Former Executive Content Editor, 2014-15
It seems like every year we learn of another group of poor souls who tragically lost their lives at a music festival. This summer was no different, as there were two fatalities at HARD Summer in Pomona, Calif., just a couple of weekends ago. In response, L.A. County has proposed a temporary ban on music festivals until the underlying causes of these issues can be nailed down. Unsurprisingly, this announcement has caused some controversy, especially within the EDM community. However, it’s a more complex issue than just people worrying that they won’t be able to go check out their favorite songs.
In the rave community, there is a motto known as PLUR: Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect. If you’re reading this, you’ve likely spent some time in Isla Vista, and that means you’ve heard one or two EDM songs in your life (probably closer to a thousand). Electronic music is a very pure, emotional experience—it’s all about the aesthetics and the intense feelings. Try and listen to a good buildup and drop without your heart rate accelerating at least a little bit and you’ll see what I mean. Raves and EDM festivals are an opportunity for fans of this music—and the feeling—to come together and experience the joy that it brings. Festival-goers often describe their groups as their “rave families.” People at festivals such as EDC bring materials to make bracelets for the strangers they encounter, cementing a bond of love and friendship. Generally speaking, ravers are open and loving people, and it’s truly a beautiful community.
Here’s where the problems arise, and what L.A. County is so afraid of: at any music festival, you’re going to have a significant portion of the audience taking drugs. It’s just a fact of life. In the days of Woodstock, it was marijuana, LSD, and psychedelic mushrooms. In our age of raves, however, all of those good feelings and happiness that are the foundation of PLUR mean that some of the most popular drugs in attendance are ecstasy, MDMA, cocaine, and the like. Unfortunately, compared to hallucinogens, these drugs are far more dangerous. Ecstasy is often cut with other drugs, such as coke and meth. Even MDMA, the pure and comparatively benign chemical found in ecstasy, can still produce unseemly effects like causing people to forget to eat and drink. Combined with the intense physical activity that results from going to a rave and, in the case of HARD Summer, unbelievably brutal heat, many of these deaths are a result of either dehydration or side effects from mixing drugs with copious amounts of alcohol.
It’s a tricky business. On one hand, it would be unfair to ban music festivals for a community that prides itself on love and togetherness, taking away the experience from the ones that practice safe habits because of the unfortunate actions of a few. On the other hand, though, what is the county supposed to do when drug use at a festival is essentially guaranteed? It’s a problem that doesn’t have a clear answer.
I am firmly against banning festivals. They’re important to the flailing music industry, bring cash flow to the areas where they’re held, and as stated, are a very positive environment for many. So what can we do?
I attended HARD Summer, and I have some possible suggestions for areas of improvement. For one, the environment itself was dangerous. Held at the Pomona Fairplex, a venue that’s almost completely asphalt with nary a tree in sight, the 90-plus degree weather felt more like 110. Entering the festival was a nightmare—there simply wasn’t enough personnel to handle scanning tickets and properly search every festival-goer. And once inside, there was little security presence. To make matters worse, the hydration stations were somewhat difficult to find and not well marked, especially at night. Considering all these factors, it becomes easier to understand why so many audience members had to be taken out by ambulance—49 according to the county, but only 37 if you believe Live Nation Entertainment, HARD’s parent company.
Before we ban festivals in the county altogether, it would behoove everyone to take a closer look at the conditions at these festivals. How an event is laid out and staffed can make an immense difference—which may explain how Coachella, which drew close to 600,000 attendees over two weekends compared to HARD’s total of 130,000, saw no drug-related deaths this past April. With Coachella’s prevalent maps, well-marked facilities, and immense staff, it makes for a much safer experience. A community with a motto like PLUR is worth conserving, and if L.A.’s festivals can come up with a more manageable environment that is less conducive to these tragic deaths, it’s entirely possible.