It was like being on a fantastic fairground ride, centrifugal forces throwing us wider and wider. But it's all right, because there's this brilliant machine at the center that's going to bring us back down to earth. That was Manchester. That is the Hacienda. Now imagine the machine breaks. For a while, it's even better, because you're really flying. But then, you fall, because nobody beats gravity.
There have been many things written to describe rave culture throughout this generation; however the epic quote from 24 Hour Party People
, a 2002 film about rave culture in Manchester England, couldn’t be more befitting or appropriate for the world of electronic dance music in America, as well as its flagship event Ultra Music Festival.
EDM culture is renowned for the excitement, visceral experience, and celebration of social solidarity that is defined by the mediums to which to enjoy and indulge in rather than the finite meaning found in most musical experiences. Like the peace festivals of the late '60s, EDM festivals celebrate the love of the experience rather than the struggle to keep control and order of every day life – but there in lies the quintessential problem – when reality walks through the door and turns the drunk lights on, who is responsible and why?
The world of EDM is that which thrives on the tangible. Celebrated are the mediums that present us the experience. Those that control the sights and sounds also control the movements and experience of the night. Driven by reaction, the DJ thrives on the orchestration and control over the crowd by manipulating the sound and also the emotions of the audiophiles that rise and fall with the BPM and crescendo of the music. Unfortunately however – throwing 100,000 watts of sound and trance inducing lighting brings about the question, and more importantly, the problem of limitation of a sober mind. With such a lush aesthetic environment, many EDM fans crave that extra push to bring them to a truly connected place inside the music.
Enter MDMA, with the promise of taking you to a higher connection that the psychoactive presents with the music. But how much is enough to bring you there? How much will kill you? Often times the answer comes frighteningly too late. Although experienced ecstasy users generally know when to stop, most had to find out the hard way – near overdoses, severe dehydration, and a horror story that generally involves elevated heart rates, panic attacks and a regrettable sexual encounter with a random person generally provide the guidelines for what you will do to bring you higher. Imagine getting your feet wet in the crowd of over 100,000 people. Now imagine being alone.
Ultra Music Festival, being the largest EDM festivals in America, attracts those from near and far to come and indulge for a weekend of mass hysteria and debauchery. With it comes the promise of an experience that you will never forget, and for many, a weekend you will never remember. Clichés and generalizations are born, and the fact of the matter is that EDM is synonymous with substance abuse, and throwing more than a reasonable amount of caution to the wind. Although Ultra and festivals like it by no means condone this behavior, the event by definition as well as the enticement of the chemically fueled freedom it brings, are what leave many thinking that the atmosphere can’t help but encourage it.
Sometimes the excitement that comes with the EDM festival experience may be enough to incite the mayhem that could end in tragedy.
A year ago at the LOVE festival parade in Germany, the reportedly chemically charged crowd panicked and began to stampede towards the entrance of the festival. Rumors of closing doors ended in 19 deaths and 342 injuries. Although this scenario is by far not the norm by any means, the possibility of similar events happening is always present and with attendance projections over 100,000 people, the likelihood increases.
At the end of the day, the festivals themselves are not to blame for these environments. Festival organizers are doing their best to provide an experience for those who love EDM, giving them the opportunity to truly indulge in its most realized and grandiose incarnation. The decisions made by individuals can change the course of the entire experience, both for better and for worse.
The experience and indulgence of any festival, especially one as unique and transcendental as Ultra or any other EDM festival, can truly be a life defining experience; but keep in mind that this definition could be very different depending upon the choices anyone makes and situations that they can find themselves in along the way.