A few weekends ago Orlando, Florida, hosted another year of Insomniac’s Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), a two-day electronic music festival.
With attendance reaching well over 80,000 festival goers, these outdoor parties only continue to gain popularity. Along with insane light shows, trippy visual effects and heavily stacked artist line-ups, these festivals are commonly associated with heavy drug use (specifically MDMA)
I will not lie and say that this judgment is false, but I could not help but wonder why all of the bad publicity is aimed the most toward electronic festivals.
We hear about overdoses and deaths at festivals, the main culprit being “Molly” (a form of ecstasy). I have previously talked about my reasons for loving these otherworldly music festivals, but I have also acknowledged their flaws.
Excessive drug use happens often, and people can become dangerously ill or, in some cases, die from symptoms associated with abusing “Molly” and other party drugs. Along with injuries associated with the typically hot climates.
These unfortunate incidents have led to many festivals amping up their security and strict drug policies. In some cases, entire festivals have been canceled.
On day one of EDC, my boyfriend, brother and I waited outside the gates and talked to fellow attendees and activists looking for signatures advocating for the state to legalize recreational marijuana. A few feet away, a news crew, (WFTV9), was searching for the right person to interview.
Most of the crowd was dressed in any imaginable way; colorful costumes, excessive glitter and flower crowns. These outrageously dressed people are prime candidates for on-camera interviews.
The reporter was clearly scanning the crowd because I assume he had most of his segment completed, he just needed the right person who fit his idea.
I later read this reporter’s story about EDC and, just as I guessed, he interviewed someone who blatantly expressed that festivals were about “getting f***ed up, basically.”
I’m sure some people go to these events as an excuse to binge on substances, both illicit and legal, but the usual vibe is that everyone is there to listen to music and forget about real life for a weekend.
My main point being drug use is prominent at festivals, but why are we pointing fingers at one genre of music?
There are plenty of different musical varieties in festivals around the world, with genres ranging from electronic to country. Substance abuse does not affect one type of person, so the media cannot really blame music featured at events like EDC, yet praise other concerts and festivals of an opposite musical genre. We need to acknowledge the positives and negatives of these events, across all music categories.
A study was conducted comparing drug references within musical culture. Even I was surprised to find that the genre with the most references to substance use was country music.
The research mentions,
“If you ask the casual music fan which genres are more likely to bring up recreational substance use, hip-hop or contemporary electronic music are likely to be the most common answers.
"But according to our research, both of these styles are relatively tame. Out of eight categories, country leads the way with a 1.6 mentions per song on average, followed closely by jazz and pop music. Hip-hop actually falls in last place at less than 1.3 mentions behind folk, challenging the assumption that all rappers are lyrical drug peddlers.”
In addition to the results of the study, there are reports of incidents at country concerts. For example, during a Keith Urban concert in 2014 at Mansfield, Massachusetts, 55 arrests, 46 medical incidents and 22 hospitalizations were reported. The Mansfield Fire Department actually had to call a “Mass Casualty” so that surrounding emergency units would send some of their units to assist with the incident.
The main issue that had caused so many arrests and medical injuries was excessive alcohol consumption. The article goes on to explain similar incidents at separate country events.
Before anyone tries to argue that alcohol “doesn’t count” as a drug because it is a legal substance, it absolutely is a drug.
So, knowing this information, how is it that electronic music gets more negative publicity associated with drug abuse than “family friendly” country?
The widely popular CMA Festival held in Nashville, Tennessee, boasted sold out attendance, free concerts, 11 stages and 1,300 country musicians. The headline does not even suggest any safety issues that may have occurred over the course of this event, but the article celebrates easier access to paying for drinks, causing a substantial boost in alcohol sales (a reported 126 percent increase).
No reports on alcohol-related incidents or injuries were mentioned. I find this information hard to believe because the odds that alcohol sales increasing by that much, with zero reported instances in which someone was treated for alcohol poisoning, dehydration or other injuries as a result of heavy drinking, are highly unlikely.
Yet, the CMA Fest is televised all over the country on a major network (ABC), and drug abuse is rarely discussed.
I have personally attended many musical events, from Dead & Company, Phish and Twiddle (all bands associated with psychedelic substance use), to a few music festivals held by different companies, such as, TomorrowWorld 2014 and 2015 and Mysteryland USA 2016.
EDC Orlando topped my expectations for performances, line-ups, productions, venue layout and organization. However, I was most impressed by the measures they had in place to keep attendees safe.
Many security and volunteer personnel roamed the grounds checking on people napping under the shade during the day, passing out free water bottles and other necessities to anyone who needed it. We experienced the “Oasis”, which was a shaded tent littered with plush pillows, bean bags and rugs. The perfect place to recharge your body and take a break from the sun and constant movement.
A few people were visibly not feeling well, but the volunteers (called “Ground Control”) were attentive by being friendly and non-judgemental, offering water or just a calming conversation if the person was feeling overwhelmed and panicking due to using some kind of substance. Medical units were called when they needed to be and not one person was punished for their drug abuse.
I could tell that the main goal of festival workers was ensuring the safety of their attendees.
Not only did EDC staff put festival goers’ health and safety as the top priority, they are also genuinely grateful for their fans and followers. EDC refers to attendees as “headliners”, acknowledging that without the fans, these festivals would have never reached the level of success we see each year.
If you look at EDC’s website, they have a section highlighting the “Awesome People” they met each day of EDC Orlando. Reading answers from these people to questions about being part of the dance music community, you get to see a range of ages and occupations who mention the best reasons why they love dance music and festivals.
And, not one attendee expressed “getting f***ed up” as the main reason for attending electronic events.
Next time a news channel wants to point out the deviant, illegal behavior of festival goers, maybe they should point out the real reasons why people love these events, instead of finding the portion of people who use electronic festivals as an excuse to indulge in excessive drug use.And, maybe these publications need to place the blame on the right culprits, across all music genres and concerts.