Premature death is just about one of the worst things that can happen to someone you know. Just because life has to end doesn’t mean it has to end right this second and in such a way that people in your life don’t get to feel some semblance of preparedness or at least a modicum of understanding surrounding it.
Why am I talking like we’re about to break into a seminar on grief assessment and psychological coping skills rather than music and art, which is frankly, so much easier about which to converse?
The truth is, even though music isn’t a constant like change and death, it is universal and in this way, on many an occasion, can cross paths with death. Most of the time, when I think about this intersection it usually unfolds in the mindset of using music to wade through grief; listening to comforting songs, writing them, expressing difficult feelings when one lacks a stable ability to articulate complex emotions and inner conflicts and so on. These instances are very indirect and describe a supportive role, not a destructive one though of course that does not preclude the undesirable negative outcomes from happening too. Typical highlights for the far less welcome combination can involve live concerts and abrupt scenes wherein a conglomeration of unassuming attendees are forced to witness someone’s last moments.
One might be inclined to chalk this up to coincidence of place and time and refer to the old saying that people die every day. Except, what does a person say when many (“many” being used in a sense relative to the overall amount of concert related deaths in a given time period.) of the deaths bring about curt and cutting controversy because the conditions that brought it about usually involve some kind of illicit object or behavior. Now in strolls the third guest star of this topic; one of my personal favorites: default social implications –especially when pitted against the added factors of genre and behavioral expectations!
This subject matter has been previously mentioned many a time but most recently discussed in this post from January.)
When I read of the events that took place at the Electric Zoo this past week and in coming to understand the fact ‘two people died’ was not a sardonic remark, I started to mull it over with thoughts of my own. Admittedly these initial thoughts were somewhat callous, since I was focused on the drug use rather than the people who are no longer with us. That said, the drug use, the setup and the desensitized demeanor around the two is the place from where I am writing. No one I know, (thankfully) has ever died at a concert.
The re-emergence of ‘the talk’ around X-style music festival + drugs seems to show it comes and goes on a cyclical existence –the same as many hot button topics like guns, race and or extremism unfairly disguised as religion. That makes it clear this isn’t really brand new news. The outlet, Digital Music News, even expressed a good amount of straightforward sentiment already but in reading their opinion based coverage, I found a point worthy of steep disagreement, where EDM as a genre is concerned:
“One problem is that the drug is so central to EDM culture, that few with financial interests tied to the genre are willing to speak out against its use. …This is certainly something EDM companies, promoters, and executives are thinking about very seriously. Take Molly out of the picture and the scene might flatten; just as excessive monitoring, exclusion of minors, and preventative policing could kill the vibe.”
“So central” to EDM’s culture? That’s some strong stylized and scenic association there. I am not judging Digital Music News’s expression or assessment, so much as I am seriously bothered by the fact that when drugs like MDMA and others are brought up, the EDM community speaks as if they are immune to the ability, or excluded from taking time, to consider a dissolving of behaviorally related stereotyping working unnecessarily against the music. EDM, just like ANY genre, has its scenic sub-cultural characteristics that are non-musical in nature: clothing, vernacular and emotional norms being three big ones. Behavior other than singing along at a concert certainly constitutes “non-musical characteristic” and therefore “taking drugs,” which is an actionably defined behavior would also technically fall into this line of thinking.
While it would be foolish and naïve to believe every major genre’s sub-cultures are about to flip on their heads and disappear, there’s no reason why any single genre community shouldn’t be capable of at least ruminating on becoming ‘one out of the many’ in that pursuit –at least where the negative sub-cultural actions are involved. You know, like the part where people do things that makes them die because, “That’s what you do when you’re at an EDM show. EDM wouldn’t be EDM without it. Duh.”
The insinuation that a decline in illicit drug consumption during an EDM event will “flatten” the genre’s “scene” is not something based in uninformed or hesitant ignorance but is simply a conscious unwillingness to change what has been; otherwise known as laziness. I’m not pointing said apathy at the fans or the venues/promoters in singularity. I am pointing at all involved. EDM does not have to be that genre that looks like alphabet soup. (EDM+MDMA) The sheer fact that under 21 events (like these listed in the Boston EDM Calendar) are created, shows that people want individuals to be able to have a cool live music experience and don’t harbor fear that no one will have a good time, absent the ability to get high whilst their bones vibrate from the resonating frequencies being cranked out by the DJ on hand.
Taking a sidestep from the whole debate of “learn how to take MDMA properly” vs. “police the events more strictly to stop MDMA from coming in entirely,” I am left contemplating this:
What about the musicians? What about the beats they craft and the (remaining) music stores that want to sell those records?
As I mentioned above, every major genre has its subcultures. However, there is a reason it is called a SUB-culture. It is meant to exist at the very least analogously, but preferably in subordinate fashion, to the music that brings the fans together in the first place. When the higher-ups in the major, mainstream and especially corporate sustainment of a genre’s artists, as well as even the artists themselves reverse the roles to where the music becomes the afterthought behind people assembling to get high, that’s a real problem that could in fact, confuse the rest of the public’s idea of which piece fits where in the statement of “correlation does not imply causation.” If EDM events are to become “the place” where you are, with 100% certainty, going to find and get your hands on substances and risk injury or death, then the EDM music itself could come to be heavily misconstrued as an unwavering causation, as opposed to just a correlating bystander at its own event, since its presence would eventually, consistently inspire people to take up said actions.
(Let’s not even get into what would become of your average local Top 40 station, as much of the material in rotation nowadays has received some inflection of EDM flavoring and it is not far off to think of Top 40 stations as “Dance-Pop that has some electro-styling thrown in” and yet, Top 40 is supposed to be the pinnacle of commonplace and accepted.)
Possible result: brash judgement akin to something out of the Scarlet Letter, wherein playing of EDM beats in public earshot will have people around you thinking you pop pills in your spare time or maybe, that you are even high right then and there when they catch a blip of what you are listening to in your headphones on the subway. An exaggerated but nonetheless potential frame of mind that can arise from presumptions bathed in subcultural components.
The easiest solution if one simply wants to stay out of the path of unfortunate tragedy and risk would be to just enjoy EDM outside of those situations, right? Blast it at home, on your mp3 player, at your friend’s house in a party of your own collaboratively safe and clean design…
Is cutting out live experiences for the sake of being safe, fair? Not really. Is drug usage so ingrained that choosing to attend as a clean audience member makes any injury your own fault because you chose to go where “everyone knows there’s just going to be that kind of behavior there?” (The same could be asked of the risk around extreme physical assault at more hardcore metal shows but, mosh pits are a different animal that literally stay separate, so they conduct themselves differently and can’t be compared easily.)
The bottom line question involving fans of EDM records or show attendance: Shouldn’t the major players (business and artistic) in the community be advocating for a disassociation from drugs, (to say nothing of who is at fault for bad situations) merely because the permanent stigmatization of a style, with something inherently dangerous and illegal, will only serve to drive it (back) underground and kill any hope for it to remain accessible and friendly in the eyes and ears of the public? That outcome would be the ultimate irony, as the big, often corporate, dogs are the ones that only appear to acknowledge the “problem” enough to protect themselves and their assets, nevermind the art of DJ-ing and the actual composition of EDM.