Recent incidents have tarnished the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) festival experience and threatened their future existence. Amidst the flashing lights of each stage often emerges the flashing lights of ambulances and cop cars. A breaking news story on the latest festival tragedy trails each DJ set review. The disclaimer on ticket refunds has never been so noticeable and cancellations have catapulted many large concert corporations into lawsuits. Because of this, EDM festivals must find a way to strengthen security measures, increase awareness of drug-related risks and enforce better crowd control in order to keep them from extinction.
It is difficult to argue for the preservation of EDM festivals in the face of recent reports. On day two of Electric Zoo in New York City there were two drug overdoses and the other weekend a security guard was in critical condition after being trampled at Ultra Music Festival in Miami. As a result of these incidents, EDM festivals would appear to have a negative influence on young people everywhere. However, these tragedies occurred while upwards of 100,000 other fans raved safely and happily. I do not intend to be insensitive or to undermine the seriousness of these tragedies. Yet the choice to do drugs is largely a personal one. As for the security guard, the Ultra Music Festival organizers should have secured more fences in the area she was stationed and hired more security where they knew people would try to enter without tickets.
Improvements need to be made in the EDM world. There’s no debate about that, but it is happening. Various respected DJs such as Sebastian Ingrosso, Kaskade, and Above & Beyond have spoken out against Molly and other drugs. Many DJs are working to educate their fans about the risks of MDMA. Additionally these DJ are trying to reshape the EDM culture, promoting the appreciation of the music as the most important experience.
Organizers understand how to funnel crowds properly and make sure there are safe ways to evacuate crowd members. The access to water and the number of medical tents on site have increased. Security still needs improvement, but with help from the local government and city police, those changes could be implemented effectively.
So, do we need EDM festivals? Most people would say no as these festivals don’t cure diseases or solve world issues. However that doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. EDM festivals bring people together for two or three days of unity. They enhance the quality of life. The answer is not to cancel festivals. Aside from providing an unforgettable and unique experience, they also bring thousands of tourists to their host cities. They can provide jobs and help food vendors gain recognition.
There are inherently risks that come along with managing massive crowds as well as an undeniable drug culture surrounding EDM. Realistically, people don’t attend these festivals with drugs and violence in their minds. In the Ultra Music Festival “aftermovie,” festivalgoers waiting eagerly at the gate said that they came “for the energy of the music,” that this is what they live for. EDM festivals are about the music, but they are also about happiness, expression and freedom. The EDM mantra is PLUR – peace, love, unity and respect – and if that isn’t a positive message, then I don’t know what is.
Electronic Dance Music festivals were never intended to cause tragedy. They have always been about deep bass pounding mercilessly through massive black speakers mounted one hundred feet above the ground. They are about hundreds of international DJs who love “fill-in-the-blank” city. They are defined by thousands festivalgoers with their hands in the air, neon bead bracelets around their wrists and open palms beating the air with everything they have. They’re about the limitless crowd proudly waving flags from every country to the beats of the reverberating bass. They’re about sunshine and impractically warm rave boots, those two guys in banana suits and flower headbands reminiscent of the Woodstock era. They’re for the freaks, the techno nerds, the ravers, the newbies who wanted to experience a new world and the hardcore fans who want to feel every beat in their bones. They are about music, unity, love, life and celebration.