Raves, Heavy Beats and Heavy Drugs

Beverly Frisk

Daneen Bergland

SINQ Pop Culture


Big Picture Blog Post

Ravers, I myself included, are a loving, accepting, and diverse community founded in the 1990s that has since grown into a international, multicultural, musical phenomenon sweeping the world with thumping sounds and laser lights. When you first arrive at a rave festival, your eyes are completely overwhelmed with a shining and shimmering sea of colorful pulsating people rocking to and fro to a climbing, bumping beat. As with many things in nature, this beautiful scene can turn deadly, from overdoses to dehydration causing attendees to literally overheat from the inside due to certain drugs that they smuggle in. They’ll tuck it in hats, hair, wherever, and its caused tightened security and a sense of tension both for the event teams and sober attendees as well. Some events even force patrons to take all hair ties out, and the entrance looks more like TSA than the entrance to a music festival. As a raver, I have seen these complex relations first hand, and want to demystify this issue as well as learn more about it for myself in order to help make these events safer and better understand why people take drugs there in the first place.

“XOXO” is a newer film all about a festival showing a stereotypical depiction of ravers and festival attendees from the modern generation amongst other films covering the topic as well as any news stories covering rave drug usage and scientific statistical studies and correlational studies as well. This is the image that the average viewer would see and make generalizations from about what rave culture is like, even though it is a fictional narrative. It does a good job of showing all different types of ravers attending the event for all different emotional and motivational reasons, but it also highlights drug use as a bigger part of raves, which is seen by many as a self-perpetuation of drug use amongst this community. That means that by making films like “XOXO”, that are supposed to tell tales of love and excitement, people who appreciate and monetize off of these events are only further promoting the drug use within them, both intentionally and unintentionally.

Through researching both “XOXO” and a non-fiction documentary, “Pretty Lights: A Look Inside Rave Culture” I have come to find that outsider views and insider views, both of ravers and communities in general can have a wide variance, and so it’s important for the insiders to be willing to open up, and the outsiders to be good listeners and not act condescending towards what ever the insiders are doing. This puts up a communicative wall that is hard to get past once it is set. Outsiders may not even be aware that they put up these walls in the first place, so it is important to be open and honest in situations where one group is trying to understand and help another.

Watching “Pretty Lights: A Look Inside Rave Culture”, I get the sense that raves began with a lot more anti-establishment ideals than the music festivals we see today, that have heavy security to minimize misbehavior and drug abuse that once was the calling card of all warehouse raves, the origins of the rave. The raver girls they focused on used everything from ketamine to ecstasy, and one even used meth when she didn’t feel enough of a fix from other drugs. This is an older film depicting raves when they first began, and shows how a lot of the culture was founded on heavy drug use, despite some attendees just going to dance and have a good time. Even as a sober attendee, one is surrounded by drugs at a rave, and this in itself can be dangerous and lead to problems for anybody involved.

An example of a communicative wall in rave culture is that when people do drugs at these events and have adverse reactions, they tend to not tell law enforcement or people that could help them stay safe and end up dying because they believe they will be incriminated if they do open up about whatever drug they took. I understand both sides, I would hate to be arrested for something like that, but people’s safety should come above all else at these events, and I believe the community as a whole needs to push for more advocacy of this so that the event itself can be enjoyed.

Ravers are taught to be afraid and avoid law enforcement, but this is a bad habit, because the minute someone overdoses or needs help, onlookers tend to keep quiet while watching someone fall ill, or even die because they themselves are afraid of being caught with drugs. An exhibit of this fear can be seen in a comedic Sony CD Player commercial, where the cops are patrolling for ravers, but they are sneaky and plug their music into CD players to avoid the police. This is a dangerous cat and mouse game, as the law enforcement is only looking out for their best interest, but the drug-using ravers don’t really see it that way. During the term when we were analyzing commercials in class I realized just how much advertisements can affect our culture and how we perceive it and so I thought it was important to include an advertisement about rave behaviors to look at it from a pop culture perspective and see how outsiders might visualize ravers in those situations.

After getting feedback on my research analysis, one thing discussed was “risky behavior” and I think that occurs both at raves and beyond. I don’t think that certain drugs when taken responsibly are very risky at all, an example being recreational marijuana which has been legalized in Oregon. However, I think that many ravers, being influenced by this culture of intensity, and taking things like music and dancing to “the next level” as many of them term it, want to take their alterations of consciousness to the “the next level”. They tend to search out stimulants as their drugs of choice, and one can see how this would give them the feeling of being on that “next level”  which can be unsafe and ultimately in a high activity atmosphere like a rave because they sweat a lot, get dehydrated, and pass out. I was thinking of covering how they dress as well, but I want to mainly focus on drug use for the sake of simplicity and covering what I want to cover with that. In the future it would be interesting as an anthropological project of sorts to take into account all aspects of rave culture and indulgence at raves and how that effects the people that attend them, but for now I will stick to discussing the effects of drugs primarily (Knopper).

I also looked into the history and origins of raves in my research, and how the drug culture within them evolved alongside the music itself as well as the people attending and where they came from, as well as what drove them to these events in wide-eyed, jumpy, intense flocks. The raves of today are very different from their ancestral warehouse beginnings surely, now people will shell out thousands of dollars on dazzling outfits, VIP tickets, and many other amusing wares that this community now has to offer. It is almost a different thing, but in the end the music ties it all together as rave culture, both then and now. The drug of choice by ravers when they first created the movement in response to many things, one being the former conservative political scene, was ecstasy, which although it induces euphoria and uplifting feelings that would match the mood being set by the undulating, driving beats, is dangerous nonetheless. It can cause seizures, dehydration, and death in many cases (Anderson).

