Save The Rave: A call for action within the California EDM community

by Mark Menjivar

As 2011 looms, and I’m sitting here writing this blog on the eve of New Years, I realize 2010 has been a great year for electronic dance music.  This year has graced us with some amazing events, huge festivals, and stellar tracks from our favorite artists.  As the year comes to a close and I reflect on the great times and experiences of the year, I realize we could not ask for much better.  However, as 2011 looms, the outlook is not entirely positive.  While 2010 was memorable, it was also infamous for many tragedies that have happened at EDM events.  The tragedies that stick out in my mind are the well publicized local deaths that occurred during POP in San Francisco and Electric Daisy Carnival in Los Angeles.  POP in SF resulted with 2 deaths and 5 hospitalizations, while EDC in LA resulted in dozens of hospitalizations and the death of a 15 year old teenage girl.  I was present at these events and I had a feeling at the time that these unfortunate occurrences would not go without action from state committees…and I was right.
I’m sure all of you who read this from California are aware of the infamous proposed bill AB 74 by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma from San Francisco, which harbors the potential to prohibit electronic dance events to occur on public property if passed.  It also would ban such events to occur on private property unless a business owner provided a license.  To be specific, the details mentioned in the bill targets unlicensed nighttime events that “include prerecorded music and last more than three and a half hours”.  In Assemblywoman Ma’s own words: “”Raves foster an environment that threatens the health and safety of our youth. [This] is the first step toward eliminating these dangerous events.”

As hard as it is for me to admit, Fiona Ma’s opinion on electronic dance events does not come entirely without foundation.  Long has the culture of the “rave” been associated with underground assemblies of teenagers and young adults doing drugs and dancing from the early hours of the night into the early hours of the morning.  She has cited a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that teenagers who attend raves use club drugs like ecstasy, ghb, methamphetamine, and LSD.  Let’s not kid ourselves here…this study is not inaccurate.  A big culprit of this is the fact that most raves do not harbor an age limit on attendance.  Younger generations are always searching for methods of self identity, rebellion, and feeling like part of something.  Raves can offer this.  While any teenager under the age of 18 cannot drink or smoke legally, they could still attend a rave and any drug dealer could exploit this.  This is part of the reason why I don’t like the term “rave” and never really have.  I think if you ask any stranger in the United States who is not familiar with the music or culture of the electronic dance scene, a “rave” to them means going to a club, warehouse, or underground location to dance the night away to light shows doing drugs to “techno music”.  I know this, because I admit this was my opinion of the rave scene years ago before I really became involved.  This particular demographic, including Fiona Ma, create their opinions based on poor generalization of the community, out-dated principles, and have not taken a look at the bigger picture of what electronic dance music really represents and what it has become.
If you take a look around at the trends in music on a global scale (or even just here in the United States), it is undeniable that electronic dance music is on the rise both in popularity and acceptance.  Mainstream artists such as Lady Gaga, Pitbull, Black Eyed Peas, Three 6 Mafia, Kesha, and Deadmau5, for better or worse, are spreading the taste of “rave” music to the masses.  Huge events like LA’s Electric Daisy Carnival that push attendance numbers to the 200,000 mark and have the capability of filling out huge venues like the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum would not be possible without this upsurge in dance music enthusiasm.  It is not strange to hear a name like “Deadmau5”, “Kaskade”, or “Tiesto” in any conversation about music from any regular household anymore.  MTV in the USA now covers events like EDC and interviews artists like Armin van Buuren and Swedish House Mafia.  The music is out of the shadows and no longer limited to just “ravers” and this is why I believe the old opinions on what it is to be a “raver” should be a thing of the past.  While you could still find your typical underground rave in any major city, the music has moved on to bigger sanctioned events and has begun to attract a wider audience.  While Fiona Ma has gone on to call these bigger events “simply unmanageable,” I do not believe that this is the truth.  While management of bigger events could use a few fine tweaks, I believe the solution lies in further education to the masses as to what electronic dance music is and what it truly represents.
If one digs deeper into the world of electronic dance music and the culture involved, an educated mind on the matter could see that the positives that world brings greatly trump the negatives:

