In 2010, Los Angeles County installed a "rave task force" after a 15-year old girl named Sasha Rodriguez died at Electric Daisy Carnival at the Coliseum. Coroners reported her death a result of oxygen deprivation to her brain caused by rarely-seen hydration complications after taking MDMA. She arrived at the California Hospital Medical Center in a coma and her parents pulled the plug two days later.
Although deaths at raves were already a yearly occurrence in the LA area, Sasha's age set off a firestorm in the media, galvanizing the County government into combative action. EDC was banned from the Coliseum and promptly set out east for Las Vegas.
Back in LA, the newly minted task force pushed through the Concert and Music Festival Safety Act, a bill that required more stringent age regulations and guidelines for water and breaks between sets in addition to security and medical staff requirements for events over 10,000 in capacity.
A subsequent investigation into festival safety practices found near universal adoption of the new regulations, and although festival deaths in LA County kept ticking over in ones and twos, 2013 found new Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti wooing the festival market, allowing Jay Z's Made in America to take place on the steps of City Hall and FYF Fest to expand into Exposition Park.
Although the above festivals featured electronic artists, both skirted the ire of the task force by avoiding 'rave' labeling. As Insomniac's other raved-out festivals, Nocturnal and Escape, retreated to the more accommodating climes of San Bernadino County, a number of smaller promoters shut up shop entirely in Southern California.
The only rave-adjacent brand left in the Los Angeles area is HARD, the Live Nation-owned, Gary Richards-fronted operation that's been at the center of the Angeleno electronic scene for the better part of a decade now.
The HARD brand has been veering quite dramatically away from rave elements over the past five years, first by outright banning kandi, then by aggressively adding crossover artists to its programming. It has not proven enough. After two girls, 18-year old Tracy Nguyen and 19-year old Katie Dix, died at HARD Summer in Pomona early this August (the third and fourth deaths at the event in the past three years), local authorities have kicked the anti-rave witch hunt back into overdrive. To quote vinyl-toting DJ Elijah Woods: "We've been here before, Sam. We're going in circles."
The Electronic Music Task Force concept has been unanimously re-instated, re-invigorated, and are acting with a mandate to more aggressively pursue the issue, which they consider to be an intrinsic connection between dance music festivals and drug overdoses.To combat this in the short term, HARD's one-off "...A Night at the Fairplex" has been cancelled, the attendance cap of HARD's Day of the Dead has been dropped to 40,000, and the age restrictions at the event heightened to 21+.
"They should be alcohol free, no drugs allowed," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich of Angeleno dance festivals. The 77-year old Republican is pushing a hardline stance. Fellow Councilmember Hilda Solis was slightly more accommodating: "I want to emphasize that our efforts around this motion, above all, are about the health and safety of those attending these events."
Markedly absent from the conversation is any discussion of drug education, on festival grounds or otherwise. There's a hoodoo within governmental agencies that suggests enacting drug safety education programs implies condonement of drug use. This notion has crippled any progression on this issue, and is why county-level government will always be a step behind when chasing the dragon of drugs at festivals.
Instead, the Task Force is allegedly looking into an outright "ban on electronic music festivals." The report is to be released prior to the end of 2015, and the final line of the document states that "the task force should also seek input from the electronic music festival community, specifically groups promoting safe experiences."
If you live in Los Angeles County or have a particular interest in drug safety at festivals, we encourage you to get in touch with Councilmembers Michael Antonovich and Hilda Solis, as well as checking out and supporting drug safety organizations like Dancesafe.