Rethinking raves in aftermath of Electric Daisy Carnival
After teen's death at the Electric Daisy festival, artists and L.A. promoters seek to distance events like the upcoming Hard L.A. fest from the stigma attached to such massive dance party shows.
In the troubled aftermath of last week's mega electronic music festival at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, artists and local promoters are confronting a dauntingly familiar question: what to do about the "R" word and the "E" word.
"R" stands for "rave," as techno dance parties have been commonly known since they were birthed in the suburbs of post-industrial Detroit and the underground clubs of Thatcherite Britain in the late 1980s and early '90s. The "E" word, as dance music aficionados know, is Ecstasy, the controversial, euphoria-inducing drug that's used by many ravers to enhance their connection to the frenetically beat-driven music.
Less than 24 hours after a 15-year-old girl died of a suspected drug overdose after attending the Electric Daisy Carnival, a two-day music party that featured some of the world's top DJs and drew 185,000 people to the Coliseum and adjoining Exposition Park, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky called for a rave moratorium. Other public health and safety officials have echoed his concerns.
With multiple electronica-focused events planned in L.A. over the coming weeks, including July 17's Hard L.A. at the Los Angeles State Historic Park, a 36-acre plot just east of Chinatown, what was to be a dance-heavy summer was off to an inauspicious start.
"There's a concern, and I've heard from multiple agencies," said James Valdez, a state park ranger and the lead coordinator for events in the Los Angeles sector who'll be overseeing Hard L.A. "Will we reevaluate our plans and logistics? Yes. In light of Electric Daisy, we will increase our numbers all the way around."
Local producers and promoters, meanwhile, are doing their best to reassure ticket buyers that their shows will go on in an orderly fashion, without the gate-crashing and dozens of teenagers needing medical treatment that marred Electric Daisy Carnival.
Gary Richards, a veteran dance music promoter who's hosting Hard L.A., said in an interview last week that he is working with the LAPD to make sure his event goes off without problems.
But Richards also insists that his event shouldn't be called a rave.
"I do not want to be a rave. I do not want kids in there eating pacifiers," he said, a reference to some ravers' practice of holding pacifiers in their mouths to keep from grinding their teeth, which is a sometimes involuntary side effect of Ecstasy use.
"I'm trying to get to music fans who love this music. I've been involved with electronic music for 20 years," Richards continued, "and I've seen this cycle happen three times. It gets popular, and then something happens and then it goes away. My goal is to do these events with quality artists and make them safe and secure."
This summer's other big electronica event, the Love Festival, is scheduled to take over the Los Angeles Sports Arena, next to the Coliseum, on Aug. 21. It was unclear how the call for a moratorium might affect that event.
Part of the controversy surrounding the term "rave" stems from the lack of a clear consensus about what exactly a rave is. To some, it's a large-scale dance party at which music is supplied primarily by DJs spinning repetitive, trance-like music, and where the crowd tends to skew slightly younger than at rock concerts or other music shows.
Valdez said that he does not consider Hard L.A. to be a "rave."
"We do not allow raves. Raves have a stigma attached to them," he said.
Rave or not, Richards' Hard parties are not immune to the problems that plagued Electric Daisy Carnival. Police were forced to shut down last year's Hard Summer event at the Forum just after midnight after gate-crashers overwhelmed security. But Valdez emphasized a distinction.
"If you look at what we're putting in the park, they're not primarily rave artists. This isn't the category of Deadmau5," Valdez said, referring to a popular DJ-producer who was among the Electric Daisy Carnival headliners. "We have nothing against him, but we don't want to go to that level of programming because we feel it is a bad stigma."
Yet as machine-synthesized, DJ-manipulated music has grown more sophisticated, and is increasingly augmented by live dancers and dazzling light shows, the definition of what constitutes "live" performance has grown fuzzier.
What's more, the term "DJ," implying a simple record spinner, is no longer adequate to characterize artists such as Deadmau5, Moby and will.i.am, all of whom headlined Electric Daisy, have global fan bases and compose and produce their own music. One of Deadmau5's collaborators, the DJ-composer-producer Kaskade, who also was among the headliners at Electric Daisy, performs Sundays at Steve Wynn's luxury Encore hotel in Las Vegas — hardly anyone's idea of an underground rave venue.
In a phone interview, Kaskade, whose real name is Ryan Raddon, said that as dance music's popularity has grown and gone mainstream, enabling it to fill ever-larger venues, one challenge for promoters and artists is "kind of figuring out how to move forward, carefully and safely," he said.
Adding that he thought L.A.-based Insomniac Events, the promoters of Electric Daisy Carnival, "did an amazing job" in meeting last week's logistical challenges, Kaskade said that if electronic music is driven out of larger, more established entertainment venues, it may increase rather than decrease security problems.
"If you disperse it and it moves underground, it becomes less regulated," he said.
The question of drug use at raves may be even more complex. In his authoritative book "Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture" (1998), British music journalist Simon Reynolds wrote that while he doesn't believe that techno-dance music makes sense "only when the listener is under the influence…, [a]t the same time rave culture as a whole is barely conceivable without drugs, or at least without drug metaphors: by itself, the music drugs the listener" (Reynolds' italics).
In recent months, revelers were treated for drug overdoses after participating in raves at the L.A. Sports Arena and at the Cow Palace in Daly City, south of San Francisco. Two men who attended the Cow Palace event died of suspected drug overdoses.
Since last weekend, some have argued that the Coliseum events, while unfortunate and even tragic, were not disproportionate to comparable incidents of drug abuse and disruptive behavior that have occurred over the decades at rock concerts, European soccer matches and other mass-audience entertainment events. Yet raves bear a greater stigma.
Flying Lotus, an L.A. artist whose music blends hip-hop, dub-step and avant-electronica, said he's anticipating a sophisticated, orderly crowd when he performs this month at Hard L.A.
"I don't expect kids wearing beads and big jeans," he said. "This is going to be a more hip crowd.
"M.I.A. is playing," he said, referring to the electronica artist known for her politically savvy, globally aware music, "and you'll see a lot of kids who want to be in American Apparel ads. You'll see kids who hang out in Silver Lake bars. You'll see more families. I don't think it's going to be reckless."
-- Reed Johnson and Todd Martens
Times reporter Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.