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The Dark Side of the Beats: Drugs and Death in 2014

How avoidable were this year's many drug-related tragedies?
Photo via "Come To Life," Electric Zoo's anti-drug PSA

Now a $6.2 billion (and counting) industry, as dance music continued its exponential growth this year the frequency of negative incidents continued to increase as well. Drugs, overdoses, and deaths were a recurring theme in 2014, with hardly a major festival escaping their impact.

With deaths reported at VELD, ADE, Future Music Festival Asia, Mad Decent Block PartyUltra, EDC, and an Avicii concert to name a few, this year more than ever it became clear that this was an issue that wasn't going to solve itself. In several cases, fingers pointed wildly at promoters and nightclub owners. As previously mentioned, many city governments and dance events are hardly friendly with each other anymore; this has created a dynamic that comes at the expense of festivalgoers who rely on their governments and promoters to create safe environments to rave in. Though there were a variety of underlying factors influencing this year's particular flurry of conflicts, the scene's decades-long association with drugs lay at the heart of many of these legal battles. Some institutions, like London's Fabric nightclub overcame the hurdles and stayed open with more stringent regulations. Others did not.


In September, we reported on the rise of synthetic drugs such as 25I-NBOMe--an LSD knockoff that has been responsible for dozens of deaths in North America. "Fake" drugs are now widely known to be behind the majority of drug-related deaths and non-profit organizations such as The Bunk Police and ANKORS work tirelessly to inform ravers of drug impurities.

Through all the trauma, there were several notable successes that showed us how effective informed drug policies were in combatting drug overdoses.

After narrowly being permitted to return to New York, Electric Zoo's viral anti-drug PSA and stricter security measures helped the famed festival in preventing any drug-related deaths. Though the festival was eventually shut down due to severe weather, we all breathed a sigh of relief at their safe return. Also, they caught the guy who allegedly dealt the drugs that caused the death of Jeffrey Russ in 2013, prompting the shut down of the festival.

When we spoke to Shambhala co-founder Jimmy Bundschuh and his partner, Jenna Shea, earlier in the summer, they stressed the importance of drug purity testing, counciling, and 'safe zones' for troubled ravers to take refuge. Did the strategy work? Absolutely. Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated team of volunteers, no drug-related deaths were reported and we had a fucking blast going tits out in the river.

Even while many industry talking heads decry the use of drugs at public panels and in the media, they do little to support public health efforts of those trying to curb the negative impact of those drugs. Organizations like DanceSafe and Breakline are few and far between (so few, we don't know of any others, really) and only supported at arms-length by promoters who tacitly support drug use when they turn the other cheek or offer pat solutions to complex problems. We probably speak for most fans when we say that in 2015, we want this to change. Still, the question remains: how does it?

Read More:
Fake Drugs Are Taking Over Music Festivals--Here's What You Can Do
The Guy Who Got Electric Zoo 2013 Shut Down Just Got Caught (Fuck that guy)
We Sit Down with Shambhala's Founder
"Come To Life," Electric Zoo's Anti-Drug PSA Just Leaked

Ziad Ramley is on Twitter: @ZiadRamley