As EDM's Rocked by More Deaths, It's Time We Do Something [EDITORIAL]
"There's just something about these music festivals that creates a climate of risk,"officials told KTLA 5 reporters after the three young people who died after attending HARD Summer fest in Fontana were identified on Monday.
After two young women died at HARD Summer festival last year, the event was forced to move to a different venue outside of Los Angeles. One would assume that extra measures would have been taken to ensure health and safety this year. But despite whatever steps taken, these incidents unfortunately happen all too often.
To be clear, it's not just HARD Summer fest that has faced more tragedies this year. Six drug-related deaths resulted in the cancelation of the final day of Future Music Festival Asia. There were two drug-related deaths and 57 hospitalizations after Sunset Music Festival. In Calgary, ten people were hospitalized for drug and alcohol-related medical problems following Chasing Summer fest. Eight people were transported to hospitals after Pemberton Music Festival in Vancouver.
All the while, the music community strangely celebrated "no deaths" at this year's EDC in Las Vegas. However, in the days following news broke that there was - in fact - a death after the festival.
Drug-related deaths is a problem that is entrenched in both the music culture and its community. And it needs to be addressed by all parties involved.
After considering what we know about the circumstances surrounding the deaths at HARD Summer, these are the three areas we deem to be the most important as debates continue on how we can finally make our events safer.
1. Logistics & Planning
One report from LA Times recounted the death of San Diego State student Alyssa Dominguez, 21, this past Sunday after attending HARD Sumer fest. An eye witness saw police trying to perform CPR on Dominguez. It took 15 minutes before first-responders were able to reach Dominguez in the "traffic-choked parking lot," after which it was too late.
An EMT who worked EDC in 2015 recently posted in a raves subreddit, comparing medical preparations and precautions at EDC last year compared to HARD festival this year. The EMT complained about the reportedly poor planning as not all tents had IV supplies, nor were medics properly equipped with drug boxes to treat seizures and other heat-related illnesses.
While we have to take this particular account as more here-say than fact, it still brings up a valid point. That money, time and effort put towards medical tents, supplies and staff at festivals were not sufficient.
From the venue layout to the time of year the event is thrown, promoters and organizers need to painstakingly plan for the worst. Sure summer months may equal more ticket sales, but should we throw festivals in the dead of summer heat knowing this may cost lives? "Cool down" areas could also be designed to be more like attractions in order to encourage ravers to take breaks.
2. Drug policy
We cannot talk about the RAVE Act enough. There can't be a debate about health and safety at electronic dance music festivals without discussing this bill; it's the sole reason events are unable to implement certain safety and health measures. Thanks to this law, effective harm reduction methods such as drug amnesty or on-site drug testing could be deemed as propagating illegal substances.
The Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act, or the RAVE Act, is a bill that was first sponsored by Senator Joe Biden and referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary in 2002. The name of the bill was eventually changed to Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act, tacked onto the child-abduction AMBER Alert Bill and passed in 2003. The bill’s incredibly vague, catch-all verbiage continues to have a major impact on EDM events as promoters and organizers can be hesitant to implement take certain precautions for fear of criminal prosecution.
"A bill to prohibit an individual from knowingly opening, maintaining, managing, controlling, renting, leasing, making available for use, or profiting from any place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance, and for other purpose."
Utilizing a zero-tolerance policy in respect to drug use is unproductive, and increasing the presence of police and drug dogs can trigger over-consumption. We need to face the fact that people may be more likely to risk their health in order to avoid the threat of drug charges, than they are to simply throw the drugs away.
3. Community and individual accountability
While it is absolutely the responsibility of promoters and organizers to overly prepare to ensure they have created a safe environment for these events, it's also up to the community and each individual to take accountability for these deaths and hospitalizations. These drugs will be produced, distributed and consumed with or without EDM festivals. The community needs to take responsibility when it comes to spreading awareness and promoting education of drug effects, dangers, etc. and simply looking out for one another.
But at the end of the day, each individual that decides to experiment with drugs needs to take responsibility for this decision. No drug, when sold, is guaranteed to be what it's advertised to be, let alone be at all safe to consume. Every person reacts differently to every substance and the amount that will be safe or dangerous is never one-size-fits-all. Even if two individuals, who are the exact same age, weight and BMI, take what they think is the exact same amount of the exact same substance, there can still be drastic differences in the way these two individuals chemically respond.
It's time for us to stop pointing fingers and start taking initiative.
Buy a Drug Test Kit
Until the RAVE Act is entirely reversed, events will not be able to provide drug-testing. Individuals, however, can purchase drug tests online to protect themselves from harmful substances if they choose to partake.
There are countless sites and literature online providing helpful information on substances and how to look out for signs of dehydration, over-hydration, over-heating or overdosing.
Designat a Sober Raver
Appoint a different member of your festie crew each day/night who promises to stay sober and look out for each other and looking for signs of health issues.
Let's start a conversation on what WE need to do individually to prevent another lost life. If we keep selfishly diving into each party without taking precautions we're not only putting lives in danger, we're putting the entire future of this community and its events in danger.
Cover photo by Oh Dag Yo Photography © 2016
I'm a storyteller at heart, and music makes my world go round.