This Week's Editor's Letter: Maybe it's Time for Some Festivals to Die Off

The bursting of the bubble is claiming very real casualties
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The bursting of the bubble is claiming very real casualties

Last week's Editor's Letter

We're not even halfway through August and countless reports of gross negligence have emerged from two entirely separate music festivals.

John Cameron head shot editorial director

I spent much of my first day on the job as editor of Magnetic Magazine delivering the news of attendee fatalities at HARD Summer in SoCal. Although the incidents that occurred a week later at Moonrise Festival have not resulted in any deaths that we know of at this time, members of the event's security staff antagonized innumerable festival goers in a shocking variety of ways  - and for better or for worse, we were the ones to break that story.

Here in our Denver office, David and I have taken a step back and asked ourselves if we've focused too heavily on negative stories with our recent coverage. It's no secret that controversy sells, but as we uphold the integrity of the Magnetic Magazine brand while continuing to expand our audience, we would just as soon refrain from resorting to such sensationalist means in order to meet that end.

That being said, at times like these I'm reminded of the most flattering compliment I've ever received - one given to me by an anonymous source who approached me with a testimony that would lay the foundation for my February Beatport exposé. They told me, "I'm talking to you because you're not afraid to piss people off in order to tell the story that needs to be told."

With that in mind, and all hyperbole aside, the story of the North American festival circuit is turning more and more into a tragedy by the day.

The issues plaguing this musical movement are no longer as benign as pre-recorded sets and ghostwriters. As of this writing, even Beatport's mass layoffs pale in comparison to the scope of the social footprint left behind by the festival explosion. Let me make this explicitly clear: People are dying as a result of the corporatization of electronic music.

Yes, many are dying of self-inflicted drug overdoses, and yes, we should foster a more open dialogue about harm reduction - but a lot more of what's going on lately boils down to greed, plain and simple. For reasons that escape me, however, nobody's talking about it.

As with any economy bubble, the EDM boom overinflated investor perceptions of the industry's market value. Live music events have come to overshadow other facets of the music industry over the past couple decades, and in the case of electronic music, that led to the exponential growth of the music festival market from 2010-2013.

When the bubble began to approach its threshold, though, the market became much more competitive - and the countless event organizers crowding it resorted to drastic measures in order to stay financially solvent. The first signs of the bubble's burst showed themselves when attendees of last year's edition of TomorrowWorld were endangered by transportation issues stemming from promoter SFX Entertainment's maxed-out credit lines (which they then tried to pass off as the result of adverse weather conditions).

photo: EDMPocahontas/twitter

Stranded TomorrowWorld 2015 attendees. Photo CreditL EDMPocahontas/Twitter.

Only recently have the deaths of festival goers alerted the general public to the egregious corporate externalities taking place in the shadows of the festival circuit. I happen to have already been conducting my own research on a series of scandals taking place among agencies enlisted by promoters to maintain the safety and well-being of their guests, and I've discovered that some of these trends date back several years. One such instance is laid out in my Coachella exposé from June, but the more I investigate, the more I discover just how much has actually been buried.

Right now, I'm still determining what the appropriate platform through which I can share these findings with the public might be, but the gist of it is this: Festival organizers have opted to partner with whatever staffing companies will charge them the lowest rates, many of whom engage in blatantly illegal business practices that are of great detriment to both the employees and audience members of any given production.

As much as I may be mocked for saying this, I've always counted myself among those who attest that this music has saved their lives. I worked in several avenues of the entertainment industry over the years before fully immersing myself in dance music culture, and none exhibited the same overarching community sensibility. This scene is responsible for instilling in me many of the values at the core of who I am today, and its influence helped me find inner peace at a time when I had little else.

Be that as it may, I will only champion this musical movement insofar as it serves a similarly positive role in the lives of others. As it stands, corporate decision making that externalizes the losses of these entities from their shareholders onto their stakeholders is translating into actual, literal fatalities as well as a series of other heinous transgressions. I would rather see beloved festival brands meet their demise than attribute any more needless casualties to the microcosm of postmodern excess that dance music culture has become. 

If by illuminating these travesties we place such undue stress on major music festival promoters that they go out of business altogether, then as far as I'm concerned, it's time that we as the electronic community went ahead and made peace with their passing.

As Magnetic Magazine continues to find its voice as an electronic music media outlet, my only hope is that we maintain the sort of dialogue that will increase the social awareness of those captivated by this musical phenomenon. As for myself, I'll do my best to keep on telling the story that needs to be told.

John Cameron signature

John Cameron

Magnetic Magazine | Editorial Director and General Manager