The New York City Medical Examiner has determined that one of the two deaths at New York’s Electric Zoo Festival (August 30 – September 1) was caused by a chemical other than ecstasy. The tragedies, plus three other severe medical incidents, forced the festival to cancel its third and final day.
First reported by the New York Times last week, the findings state that the death of Jeffrey Russ, 23, was caused in part by methylone, a chemical agent frequently found in “bath salts” and increasingly in “Molly” — a street term for what many consider to be MDMA or ecstasy. Methylone is also suspected to have played a role in the deaths of concertgoers at a Zedd show in Boston last month.
The realization has brought to the fore the age-old issue of abstinence versus education, this time as it relates to drug use, amongst key players in the EDM scene.
“Molly is a term for an adulterated mystery chemical you’re putting into your body with the intent to roll,” says Missi Wooldridge, board president of education-focused non-profit DanceSafe. “It’s rare to get anything even close to MDMA.” She went on to say that while the other chemicals, like methylone, create similar effects to those of MDMA, their dosages and pathology are different. Also unlike MDMA, Molly is typically in capsule rather than pill form, increasing the possibility of it being cut with other chemicals.
“I don’t want to demonize other drugs,” Wooldridge says, “but people are selling things to people and telling them they’re something they’re not.”
Earlier this month, DanceSafe says it was approached by organizers of the TomorrowWorld festival (September 27-29 in Atlanta), produced by Dutch company ID&T, now part of corporate EDM behemoth SFX. Often controversial, harm reduction education offers ravers suggestions about how they can more safely do drugs: From how to test substances before ingesting them to simply staying hydrated. Still, by tacitly acknowledging that people are doing drugs, harm reduction stands in stark contrast to the “Just Say No” philosophy that has dominated American drug education and policy since the ‘80s.
“It’s been very easy for people to say, ‘No it’s a drug-free event. By having organizations like you there it’s openly admitting there’s drug use occurring,’” says Wooldridge. “It’s interesting to see what will happen with more money involved.”
According to Pasquale Rotella, CEO of Insomniac Events — which hosts Electric Daisy Carnival, and recently entered into a partnership with Live Nation — even if the promoter is open to harm reduction, other entities related to the event can block it. “We’ve considered companies like DanceSafe and straight up, we weren’t even allowed to bring them [to a festival],” he says. “The venues have to be OK with it.” He declined to identify the venues that rejected the idea.
EDM artists also continued to speak out this week. Without directly addressing issues like adulteration or drug policy, their responses ranged toward a gentler “Just Say No.”
“There’s drugs and alcohol in every music genre. It’s nothing new,” says DJ/producer Sebastian Ingrosso. “It’s a terrible thing that kids need to take drugs to enjoy something. I enjoy music without any kind of substance and I wish that all other people could do the same, because when you’re sober and you get high on the music you can really feel it and get what’s going on.”
DJ/producer Kaskade has been consistently vocal about his opposition to drug use, using his personal blog to advocate social responsibility amongst EDM festival attendees.
“I think when things like that happen it’s a time to take a moment and reflect and figure out how we can continue to make these events even more safe,” he said. “It’s important to take a step back and realize the importance of life. Like, hey we’re all here to have a good time. Let’s do it in a way that’s smart so we don’t have to have these conversations.”
“Overall this music is incredibly powerful and a positive force,” he continues. “That’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement. These things are happening, so what can we do to prevent them? What can we do to make sure that the environment is as safe as possible?”
Ingrosso went so far as to embrace his status as a role model.
“I think that it’s very important that if you are some kind of icon and up on stage, and there are thousands of people following us on Twitter and coming to our shows, we need to be someone [fans] can look up to,” Ingrosso says. “I think that’s very important. I don’t think that the rock ‘n’ roll thing with people being fucked up is cool anymore. It’s fucking cool to be a nerd.”