Lets preface this piece with a little background. First, I don’t really consider myself a "raver", but I have been attending shows almost every weekend for the last seven years of my life, and it gave a nice ring to the title. This is definitely the most personal post I've written for Daily Beat; I am choosing to remain anonymous. My message is one that does not need a face nor name, it needs a voice. This is something as universal as it is monumental, and I’m hoping that you can all relate to at least part of it.
Now onto the post: one of the massive, potent, impossible-to-ignore elephants in the room is that the EDM scene has a huge, prevalent drug culture. It's something widely talked about, and one of the primary points of entry someone takes when they attempt to denounce our world. The market for illegal substances grows almost in conjunction with the scale of each event. It seems that every festival these days has a growing number of deaths due to overdoses; each one tragic and not to be ignored. But because of these occurrences, many deem the electronic music community as a bunch of "mindless, molly popping kids who just want to party and do dangerous amounts of drugs".
I'm here to tell you that this is false and offensive. Of course, there are many people who indulge in drug use at these events, and by no means am I shamming or judging them. I get it, drugs are fun, they make you feel good, and are easy to love. That’s why I stay far away from them. But before you point fingers and call me out as a poser or false model, let me tell you my story.
From a young 15-year-old, newly discovering this amazing underground world, to the 23-year-old concert go-er I am today; I’m here to tell you that as a concrete rebuttal to anyone who says our culture is nothing but a drug culture, an empty excuse for a musical movement filled with shallow bros and tripping hippie-wannabees – as an homage to what the dance music community is really about; I’d shout it over rooftops if I could:
this music is what keeps my heart beating, it’s what brings me joy like nothing else, it’s what holds me together when everything else falls apart.
I had started experimenting with drugs at about 13, and attended my first concert at 15. I remember vividly the wild, eye-opening awe of walking into my first show. The neon lights, the vibrations, the never-ending ocean of smiles and dancing figures moving in jagged unison. The energy, the love, the positivity bolting throughout the room. It was like nothing I’d ever seen, and from that moment I knew this atmosphere had to be a part of my life.
This was my first time taking ecstasy. As many of you can probably recall, the bursting rise of waiting for your first roll to kick in - intense and mind-blowing – anxiously aware. And then when it finally hits, like an entangling starburst. I had never felt more amazing, it was the moment before you dropped on a rollercoaster for 8 hours straight. Fizzy and happy and so many things I’d never felt. When I ran in the crowd, euphoria washed over me as my favorite song sounded like the first time I’d heard music. I felt so attached to every person I met and I couldn’t get enough of it.
The world was my oyster. So many bright lights and new friends, new experiences and things that made me feel exclusive and special. Anything you did or said was accepted with love, there was no prejudice; everyone wanted you to be a part of their family. It was everything I could have imagined and more. From then on, I was a full-fledged raver/concert go-er/kandi-kid/fist-pumper/neon-harijuku/magician-wizard/whatever-the-hell-I-wanted-to-call-myself.
But this was back in 2007, and I was just a little kid. I had adopted this lifestyle at a young age where familiarity and stability was crucial. So I told myself I would never stop. Fast forward to 2011 - as the shows went on, and time went on…so did the drug use. Rolling and dancing went hand in hand; buying a ticket to a show quickly followed by buying the goods from your guy.
And so the story goes, it’s really a no brainer that extended constant drug use turns into addiction. There were other drugs involved in my everyday life, but popping and snorting everything you can imagine every weekend at concerts certainty fed my monster. Friends would tell me to slow down, and I’d say there was no time. As I approached each venue I would get goosebumps at the imminent rise of my high. I didn’t care that I needed ten times as many drugs to get me going than when I first started; the money, the danger, the sheer oblivion of it all – none of it mattered – I just had to get that lovely feeling back. As my vision started shaking and my skin started buzzing, I couldn’t help but smile and get ready to dance.
But then came the sleepless nights of my skin crawling, stuck in a dark, weakening depression for days following. After years of attending every show under the influence of "something", it came to be that if my guy didn’t pull through, I wouldn’t even want to go. How could I have a good time without things to enhance my experience? How many instances have you heard someone complain the batch they got was bunk? Or that the show was going to suck because they couldn’t get their “stuff”. When you become that type of person, what are you really experiencing at shows?
I was in complete denial that I needed drugs to have a good time at a concert and it was intensely dangerous. Prime example? After my first seizure, I still found it necessary to pop ecstasy the following day. Because I just couldn’t get through Day 2 without it. But that was just the start of it. Even after I’d overdosed more times than I could count on my fingers and toes, each night ending in a dark unfamiliar place with my face in a toilet and my nose bloody, curled up in a ball on the floor, my mouth would still water at the sight of those rainbow-colored shapes, white powders, and murky rocks in every sized baggie imaginable. I was a self-destructing, self-constructed super hero; living life in the fast lane with no idea how, or any intention of hitting the brakes.
