Viewpoint: Bright lights, loud beats: Raves receive misinformed criticism

By Jessica Foreman

“Kids dancing in crazy outfits to music that editorial page editors don’t understand aren’t automatically evil.”

That statement is a component of the battle cry of Pasquale Rotella, founder and chief executive of Los Angeles-based Insomniac, a concert production company responsible for more than 250 music events, including the notorious Electric Daisy Carnival. After a drug overdose fatality following Electric Daisy Carnival in June 2010, Insomniac, and rave culture in general, have been immediately scrutinized through a media-distorted microscope.

A rave scene typically revolves around one or several DJs who mix electronic sounds, beats and rhythms, which are then synchronized to brilliantly colored laser light shows, projected psychedelic images and artificial fog.

“Ravers,” or those in attendance at such events, dress in distinct attire ranging from fuzzy boots to lighted helmets to swimsuit tops to flashing T-shirt designs in LED lights. To attend a rave is to immediately become enveloped inside of a dancing-frenzied, high-energy, crowded environment. A rave is not a standard music venue.

“When you buy a ticket to our events, you are not going to be sitting in your assigned seat and leaving when the house lights come up two hours later,” Rotella told the LA Times this past August in his editorial “Don’t Trample the Electric Daisy.” “You’re buying an experience, one filled with extremely talented musicians and state-of-the-art effects.”

Raves have been happening underground for the past couple decades, reaching a peak in the ’90s and making a comeback recently in the past few years, but much about the culture is unknown to the general public until a tragedy brings light to the negatives. Substance abuse, most commonly of MDMA (widely known as ecstasy), is a dangerous component that many government officials, media, event managers and Rotella himself are trying to reduce.

“Insomniac has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars during just the last year in additional security personnel; it has purchased state-of-the-art ID scanners to guarantee that our events are limited to adults; and we continue to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for illegal substance possession and use,” Rotella said.

Rotella taunted the flux of harsh media critiques by asking where the “avalanche of bad press” was when there were 15 medical transports to area hospitals after an L.A. Rising festival headlined by Rage Against the Machine in July, or when 35 alcohol-related arrests were made in early August during the Manhattan Beach six-man beach volleyball tournament.

Rotella’s main request is for a “dose of perspective.” He argued that while his particular company, and the rave world as a whole, is learning from the past, crowd control is a problem that every large event should anticipate and seek to reduce.

Raves are escapes from the mundane celebrations of music and dance – that are judged too harshly, dismissed as criminal too soon and stereotyped inaccurately. Attendees include teenagers and young adults as well as college students from accredited universities and working professionals who have to wake up in the morning after dressing up in a Deadmau5 helmet and go to a corporate job.

While rave events in the past have largely remained underground, festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival, Monster Massive in California, The Love Festival (one of the longest-running dance music events in North America), and others have placed rave trends into the limelight. With the exception of the big name productions, raves are usually promoted only by fliers in clothing or record stores, clubs, specific rave websites and other raves. The secrecy continues.

“To suggest … that an event such as the Electric Daisy Carnival has no place in Los Angeles is like saying rock concerts should have been banned in California after violence erupted at the Rolling Stones concert in Altamont in 1969,” Rotella stated.

Jessica Foreman is a senior communication specialist major from Loveland, Colo., and is a reporter for the Lariat.