Today (Sept. 1), the final day of the three-day Electric Zoo Festival was canceled by New York City government following two fatalities and after four concertgoers became critically ill and were placed in critical care units in area hospitals. The city claimed the deaths “appear to have involved the drug MDMA (ecstasy or molly).” ?A statement released by the city said the following:
“Due to serious health risks, the Electric Zoo music festival on Randall’s Island on Sunday, September 1st has been cancelled. The City recommended cancellation and the event promoters have agreed.”
“During the first two days of the Electric Zoo music festival, two concert-goers have died and at least four others became critically ill and have been placed in intensive care at area hospitals. Definitive causes of death have not yet been determined, however, both appear to have involved the drug MDMA (ecstasy, or molly). The Electric Zoo organizers have worked with City officials to reduce health risks at this event, but in view of these occurrences, the safest course is to cancel the remaining day of the event.”
Police identified the victims as Jeffrey Russ, 24, of Rochester, N.Y., and Olivia Rotondo, 20, of Providence, R.I. Russ was reportedly attending the festival with 23 members of his Syracuse University fraternity. According to the Associated Press, Russ was pronounced dead at Harlem Hospital around 3:20 a.m. Saturday, police said. He had been brought to the hospital from the festival. Rotondo was taken to Metropolitan Hospital later Saturday, around 8:45 p.m., and was pronounced dead shortly afterward, police said.
In a statement on the Electric Zoo website, the promoters issued the following statement: “The founders of Electric Zoo send our deepest condolences to the families of the two people who passed away this weekend. Because there is nothing more important to us than our patrons, we have decided in consultation with the New York City Parks Department that there will be no show today.”
The Electric Zoo festival has been held over Labor Day weekend since 2009.
The Electric Zoo homepage. (screenshot)
According to attorney Ed McPherson of McPherson Rane LLP, who represented rock band Great White in litigation over the fatal Station nightclub fire in 2003, Made made the right move.
“Electric Zoo organizers have done absolutely the right thing after the fatalities occurred — and that is to close the festival,” he said. “Of course, that is a huge disappointment for everyone, and potentially a great expense for the promoters. However, if one life is saved because someone had to go home, where (hopefully) that culture does not exist, and they can make certain that nobody uses whatever drugs they have, it is obviously well worth the disappointment and expense.”
Artists slated to play today at the Randall’s Island festival location included Steve Aoki, Diplo, Sebastian Ingrosso, Zedd, Armin Van Burren and Krewella. Earlier in the weekend Avicii, Alessi, Benny Benassi and Baauer performed on Friday; Tiesto, David Guetta, Bassnectar and A-Trak played Saturday.
The cancellation makes Electric Zoo the first major festival of the three-year-old EDM boom to be shuttered due to drug concerns, and it comes at a particularly bad time for the industry. Its greatest test thus far, the initial public offering (IPO) of Robert F.X. Sillerman’s revived SFX Entertainment — a multi-million-dollar rollup of EDM promoters and other entities – is scheduled for the coming weeks, and trades heavily on investor’s confidence in the genre’s stability and growth potential. Made Event was listed as a “planned” acquisition in SFX’s IPO prospectus released in late June, valued at $25 million in cash and stock for 70% of the company. It’s unclear whether that deal has yet closed. The Electric Zoo closure also comes four days after a 19-year-old fan died of drug-related causes at a Zedd concert in Boston.
“I am not sure that there is really anything that a festival promoter can do — and still maintain concertgoers’ Constitutional rights — to eliminate drug usage at concerts,” says McPherson. “No amount of security personnel, barricades, et cetera could prevent something like this. Unfortunately, however, ecstasy and other drugs have become the culture of some of these festivals.”
Made Event was known to be one of the most diligent event promoters where attendee safety was concerned. Throughout Electric Zoo’s first two days, messages broadcast over loudspeakers onsite and sent to all attendees via the Electric Zoo smartphone app reminded fans to be safe, often breaching the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy that promoters frequently adopt in regards to drug use. “If you see someone sick or struggling, be a friend to a friend in need,” said one. “Seek out a medical professional at one of our Medical Aid tents marked with a Red Cross.”
“Putting together the safest electronic music festival possible is of the utmost importance to us, and we work side by side with NYPD and FDNY, as well as several safety experts, in order to ensure the safety of our festivalgoers,” Mike Bindra, Executive Producer of Electric Zoo Festival and Founder of Made Event, told Billboard in May 2012. “From medical staff and facilities to security, we consistently staff well above and beyond what is recommended.”
Dance culture is no stranger to tragedy: In June 2010, 15-year-old Sasha Rodriguez died from causes related to ecstasy use, after attending Electric Daisy Carnival at the L.A. Coliseum. An L.A. Times investigation, published in February of this year, revealed that over the course of 10 years, at least 14 people had died at events promoted by EDC organizer Insomniac Events. Insomniac was not welcomed back to the L.A. Coliseum, and its CEO Pasquale Rotella was brought up on civil and criminal charges related to alleged financial malfeasance around the event. But none of its events were ever cancelled due to drug concerns. Insomniac announced a partial acquisition by Live Nation this June, and the civil lawsuits against Rotella and Insomniac were thrown out this past Friday (August 30).
Back in 1995, when the U.K. was in the midst of an EDM revolution — the likes of which the U.S. is currently experiencing — 18-year-old Leah Betts died from similar causes, kicking off a nationwide moral panic that helped secure the passage of the Public Entertainments Licences (Drug Misuse) Act, which allowed venues and promoters to be prosecuted if drugs were found to be available on their premises.