I first hand saw a raver faint and being carried out on a stretcher at Mad Decent Block Party, a rave in Eugene, and it was mortifying. It was my second rave and the atmosphere change was almost instant from the moment people surrounding heard a body thud to the ground. People were scared. I myself don’t do hard drugs at these events, and that experience only further repulsed me from doing so. I still like to know about what drugs exist and what new ones appear to keep friends and strangers alike safe especially if they need first aid so I think that it should be a topic that both drug users and non-users are educated on and made aware of.

I plan on using this research I’ve gathered to further encourage people to research the groups they belong to and delve into the good and bad in order to better serve and protect the group and really see if it something that they want to be associated with. Both researching the influence of advertisements and about Hollywood movies allowed me to connect those media artifacts to my subject of research in a way that I saw fit to my own personal experience. This course helped me uncover the many different ways that media, culture, and our personal lives are intermingled, and so I took that idea and applied it to a community I truly care about and want to improve in terms of safety and enjoyability.

Works Cited

  1. Anderson, Tammy L. Rave culture the alteration and decline of a Philadelphia music scene. Philadelphia: Temple U Press, 2009. Print. Although this source is a bit older, it is still relatable to my research and the modern day rave culture, and it offers good insight into the origins of raves, and the drug culture within them, and how the two developed into huge festivals, the transition of drug users switching from X to Molly (both a form of MDMA, stimulants), and much more on old rave beginnings. For me as a modern raver this resource is important because I don’t know a ton about the very first raves, and how people interacted in this community when it was founded, which this book talks about. It talks about also how raves originally were grassroots, word of mouth even, and I think comparing that to today’s huge semi-corporate multi-day festivals where peer pressure to do drugs has increased, even while the drug use itself has decreased, only slightly however. This is a legitimate and reliable source because it is from the PSU library and written by an accredited assistant professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at University of Delaware. I think because she is involved in the criminal side academically however, this will be important to take into account as there may be some bias potential there.
  1. Pretty colors : Inside America’s rave culture. Films for the Humanities – Princeton , 2000. Web. This film is a film I found using the PSU Library Online Database, and it is available online with PSU login. I think it will be a helpful narrative as it was developed for the Films for the Humanities group at Princeton and offers insight into two girl’s experiences with raves, what causes them to be infatuated with the music, pretty lights, and drugs that surround this community at festivals and the rave scene. It is from a more psychological perspective as well, and because I am searching for drug-rave correlation, it is important to understand the different states of mind that ravers experience and want to achieve, with and without drugs. Because it is a film, I won’t be citing it as an academic resource but rather as a commentary on the situations that are possible in the rave scene, as that is what it presents. I didn’t find any information on the actresses directly on the database page it is on, so I will have to search for that information, but relatively this is a good source overall, and helps create a visual for what I am trying to capture in my research.
  1. Knopper, Steve . “Drugs, Death, and Dance Music.” Rolling Stones Magazine 11 Sept. 2013: n. page. Print. I picked this source, because it is a secondary source from a reputable magazine that does hundreds of intellectual articles on musicians, their lives, and concerts. It opens up the idea that all concerts and events have the potential for drug abuse and raves/music festivals shouldn’t be the only genre/type of event that is generalized as the “drug scene” of the music world. This source relates well to my research because it was one of the first sources I could find that actually questioned the notion of raves being the biggest drug hotspot in music, all of the other articles I’ve been finding go in with the generalization that raves and drugs are inseparable. My main goal with my paper is to establish that although drugs have, and may always be in the rave culture, it doesn’t have to be the defining characteristic of that community, which has a lot of good, non-drug related experiences to offer, many of which I’ve been involved in since high school and found a sense of community in. This source of course being a music editorial may have some positive bias, but I plan on pairing analysis of this and not so positive articles I find in my research. It talks about several overdoses that happened at Electric Zoo, a large-scale festival, and so knowing the darker effects of drugs on that community will be something that I can use this source to think about for my paper as well.
  1. Sony CD Players. Vimeo. N.p., n.d. Web. This ad is somewhat indicative to reality when raves first began. Public opinion wasn’t very high on raves, they were always flocked by cops waiting to bust the kids for noise, and drugs especially, only furthering the anti-establishment ideology that many ravers had at the time, leading to more rebellious behavior, including more drug use, to go against mainstream, showing that this form of hovering discipline can back fire in terms of preventing further misbehavior.
  1. XOXO. Dir. Christopher Louie. XOXO. Netflix, n.d. Web. XOXO is a fictional film depicting an aspiring DJ and his raver friends who try to make it big at a huge festival. It is relevant to my research as a primary source for how ravers are depicted in pop culture on a day to day basis, and is relatively recent, so it gives a good image of what modern day music festivals and modern raves look like compared to their 1990s ancestors. It shows all types of ravers, not just the type that are drugged out, so I believe it is a good, rounded view of what ravers are truly like.

One thought on “Raves, Heavy Beats and Heavy Drugs

  1. Hi,
    I think you did a great job on your blog post. I really like that you chose raver as your identity, because I feel like it is an identity that not many people think about and those that do recognize it don’t understand it. I, myself, didn’t truly understand rave culture for a long time until a friend introduced me to it. I really enjoyed the portion of your post where you talk about the differences between past rave culture and modern rave culture. The only thing I would change is that I would take out the portion of the post where you talk about the feedback you received, only because it kind of feels like you are defending your idea for the topic of this post and I think that it doesn’t need defending. I really enjoyed your post, great job.

    Casey Figgins

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