t do any testing,” Stoczko said. “All they have are amnesty boxes. And because there’s no test kits available readily at events, people get bad drugs. People are getting methamphetamines mixed into their pills and now they’re addicted.”
Modeled by Jenna Petrungaro
In countries like Australia, France and Spain, ravers can test their drugs, according to a 2018 study published by the US National Library of Medicine.
“They know it’s a reality,” Stoczko said. “It’s the same as how a 14-year-old can get alcohol. People are going to get their hands on whatever they want. If there’s a way for them to do it safer, it’ll be better.”
Some measures have been taken to ensure the safety of festival-goers and ravers, such as the RAVE Act, which stands for Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy. The bill, introduced in 2002 by Joe Biden, was intended to battle what was referred to as the “ecstasy epidemic” of the 2000s.
Even after its passage, the act has been criticized for its ineffectiveness in the illegal drug campaign, and even cited as one of the causes for the lack of drug safety in rave culture, according to an article by 6am.
Whitney recounted how some of these seemingly preventative measures, such as the RAVE Act, may actually detract from rave or festival atmospheres. When electronic duo Zed’s Dead performed at the House of Blues in Boston, an underage girl took an entire pill of ecstasy and also drank alcohol. Her heart stopped and she went into cardiac arrest, resulting in her death. Whitney knew her friends.
“After the event, we renamed it the House of Rules because the mayor of Boston tried to ban EDM because of that incident,” Whitney said. “It didn’t work at all to be honest, because [Boston] has one of the biggest festival scenes.”
To those outside of rave culture, it can be easy to judge these music events as being drug-fueled sex fests, but for avid ravers like Stoczko, she said she hopes her experience and her blog allow people to see the other dimensions of the multi-faceted experience that encompasses raves.
“You can hang out with people where that’s [drugs] all it is, but you can also hang out with people that are having a totally different experience,” Stoczko said. “I want to show people there’s so much more to this community. I finally found people I really connected with that were so creative, still had jobs and lives, but had these moments where they could be totally free and embrace having fun.”
Then there are those individuals on the other side of the spectrum, like Whitney, who choose to partake in the drug culture, but not without first educating themselves.
“I know drugs are not good for my body, but I justify it because I say, ‘I don’t do it every day, I only do it on special occasions or when I go to a festival,'” Whitney said. “It doesn’t make it any better! I’m not immune to having a bad trip or having something bad happen to me. I think just because I’ve seen a lot of bad things happen to other people, I know you don’t need to overdo it.”
Still Stoczko says it’s the responsibility of those who enjoy raves for the music and the community to change the stigma of the rave scene. Stoczko said, “Changing the stigma is partially on us as individuals who sit there and don’t talk about because of the stigma, but instead need to breach it and change people’s minds.”
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