My life became drugs, and I preferred my reality to be blurred and unkempt. I didn't care who I had to lie to, steal from, or hurt, to get my high. Countless near-death experiences, each one worse than the last -- until finally realized that I wasn't invincible; quite the opposite actually. For years I knew I was playing with the devil; I had to stop at some point. I needed help, and that meant seizing this lifestyle and cleaning up. I went through an intensive four month program in which I learned more about myself than in my entire life. This followed by a long period of self-chosen isolation. I did not talk to anyone or leave by house for eight months straight. And although it was so difficult, and full of days and nights of seemingly unending darkness, I fought through it. It was a necessary journey of self-discovery. I knew I had improved greatly, and was learning to cope.
But alas, my worst fear was that I would not be the person I was. After this violent 5 year rampage I had forgotten how to live in this real, unaltered world. How could true feelings occur if for so long they had been only artificial? How would I ever achieve the bright, limitless euphoria I dreamt about every night? And if I couldn’t find that again (which I truthfully doubted I would), what would happen to me? Then, came the rediscovery of music.
My (as I like to call it) return to rave was as life changing as the first time I walked into a venue. Another vivid memory of that first time feeling; I was awkward and worried, as I walked up to the festival grounds for the first time in over a year. Would I even be able to enjoy this? Of course the music would be great; but everyone else would be f*cked up on something, and I was the odd man out. But as I felt the bass of the music traveling from my feet to my heart I could feel the energy coming back. And as I ran into the middle of the crowd, the contagious smile and uplifting symphony grew into my body. I danced, span, and jumped like everyone else – but inside I was still patiently waiting. And then it happened – the moment that I’d remember until my last day.
As I raised my arms to the sky and closed my eyes, I could feel the tangible warmth branching into my veins. A progressive track building like a pyramid of colors, up - up – up, and finally, that drop. My eyes wide and my body shaking; as I exhaled my soul catapulted into the air, returning back into me with my next breath. Bright and pure like crystals, my heart on the verge of bursting. I felt like I couldn’t scream loud enough, reach my hand high enough, or breath heavy enough – it was so real and undoubtedly delightful. Tears rolled down my face as the inexplicable euphoria washed over me. That’s when I realized, I never needed anything but this-- this right here, this is the moment I can live for from now on.
I didn’t need drugs, I didn’t need anything artificial because nothing would be as real as this. It was in this very second that I knew I was back, and I was exactly who I should be. It may have been hidden and clouded by mind-altering substances for years before – but it was always there. I no longer doubted that I would not be able to achieve an inexplicable high; but now, it wouldn’t cost me money, dignity, or my life. It was completely organic and awakened by my pure love for music. I was so god damn excited, and I couldn't wait to have this forever.
I hate to use the cringe worthy cliché "music is my drug", but when it comes down to its, it’s the f*cking truth. That feeling of bliss, of transparent untouched happiness that music brings me, is what keeps me alive. There’s a horribly dark truth to sobriety - its gets easier, but it'll never be easy. I've been clean since 2011; But there won’t be a day that passes that I don’t think about drugs, whether it be for just a second or for an hour or for the entire morning/afternoon/night. But music is what reminds me that I don’t need self-destructive substances to feel high, to feel euphoria to the most extreme extent. Being able to submerge myself in the melodic heaven each show brings gets me higher than any drug I'll ever find. And although I didn’t discover this until years after I entered the scene, there are no words to describe how happy I am that I did. I continue to attend shows every weekend, and still have the time of my life. Next time you see me raging harder than anyone at the club at 6am, it’s not because I’ve had “help” (yes that means alcohol too), it’s because I’m loving the moment, loving life, and nothing can stop me. I’m glad to tell my story because it sheds light on what’s so fantastic about our culture.
Whether you share the same type of dilemmas as me, you’re going through a rough time, or you’re just having a bad day – you know can count on music to lift your spirits. It’s the one thing that won’t ever fail us, and we can cherish it together.
So the next time you hear someone say "this is the type of music you take drugs to", throw a big fat middle finger at them for me. Because how dare you say this feeling isn’t real, that our entire community is built on drug use, and not the mutual love of something riveting and true. We’re more than what the outsiders think, and we’re more than just another drug-bust news article. We’re a family and we know what we stand for; there's an indescribable grace to staying true to the music and true to yourself - this is me telling you, as someone whose been around the block (and down the street, and on the corner, and in that decrepit abandoned building across town no one ever goes in) - that music in its purest, truest, and deepest form will resonate with you more than anything you'll find in a baggie. It's tangible and inspiring, what sincerely keeps me safe. Sometimes I can't believe I've been so blessed to discover this life and this amazing community to share it with - so dance on my friends - and I'll see you at the next show.
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