If you were among the 70,000 people raving their faces off this past Halloween weekend at either of SoCal’s premiere electronic dance music (EDM) events, HARD’s Day of the Dead or Insomniac’s Escape: Psycho Circus, I hope your recovery hasn’t been too bad. If you were among the nearly 500 people to get arrested for things like smuggling two joints and a tube of Vick’s VapoRub past security, I pity you (but it’s your own fault).
After the deaths of two young women at HARD Summer in August, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has been on HARD Events’ CEO Gary Richard aka DJ Destructo’s subwoofer about safety at his EDM events. A task force was convened to analyze safety at raves held on LA county-owned land, like the Fairplex. Surprise, surprise, they found that drugs were taken at the festivals. As a result, HARD voluntarily downsized in order to keep hosting raves at the Fairplex, which led to the addition of new security measures and rules at their events. The maximum attendance of Day of the Dead was cut from 65,000 to 40,000 and HARD agreed to cancel a summer rave at Fairplex. LA County even barred young people from raving on Halloween by raising the minimum age requirement from 18 to 21 at Day of the Dead. And, HARD suffered. Only about 20,000 people attended Day of the Dead.
LA County is sending a very clear message to the rave scene: “I’ve seen enough. I think we all have,” says Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “And we simply need to make ourselves abundantly clear with respect to that which is unacceptable. (Raves are) a violation of public safety and public health.”
Oh yeah, because LA is such a beacon of public safety anyway. No one died at either Day of the Dead or Escape this year; but they easily could have. At Escape, I saw dozens of people collapsed on the grass or stumbling to the medical tent, overwhelmed by whatever substances they had taken, being babysat by friends who were also very obviously hopped up on something illegal. Looking at the arrest rates and attendance for both festivals, what did these security measures actually prevent?
A third of all the arrests which occurred at Day of the Dead were for fake IDs. Another third were from alcohol related intoxication, belligerence or drunk driving. 310 out of the 500 arrests occurred at Day of the Dead. Does this mean there were fewer drugs stuffed into underwear and glitter bras at Escape?
There’s just no way: more than double the amount of people attended Escape than Day of the Dead, with crowds of over 40,000 at both days of the San Bernardino festival. Did changing the minimum age requirement from 18 to 21 reduce the instances of public intoxication and drunk driving? Obviously not. Did LA County’s finger-wagging stop thousands of young people from spending their Halloween being blinded by lasers and deafened by bass? Nope. Which leads me to my point: ravers gonna rave. They just might not rave in LA anymore.
People enjoy electronic music, mind-altering substances and dancing way too much to let tighter security and an age limit keep them away from raves. However, LA’s decision to hobble HARD’s massive-ness and alienate it’s 18 to 20-year-old crowd is an obvious signal to ravers that they aren’t welcome in Los Angeles. I braved the TSA-style scare tactics and K-9 inspections at two consecutive HARD Summers in 2014 and 2015, but after being told I wasn’t tall enough to ride at Day of the Dead, I think I’ll take my money and kandi to other events from now on. Sorry, Destructo.
The crackdown on HARD is a blow to LA’s dance music culture, especially considering HARD Summer was the biggest festival of its kind that LA has ever hosted. EDM isn’t just a fad, or some socially unacceptable weekend activity that our parents would rather we not partake in. It’s a part of our culture, especially for us college kids. For county-level bureaucrats to deliberately cripple a company’s sales and dictate where adults can spend their money and their Halloween is so not PLUR.
I am not advocating for drug use or tolerance to drug abuse and I’m definitely not advocating for fewer medical personnel, security and first responders at EDM shows. However, we just can’t point to the organizers of EDM events as the culprits for why so many arrests and emergencies happen at raves. Drugs like LSD and MDMA have been intertwined with the dance music scene since its inception. There’s nothing Gary Richards or Pasquale Rotella can do to change that. Raves will always be a mosh pit of unknown pills, heat and alcohol because that’s what makes them raves. No amount of admonishing, age requirements or K-9 units sniffing at crotches is going to stop EDM fans from taking risks at music festivals.