This isn't your average Little League game.
Wendell Dominguez knows that raves can sometimes get dangerous, especially when DJs overtly call for moshpits and "walls of death." So he decided to start a persona called The Rave Ref, who dons a whistle and referee shirt in his mission to foster safer experiences in moshpits at electronic dance music concerts and festivals.
Watching videos of Dominguez is like an EDM version of Where's Waldo. If you attend virtually any major bass music festival, odds are you'll see a black-and-white referee shirt loping around the pit like a zebra in the night. And more often than not, his whistle functions as the starting pistol.
EDM.com caught up with The Rave Ref to chat about moshpit culture and why he decided to crusade for the safety of ravers.
EDM.com: For our readers who haven't heard of you—who is the Rave Ref and what exactly does he do?
Wendell Dominguez: The Rave Ref was originally a Halloween costume. When I took the time and really thought about how I was going to a rave as a ref, the idea of “Rave Ref” was born. I thought about how I could try and start and stop the pit and kind of conduct the moshpit.
The response was significantly more positive than I originally thought it would be—because who really likes a referee. It was then something I didn’t want to put to an end and continued to go to shows and then festivals as the referee due to such positive feedback. I was addicted to the positivity that was being spread in the most chaotic of places, from starting games such as limbo with a pash or totem, organizing 1v1's between friends, starting circle pits and girls-only pits, and conducting "walls of death."
EDM.com: Why did you initially decide to pursue this crusade? Did you see or experience something that galvanized you?
Wendell Dominguez: I initially decided to pursue being the ref because I thought it was a funny idea. When I actually got in there and saw how much I could help out, the idea went from something funny to something that could really be useful.
When I thought back to previous festivals I have been to, I have always seen at least one person get seriously hurt in a moshpit, a fight break out, or people losing personal items. I really wanted to try to have a positive impact on changing the energy within the most chaotic of places.
EDM.com: Have you received any pushback at shows and festivals? Or has the reaction generally been positive?
Wendell Dominguez: Actually I have received pushback at some events. There were instances where some people attending an event have been aggressive and have vocalized their thoughts about The Ref.
I actually take the time and hear them out because I’m always open to hearing what people have to say so I can understand their prospective. Then I explain to them what I’m trying to do and tell them to watch and it always ends the same way: us all jamming out together in the pit. With the exclusion of these minor interactions, the feedback has been consistently positive!
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EDM.com: What are the most common things you see in moshpits that you believe require action from a third party?
Wendell Dominguez: Some of the more common things I see in the pit that I believe require action would be people falling, getting injured and losing personal items like phones, wallets and keys. To elaborate, when people have fallen down in a big, heavily populated moshpit, it's hard sometimes for people to realize it and more people end up falling and getting stepped on.
I run in from the side, blowing my whistle to get people's attention and block and help those who have fallen. When people have gotten injured in the moshpit, the medical group are always amazing but sometimes its hard to get front and center where the moshpit is. I get some people to help assist in clearing the crowd and getting that injured person to the medical tent as best as we can.
Too many people have lost their belongings in the moshpit or have gotten them stolen at a festival. People actually bring lost phones to me and we collectively stop the moshpit until the owner claims their belongings. If it's a phone I have them unlock it for me before I give it to them to ensure it's going back with its original owner. In a scary instance, I’ve actually have had someone from the crowd run up to me and ask me for help and took me to their friend who was laying on the ground unconscious. I immediately ran to get volunteers to help me bring this person to the med tent.
EDM.com: Moshpits have long been a contentious topic in electronic dance music culture. Having worked so hard to essentially safeguard people in them, what do you think the EDM community can do to mitigate the harm caused in the pit?
Wendell Dominguez: As a community, the best thing we can do is look out for one another and spread more awareness of moshpit etiquette. The Festival Finesser made a great video about "moshpit etiquette 101"—how we pick people up who have fallen, don’t aim to hurt anyone, don’t push others from behind, respect everyone and have fun.
We are all there to alleviate the stress of our everyday lives and focus solely on living in the moment. When we all look out for one another while having fun, those moments become something we never forget.
EDM.com: You recently found yourself in the crosshairs of EDM Twitter, a network that has become quite antagonistic over the last few years. What happened there?
Wendell Dominguez: Ever since Countdown Invasion Orlando, I received a lot of direct messages asking if I was coming to Lost Lands and saying they want to see the Ref there. After Forbidden Kingdom, those messages increased heavily. So I started to look at how possible it was to make Lost Lands happen.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it work within my budget. I thought I would make a GoFundMe page in support of getting the Rave Ref to Lost Lands in hopes that a community-based approach of safety and fun would receive support. I understand that GoFundMe is also used for serious situations such as medical bills, funeral expenses and necessary medical procedures, and in no way did I want to imply that my fundraising would take any precedence over ones of serious importance.
My Twitter post quickly went viral. While there was support and positive comments, there were also negative ones. Despite the negativity, my outlook and response stayed positive while trying to provide clarity and more understanding. The way I see it, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. It's how we react to these situations that truly describes our character, and no matter what, I will still be there to help any and all when needed regardless of your opinion of The Ref.
EDM.com: What do you hope your fellow ravers take away from your story?
Wendell Dominguez: If people were to take anything away from The Rave Ref I would want them to take the positivity that I bring and just spread it, help people when they need help, look out for one another, make everyone feel included and just have fun.
We all come from different branches of life but we are all connected by our love for the music. I have met some of the greatest people from these festivals who have supported me since the very beginning. Jesus, Rosie, Lloyd, Chris and Flora, thank you for showing me I’m better at being myself then someone I want to be. They have shown me kindness and compassion I didn’t think existed and that is something I want to show everyone else—show how amazing we as a community can really be.