This past week was ugly for electronic music, notably live electronic music festivals. Two individuals died at Lost Lands in Ohio. One person died at Nocturnal Land in California, two people died at Defqon.1 in Sydney and another seven are believed to have died at a festival "Trip To The Moon" in Hanoi. While it is not known the exact cause of death for all of them, the initial belief for many is drugs are related. Drug-related hospitalizations are something that have dogged dance music for decades and will continue to do so into the future, but this weekend was exceptional around the world.
The reaction from some governments has been swift and heavy, calling for bans on events and even implementing them in the case of the Vietnamese government. The Australian government has talked of banning Defqon.1 and it is unclear where that talk will go from there. Argentina banned electronic music festivals for a period of time in 2016 and 2017 after a couple of deaths at a festival. This may seem like the easy, law and order response that plays well with most voters, but in the end this is only a short-term solution that will lead to more problems down the road. Banning electronic music events is not the solution, but there are other ways to make the events safer.
Banning electronic music festivals is not going to make things safer. We have seen time and time again that if there aren’t official, sanctioned events, they will only go underground. Fans want to dance and enjoy good electronic music wherever it may be. The sketchy, hard to find, unregulated warehouse will always have a place in rave lore and continue to host parties, but often times they are less safe than an event with medical staff and proper security. That doesn’t mean they are always less safe, but as we have seen with the deadly Ghost Ship Fire, if you drive those events into those types of spaces, bad things can happen.
However, there are ways to make the events that happen today safer. Nothing is foolproof and there won’t ever be a way to totally prevent hospitalizations and even deaths at electronic music or any type of music event. They happen across music, whether it is country, metal, hip-hop or pop. But we can do our best to make sure patrons in an environment that is an as safe as possible.
More Free Water:
One step is to have more free water at more events. Yes most festivals have free water and it is good, but often times when the weather gets hot the lines can get prohibitively long. You think you are good with four water stations for 40,000 people? Double that number and space them out better.
Also include a free water station for warehouse events as well. They are hot and the events can last just as long. Ripping people off with $5 waters may make you money, but when someone has to go to the hospital as a result and permits become an issue in the future or insurance goes up, then you might reconsider. People need to hydrate when drinking alcohol, so make sure there is water for people to drink.
Enough Medical staff:
Have enough properly trained medical staff on the grounds. This means don’t just have one group of EMTs hanging out in a medical tent waiting for someone to stumble over to them. Have medical staff roaming the event, even smaller warehouse parties. As the day goes into night, more will be needed than you may think. This would all be created as part of a strategy with the city, so it is likely stating the obvious. However, I have seen at plenty of festivals medical teams overwhelmed by the amount of people they are taking on with some tents filled to the brim with people on stretchers, taking fluids and potentially needing to be taken to a hospital. Be prepared for the worst and it may not happen.
This will be the most controversial, but if drugs are going to be taken at your event, make sure they are safe. You may have to espouse a “zero tolerance” policy because the police require it or no insurance company will insure your event without it. However, it is becoming quite clear that this doesn’t work. The festival doesn’t have to be handing out drug testing kits on site itself.
The event can have other NGOs like Dancesafe in the United States or The Loop in the UK come on site and offer them. They are can test outside the event and also inside the event without fear of being arrested. At Boomtown Festival, after being tested, 20% of those who had their drugs tested decided against taking it, though it is unclear why, and 50% said they would reconsider taking the drugs. As the number of those who get their drugs tested and trust these brands more, the numbers of those who don't take their drugs could increase. This should help significantly the drugs cut with deadly chemicals or exceptionally strong drugs that cause so many hospitalizations.
Stop Using Sniffer Dogs:
They don’t work and create an environment of fear that can only make matters worse for patrons. In Australia, they are wrong 60-80% of the time, getting many clean patrons kicked out and then when they do find drugs, it is a very small amount. They aren’t consistently finding the individuals who are actually there to traffic drugs. When people see them, they may panic and take their entire quality of drugs at once, which could then lead to an overdose.
More Amnesty Boxes:
These were in vogue a few years ago, but seem to have slipped away from some festivals. They allow patrons to throw away drugs before entering a festival without fear of retaliation. The boxes should be at every entrance to every festival. The next step should be that there should be several of them inside the festival. They should be placed away from where police are, potentially in a medical tent, so if someone feels like they want to dispose of their drugs in a safe manner they can do so. The trash or porta-potties also work as de-facto boxes, but this will be a way so there is no ambiguity. The festival could have one of the drug testing organizations test what is in the drugs that are thrown away and get a larger sample size of the drug’s composition. If there is a lot of fentanyl being mixed in the drugs, for example, then they a message could be sent to attendees about it and that may get people to test their drugs.
More Places To Rest With Shade:
If you are a summer festival, then you will run the risk of some very hot weather. People will need to take breaks and get out of the sun to avoid overheating. Even for indoor festivals, there should be good places for people to sit down and take a breather. That doesn’t mean you need to create a full on spa for them, but at least have some space where they can collect themselves.
Banning events on the surface may seem like the easy option. It makes it seem like you are doing something in response to the tragic deaths. Something should be done. Outright bans will only make things worse in the long run, forcing kids into unsafe environments where they can be preyed on by “promoters” who are tacitly allowed to throw parties in unsafe spaces that can cause harm at any point.