I posted a screenshot of the press email for the cancellation of Electric Zoo, and someone left a comment on my personal Facebook wall saying "Those MORONS ruined it for everybody! Kids these days can't even do drugs right."
Those morons? Festival goers whose party turned tragic. The lack of compassion for the victims and their families in these situations is disheartening, but the lack of education and open communication in regards to drugs is even more frightening. We are failing our youth by missing an opportunity to educate them.
The cancellation of Electric Zoo has been met with mixed emotion. We are seeing sincere condolences given, insensitive attendees angrily asking for refunds (which will be issued automatically), and a flood of misguided "news" sources chiming in on the most recent drug issue to hit our culture. The latest development is that Mayor Bloomberg is actually defending Mike Bindra, the founder of Electric Zoo. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to connect Bindra to Twilo, a Manhattan nightclub known well for its mismanagement and loose attitude towards drugs. This club was accused by city authorities of misusing private ambulances to hide victims of drug overdoses, several attendees died, and they were forced to shut their doors more than 10 years ago. Daniel S. Connolly of the New York City Law Department said of Twilo at the time, "there is a pattern of reckless disregard of the safety of the clientele."
Let's be honest: had these deaths at Electric Zoo not happened, nobody would be digging in Bindra's closet for skeletons.
As much as I would like to slam the promoters, the festival layout need only a couple logistical changes to improve the flow of traffic. There should be a requirements to have barricades at events as large as this (think of New Year's Eve in Times Square) with easy access to water so kids can stay hydrated. This measure would also allow security and EMTs to navigate through the crowd, speeding up response times. Air-conditioned chillout areas and mist tents (remember those?) would be amazing.
Electric Zoo had ample medical tents. It wasn’t an all-ages event. It was 18+ and security checked IDs. This was a giant crowd of youngsters, but none of them were minors. Security measures were consistent, but not invasive. Do you ask kids to take their shoes off so you can search under their feet for moon rocks? Do you go through every square inch of their wallet to see if they have hits of acid tucked between credit cards? Do you strip search and conduct a body cavity search? Do you add TSA narcotics officers to arrest those in possession of minimal amounts of weed?
There were more than 500 licensed security guards at this event. Though this number could have been bigger, I'm of the opinion that no amount of added security will eliminate drug use. Though content providers and platforms having an opinion on a subject matter as controversial as drugs and their acceptance in mainstream dance music culture isn't the norm, it should be. And while I certainly don't advocate for drug use, some sort of education and conversation needs to happen.
The one article that stood out to me was a collaborative piece written by Vivian Lee and William K. Rashbaum of the New York Times; it mirrors my thoughts on this weekend's events. MDMA isn't the culprit for these tragedies. Neither are the DJs that played the event, or the promoters. The issue at hand is that kids are purchasing their drugs from unknown sources, and these drugs are cut with chemicals and agents that they are unaware of. In this article, Julie Holland, author of Weekends at Bellevue: Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Psych ER, spoke on the use of this drug, "The drug itself is not a cause of death, and can be used safely in a therapeutic setting. “But the rave model makes it less safe,” she said, noting that molly — as the pure form of MDMA favored by rave fans is nicknamed — is easily contaminated with other, more dangerous substances and easily counterfeited."
In 2000, MTV ran a mini-documentary that highlighted how ecstasy supposedly burned holes in your brain. We highly doubt that they chased this up by saying “whoops, we were wrong," as this information was debunked. Parents panicked, and nothing really changed. More than a decade later, the word “molly” is censored by MTV (I noticed it during this year's VMAs). Mainstream media chooses to play dumb and turn their heads. It’s a disservice. Nobody is pushing for a realistic approach to the issue or a plan to educate these partygoers.
The problem with tightening the clamp on drugs is that it will do one of two things: Either kids will get smarter about how to conceal their drugs, or the scene will go back to smaller underground parties that authorities will have less control over. The undeniable fact is that we need to discuss what can be done to allow people to test their drugs without consequence at these events.
Imagine the shit storm that would erupt if mainstream media found out that a big festival was selling testing kits or providing these services for free? My experience with rave culture started in the late-'90s. I went to tons of warehouse parties, listened to tons of incredible music, and occasionally took an ecstasy pill or two. The culture was small, and testing kits were regularly and readily available. If kids are waiting to get to a festival to purchase drugs, they are buying them for unreliable sources. Drug testing kits need to have their place in our current culture.
DanceSafe is one organization that is promoting health, safety, and educational information on drugs. They are serving recreational drug users. One of their services is pill testing, and this screening can help ensure that kids are taking what they think they purchased. As with sexual health, saying "no" won't change anything. We need to educate our young adults on the pitfalls of using drugs (and alcohol), and educate them on how to make better decisions.
Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the victims, but instead of using this as an excuse to slam the promotion company, the kids, or the culture, we should consider speaking on how to educate and make the minor changes needed to ensure the safety of these kids.