By Robert Craig
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the noun “rave” is defined as “a large party that lasts all night in which people dance to electronic dance music.”
Electronic dance music, also known as EDM, was once part of an underground rave scene. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, raves were held at secret locations. But today’s raves and similar events are held at mainstream concert venues and festivals and are taking not just the United States, but the world, by storm.
According to the annual study of the Electronic Music Industry, part of the IMS Business Report 2014, the global electronic dance music industry is worth more than $6 billion, which includes revenue from traditional recorded music sales and streaming services, sales of DJ software and earnings, value of music platforms (Spotify, Soundcloud, etc.) and income from EDM festivals and clubs.
What’s more, EDM was the only genre to achieve positive growth in digital track sales in 2013 in the United States.
Different genres of EDM include, but are not limited to, dubstep, house, progressive house, techno, hardstyle, trap and trance. Popular EDM producers such as Skrillex, Calvin Harris, Avicii, Bassnectar and Pretty Lights play an array of the aforementioned genres.
But widely associated with raves and EDM is the use of illicit drugs, such as 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), also known as Molly, and other psychedelic drugs such as ecstasy, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), magic mushrooms and special-k (ketamine).
Although rave culture promotes well-being, the heavy drug use at such events is becoming more well-known than the events themselves. According to “Money, Music, and Molly,” an article by India Thompson in the Music Business Journal published at Berklee College of Music, MDMA has been named the cause of death in numerous cases this year in New York, Boston and Washington D.C., as well as 36 MDMA-related hospitalizations after an Avicii concert in Boston on June 25.
Consequently, many people think that raves are only about drug use, that the heavy bass and bright lights only attract the type of people who wish to dance the night away in a clouded haze of sweat and distorted visuals.
But proponents of the electronic dance music community say that rave culture employs a whole different state of being: to come as you are, no questions asked, and just be yourself and have fun.
Throughout the rave community is a well known acronym, which is ultimately the raver’s mantra: PLUR. This stands for peace, love, unity and respect among all ravers and is meant to be carried into the outside world.
Closely associated with the term PLUR is another item specific to the rave community. Many rave-goers make bracelets out of pony beads and similar lettered beads meant for spreading the PLUR message. These bracelets are called kandi (candy) and have become a large part of rave culture.
Kandi bracelets are usually made by ravers before large events and are intended for trading. Ravers created a special handshake used for trading kandi in which they make peace signs and heart shapes with their fingers before grasping each other’s hands and locking them into a fist shape to pull the bracelet from one person’s arm to the other.
While kandi is meant to spread peace, love, unity and respect, these bracelets are now banned at some rave events and labeled as drug paraphernalia.
In August 2014, Diplo, a popular Miami-based DJ and producer, personally banned kandi at his own events.
In a tweet, Diplo explained why he started to ban kandi at his events. “I never wear Kandi and I understand it’s not drug related culture inherently. We just had serious issues with kids hiding it,” he tweeted. “There was a definite relationship between safety and security [with kandi] and made it so we had to ban certain items.”
It has been rumored that many people wearing kandi were sneaking drugs such as LSD and Molly into events by hiding the drugs in their bracelets.
Diplo tweeted: “All I care about is people coming to enjoy music and having a safe and good time. Everything else is secondary. I would trade 100,000 angry ravers to have 100 percent safe and happy street parties like when we started it in Philly six years ago.”
Diplo, like other DJs and festival coordinators, such as TommorowWorld and Electric Daisy Carnival, has teamed up with organizations like DanceSafe, an organization that promotes health, well-being and drug education at raves and other EDM events.
DanceSafe is a San Diego-based non-profit organization started by Emanuel Sferios in 1998. According to DanceSafe’s website, the public health organization has two fundamental operation principles: harm reduction and popular education.
“The idea that any and all risks from any activity could be eliminated is not one that I personally subscribe to,” said Mitchell Gomez, National Outreach Director for DanceSafe. “Even when individuals are shown the inherent risks in certain behavior, many will continue this behavior. Once this is accepted, society is presented with two choices: to pretend that this risky behavior isn’t happening, or to accept that it is happening and do what we can to help mitigate it. I prefer the latter.”
The purpose of DanceSafe is not to condone or promote drug use, but to rather provide a non-judgmental perspective to help support people who use drugs in making informed decisions about their health and safety, according to their website.
“I think by far the two biggest issues with raves and festivals are over-crowding and lack of access to water,” Gomez said. “From small warehouse parties to massive festivals, we constantly see that most health issues are directly related to these two problems.”
As the popularity of EDM rises, experts say it is a good idea to be aware of what raves and other EDM events have in store for both rave veterans and newcomers. Illegal substances do, indeed, make their way into the hands of many ravers, they say, although rave enthusiasts insist EDM always has been, and always will be, about the positive energy, the mutual camaraderie among ravers, and the music.
Some, like Diplo, may not be convinced.
“I have thick skin, so you guys that consider yourself PLUR can attack me all you want,” Diplo continued in his tweet on the banning of kandi. “It doesn’t bother me. I’m just here for the music.”