Last month, I was at the Electric Forest festival in Michigan when I noticed two guys with glowstick-covered prosthetic legs raving in the crowd. I knew I had to hear their story. It turns out Pat and Tim had both lost their limbs while serving in the war in Afghanistan. It wasn't the only life-altering occurance they shared; ever since the accident, they've become huge fans of electronic music, and dance festivals have become their personal forms of therapy.
Tim, 24, was born in Utah but grew up in Starkville, Mississippi. After graduating from high school (around the time I was deciding which snap-back to wear to tenth grade), he attended boot camp and eventually was shipped to the Persian Gulf and then to Marjah, Afghanistan, where an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) blast would tragically take his left leg. After twenty surgeries that worked to keep his left hand and stabilize his amputation, Tim was then sent to Balboa Naval Medical center in San Diego for extended recovery.
Patrick, 26, grew up in a small town called Tivoli in upstate New York to hippie parents and a well-educated liberal family. He was sent to Sangin, Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion 5th Marine Division, and made it all the way to the final day of his deployment when a land mine took out his leg. Like Tim, he was sent to San Diego for treatment.
One night, Tim was blasting some dirty dubstep in the recovery barracks when Pat walked in to join the party. They quickly realized they shared more than just a tragic injury. Having experienced multiple festivals myself and knowing first hand how rave culture often fosters a sense of belonging and community, I decided to have an in-depth conversation with the guys about how DJs and electronic music—literally—saved their lives.
THUMP: Can you briefly explain how you got injured?
Tim: On October 15, I took over for an injured marine on a routine morning patrol. While we were moving back to our base, my squad leader spotted the enemy and told us to form a defensive perimeter. As I walked into an irrigation ditch, I stepped directly on a 15-pound homemade explosive with five pounds of shrapnel—everything from bike chains and sprockets to gears. It wasn't until I opened my eyes that I realized I was almost fully blind and my hand was hanging off my arm. Once the corpsman ran over to apply first aid, the pain set in.
Patrick: I was a minesweeper during my tour in Afghanistan. Due to the large number of IEDs, we were forced to patrol in a single file line. The man in front would attempt to mitigate the IED risk for the rest of the patrol by utilizing a special metal detector. I was that man. On my final patrol before going home, I stepped on a pressure plate, which is a crude, yet effective, homemade land mine.
Tim in recovery.
Did you guys always love electronic music, or was that something that developed after your time abroad?
Tim: I was lucky enough to bring a iPod on my Afghanistan deployment and listened to Five Finger Death Punch to get me ready for patrols. Ironically, I listened to "The Bleeding" the same morning I got shot… but no music ever really spoke to me like EDM.
Patrick: Music has always been one of the domineering factors that shaped my life. In many ways, it defines me.
When did you start going to festivals?
Tim: I never even heard of electronic music growing up in Mississippi. I got into it when I was going through a rough time in the hospital, a really dark time, and I was trying to reminisce on the good times with my marines overseas. I went on YouTube and found a song my good buddy played for me in Afghanistan--"Almost Familiar" by Pretty Lights. It instantly brought me back and the rest is history.
Patrick: Before my injury, I knew about electronic music but had never really experienced it. The kinds of shows I went to were mainly rock and hardcore shows, which was a reflection of my frustration and anger at the time. My soul needed love and positivity and that's what would eventually draw me to electronic music.
Tim (left), Pat (middle)
You guys told me that when you were in the service you were exposed to a life of great violence and hate. Was it your injuries that made you yearn for a different life?
Tim: You see a type of unconditional love between men on the battlefield where your life is in another man's hands and his in yours. It took a bomb to take me away from my boys. So I came back sad, distraught, and pissed off that I was so violently ripped away from the marines. I was nothing but violent, aggressive, cunning, and ruthless to the enemy but now I want to be the opposite to the people I sacrificed for, whether they know it or not.
Patrick: I went to war to because I was fascinated with death and my heart was full of hate. When I got back, I was still angry but I didn't know why. My friends took me to Electric Forest in 2012 when I was still lost. It changed my life. Everyone at that festival became my family within a few days and I can honestly say I think it saved my life.
Aside from just fun and partying, what do you get out of dance music festivals?
Tim: A great workout first off, and the connections you make. Just at Electric Forest this year I ran into a girl that had her arm amputated and she said she had never met another amputee raver. She was beyond thrilled that she met us and hopefully that made her night.
Patrick: I get above all else a sense of family and unity. Not just from my amazing close friends, but from the entire festival—everyone loving everyone, taking care of each other and the earth. It's like a renaissance of the hippie movement. I don't believe it's a coincidence that both movements were born alongside an unpopular war.
Pat and Tim with friends at Electric Forest 2013
How do people at festivals react to seeing you guys? Have you ever had any weird or negative reactions?
Tim: The most reactions I get are people saying "that is awesome" and "don't ever stop raging." All the amputee jokes usually come from my mouth first. I tend to look at the bright side of things, like how I only had to bring two pairs of socks [to Electric Forest]. Woot woot!
Patrick: I have never had anything but extremely positive responses from fellow festivalgoers. The things people say most are "thank you" and "I love you," which means the absolute world to me. I have so much love for everybody.
Tim at Electric Forest 2013
What relationship do you see between music and soldiers at war?
Tim: I know after a long day I can blare some beats and everything slips away for a second. Some days I don't know where I'm going or what's going to happen, but I do know one thing… this beat is sick!
Patrick: Music is inspired from the world around us, so in that sense, I believe war will always influence music. My relationship with music grew exponentially during the war. It has always been the most therapeutic thing in my life--now, more than ever.
Who are some your favorite DJs?
Tim: Pretty Lights, Blackmill, Big Gigantic, Griz, Gramatik, Seven Lions.
Patrick: This is difficult. Electronic music is so accessible it allows for a lot of artist to make great music. My top three are probably Pretty Lights, Bassnectar, and Zeds Dead. I also dig the trap movement, so guys like RL Grime and Bro Safari. That groovy soul-dub stuff like GRiZ, Gramatik, and Big Gigantic is so creative. Oh yeah, and Crizzly is killing it.
What would you like people to know about soliders that they don't know?
Tim: I got a tattoo on my left arm before Afghanistan that says, "For those I love, I shall sacrifice," framed by scars. I want everyone to know that whether I know you or not, I did it for you.
Patrick: We are beautiful children of this Earth just like you.
Check out David's recap from Electric Forest: 16 Things I Found In the Electric Forest