  • Cultural Acceptance:  Electronic dance music has been popular on a global scale for decades.  The byproduct of such a wide audience of this music is that producers and DJ’s from all over the world are creating their own brand of the music.  They are also touring all over the world.  French DJ’s touring in America, German DJ’s touring in Russia, British DJ’s touring in India, etc etc. all while building loyal fanbases.  The walls of prejudice and judgment have been broken down within the dance community and could prove to be a great stepping stone for the rest of the world to follow in hopes to settle disputes and conflicts.  There are no disputes over religion, race, and culture within dance music.
  • Global Networking:  The internet and social networking have made it possible to communicate and network with people all over the world within the blink of an eye, and electronic artists have mastered this more than most.  Whether it be a business conversation, sharing of music, or simply connecting with fans, electronic artists have become highly efficient at communication on a global scale to other fellow artists and their fanbase.  This global networking yields infinite possibilities.  An aspiring producer from Australia or any other isolated region of the world is no longer facing such an uphill battle.
  • Musical Expansion:  As I mentioned before, the musical influences of electronic dance music can be heard in the mainstream now.  This means genres have begun to cross and more musical exploration is a result.  Electro-pop, Synth Pop, Synth Rock, Indie-electro, Trip-Hop, you name it….new music has only begun to scratch the surface of its possibilities with embracing the concepts and tools that electronic dance music has provided.
  • Mutual Respect:  In my years of attending electronic music events (or “raves” if you will), I have not seen one single fight or conflict that was not easily settled with a small conversation.  People do not attend these events with the intent to start conflict.  On the contrary, they are there to appreciate the music they know and love with other like-minded individuals.  You can always make a new friend at a dance event, and it is all because of mutual respect for one another.
  • Unity through the Community:  Unity happens through one common goal or common appreciation for something.  In our case, the music brings us together.  This has happened so well in fact, that “families” have been created within genres of electronic music.  Ever heard of the #TranceFamily or #HouseNation?  That’s called unity right there.  Feeling like part of something, no matter how far away members live away from each other.  Great things have happened through this unity.  Some things that stick out in my mind just within my own local community is the San Francisco #TranceFamily (#TranceFamilySF) creating drives to donate clothes for the homeless and a small foundation for donations for a family member who suffered a horrible event.  People are reaching out to one another to help each other….these kind of things leave me speechless.  This is not seen within any other style of music (that I know of).  Not only are these group of relative strangers helping each other like trusted friends, they truly care about their communities as well.
  • Technological Advancement:  DJ’s and Producers constantly push the envelope of computer hardware and software in search of new ideas and tools to identify their music and shape their craft more uniquely.  The searching of this endless frontier drives the development of new software programs, hardware technology, and DJ tools that are infinitely useful not only within the electronic dance community, but music producers of any genre.

If the proposed bill AB 74 were to pass, it would mark a huge loss for the electronic dance community, and would create much more of a negative result than it would hope to create.  As Jason “Dyloot” Sperling of Deep Voices (respected Producer/DJ from San Francisco and promoter of Skills DJ Workshop) mentioned in a statement to the LA Times: “If electronic music is criminalized, our government will succeed in alienating a generation of Californians and simply drive dance parties underground — a less regulated, less safe, less sane situation than we have today.”  This could not be more true.  The alienation is as clear as black and white: “The bill is not intended to impact traditional music concerts and sporting events,” said Fiona Ma in her statement. “AB 74 is about cracking down on raves that harbor drug use and lead to teenage deaths.”  Not only is this isolation and targeting a violation of the 1st Amendment (particularly Freedom of Expression), I believe it sends a bad message to the youth that have recently discovered the forward direction that electronic dance music is heading into.  This would, as Dyloot so eloquently put, send dance parties in California to a more unsafe and miseducated direction.  I feel like the passing of this bill would single handedly succeed in the creation of more “raves” that are not regulated and encourage drug use among younger generations (harmful to their own cause) instead of encouraging sanctioned, accepted “electronic music events” that promote all the positive aspects that electronic music represents with the involvement of the law.  Poor involvement from the law can create horrible tragedies like the events of Love Parade 2010 in Duisburg, Germany which resulted in the deaths of almost two dozen people.  The music we know and love so much is heading in a great direction all over the world, it would be such a shame for California to be robbed of this form of expression in a time where the world needs all the positivity it can get.
I’ll close this out with saying one simple thing: Get Involved!  Reach out to the movements at SaveTheRave.org and TranceFamilySF.com to help try and save our form of expression and the electronic dance music culture here in our great state of California.  We can only do this together, and we certainly need each other to accomplish the goals that we want.  The main goal that I hope to achieve through our own local networking is educating California residents and California lawmakers on what electronic music really is and what it represents around the world (so we can allow it do the same thing in California).  I’d like to wash away the negative image that the term “rave” used to mean in the past and move forward in the future with a new generation of electronic music enthusiasts and a new image that we are indeed a family and we want equality for all.  Let us write Fiona Ma at

San Francisco District Offices:
455 Golden Gate Ave.,
Suite 14600
San Francisco, CA 94102

and educate her on the great things that electronic dance music has done globally and within our community.  Let her know the positive experiences you’ve had at dance events and how it has changed things for the better.  This is also a call to action to promote a drug-free environment at electronic dance events, because after all, it was always about the music and not about the drugs.

Thanks everyone for reading….I hope for a happy 2011 for all and Happy New Years Eve.  Please be safe.  Long live electronic music.

~Mark

Sources:
The LA Times
Guardian.co.uk
Save The Rave

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