The music is loud. The beat shakes the floor, and you feel it vibrating inside your body as if it is coming from within you. It’s hot. Uncomfortably hot, even, but you barely notice. You’re sweating, your heart pounds in overdrive, and you keep up with the crowd of converging bodies, strangers whose identities are revealed for mere seconds in the beam of a strobe. Lights flash. Pulses race.
Where are you?
Whether it’s a concert for Skrillex, Avicii, or Deadmau5, electronic dance music (EDM), and the culture that comes with it, are the latest trend in music. “EDM is different from other genres in that perfection is possible to achieve,” said Max Liben ‘14, an EDM fan. “Since the music is computer-generated, artists can tweak sounds and rhythms so that the final product is exactly as they intended it. This rhythmic perfection is what puts the ‘dance’ in EDM.”
The computer-generated sounds and manufactured beats are undeniably popular: The EDM business has an estimated worth of $4.5 billion, according to a report from this year’s International Music Summit.
So what exactly distinguishes an EDM concert from any other music event? Liben noted the sheer volume of the music. “It’s loud enough that you can feel the bass in your bones,” he said. And light shows often accompany the music. “In general, EDM concerts are about having a good time and letting go for a while,” he said.
According to Katie Zhou ‘14, another fan, the concerts are unique in that they are not focused on individual performers. “People don’t really care if someone different plays at the concert as long as they are there and having fun,” she said. At their core, the events are about ambiance.
But in a darker side of EDM’s flashing lights and rhythms, two people died at this year’s Electric Zoo festival on Randall’s Island N.Y., due to one of the riskier aspects of the EDM sub-culture: molly, an ecstasy-like drug. Molly’s correlation to deaths in New York, Washington D.C., and Boston has brought the drug, and EDM concerts and their culture, to the forefront of discussion.
With sensory stimulation at the concerts’ core, some aspects of the culture involve hook-ups and drug use, as an anonymous concertgoer explains.
“At most EDM concerts, the general audience is teenagers,” she said. “So you’re basically putting 500 plus teens in a room with music and no rules. There’s a big sense of freedom.”
The unique combination of teenage hormones and the exciting atmosphere can lead to anonymous sexual activity, from kissing to groping and beyond, the source said.
Some avid EDM attendees say that hooking up is one of the main motivations for going to the shows in the first place. “It’s expected that you’re going to hook up with someone. Average is four-plus guys, but I know girls who have gotten with 20,” said another anonymous Staples student. Another source agrees with the statistic saying, “Yeah, that’s basically me.”
Amid the crescendos of throbbing beats, thick electronic vocals, and anonymous hookups, a different type of high permeates the crowd. Madonna references it, rappers pop it, and it has a presence at EDM concerts: molly, a drug that consists of pure MDMA. An anonymous one-time user estimated that, at the EDM concert she attended, many other concertgoers were using it.
“Molly makes you really excited and ready to do stuff, which is not really the vibe at concerts that aren’t general admission,” she said.
Molly has a definite tie to the EDM scene. A senior girl described a concert for White Panda, a DJ duo that makes EDM remixes and mashups. “There were a lot of people with ring pops in their mouths,” she said. Attendees use the candy lollipops to stop their teeth chattering, a side effect of molly, students said.
The drug is a powder or crystal form of ostensibly pure MDMA, regarded as purer than ecstasy pills, which may contain other drugs or substances. However, molly may be cut with these additives; there is no way to tell.
Some say that molly’s effects add to the sensory overload that makes EDM concerts so uniquely appealing. The user, a senior piano player, described the feeling. “You know when your vision becomes sort of blurry? That’s what happened with the music. Blurry sounding but in a clear way. Just warped,” she said.
“It makes you feel like you can do anything, even fly. You feel amazing,” said one senior cross country runner who does not attend Staples.
Aside from being laced with other drugs, even pure MDMA can kill. In rare cases, it can have an over stimulating effect, causing heart or brain failure. “Your heart rate increases, and your body can’t keep up,” said Diane Bosch, a school nurse. School nurses also noted that when using molly, users may become dehydrated, especially if consuming alcohol. “When you’re dehydrated, molly concentrates in your body,” Libby Russ, another school nurse said. The nurses emphasized the drug’s effect on the heart as well as the brain.
Despite the risks, many students said they are undeterred. Users said that they would probably continue to use molly.
Drug use doesn’t interfere with some fans’ appreciation of EDM. Zhou and Liben, both fans, said they do not use molly. “If you feel the need to be drugged during a concert, why are you paying the money to go in the first place?” Liben said.
However, both felt that individuals, not the EDM industry, must take onus for the recent tragedies.
“EDM music is not the cause of people dying from Molly at concerts like Electric Zoo. Security may try to make sure illegal substances don’t enter the concerts, but how hard is it to hide a pill?” Liben said. “The EDM culture will always be about people seeking a good time; it’s how people go about it that will change the course of EDM in the future.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this article may have led readers to believe that all sources attended Staples High School.