It’s not so much about listening as it is about feeling. Electronic dance music fans attend shows for the full-body experience, as crowds of individual concertgoers become a single, writhing, sweating organism, moving as one to flashing lights and bass drops that make your ears throb.
As it does for select listeners of most genres, feeling the pulse of electronic dance music — EDM, for short — means taking drugs. New York felt the sting of that association last weekend, as two college kids died after taking an Ecstasy-like substance during the fifth-annual Electric Zoo festival on Randalls Island.
With a nudge from New York City officials, organizers canceled the final day of the festival after 23-year-old Jeffrey Russ and 20-year-old Olivia Rotondo allegedly overdosed on MDMA. Four others fell critically ill.
The intersection of drugs and music is nothing new, from rock’s acidheads to disco’s cokeheads to rap’s potheads. MDMA, speed with a twist that’s commonly known as “molly,” is simply the college club scene’s latest drug of choice. The payoff? Feeling the music like never before. The catch? A single hit can be deadly.
The drug is illegal, and some concert venues boast personally invasive check-ins that make airport security seem amateur. The bouncer who searched me before I saw Swedish DJ Avicii perform might as well have checked for a hernia while he was digging through my pockets for pills. But let’s be real: Anyone who’s been to a performance knows that molly can be easily scored in the crowd for about $10 a pop — nevermind that it could be cut with meth.
No amount of additional security or enforcement will prevent young concertgoers from taking MDMA. If college kids and twentysomethings are experts in anything, it’s finding, hiding and ingesting drugs. Those skills have been honed over the course of generations, from Woodstock to Lollapalooza. And they’re especially important in EDM culture, where molly is a mainstay, an integral part of fully feeling a performance.
The irony is that many molly users — including the two dead in New York last weekend — are college-educated. They know the risks. But knowledge can be emboldening as well as inhibitive. Students today are taught that crack, cocaine, heroin and meth — drugs of dependence — are deadly. But substance abuse education has been far outpaced by the explosion of the designer drug market.
EDM fans must at least understand this tradeoff. Taking molly might lead to a life-altering concert experience. It can also lead to a life-altering health problem: death. Many MDMA users will take that risk. Though some may think twice about it.
The only life-altering decision I made while watching Avicii perform was to leave early. I didn’t understand the appeal of EDM, neither the sound nor the dancing. But then again, I wasn’t “rolling face,” the trendy term for getting demolished on this trendy drug.