Electric Zoo Overdose Aftermath: The Rave Scene’s Image

September 2, 2013 Updated: September 2, 2013

Raving, raging, rolling—all words associated with the electronic dance music (EDM) scene. Rolling is the contentious one, referring to the state induced by taking the drugs MDMA or ecstasy.

After the deaths of Jeffrey Russ, 23, of Rochester, N.Y., and Olivia Rotondo, 20, of Providence, R.I., at the Electric Zoo Festival (E-Zoo) in New York City over the weekend, a fresh debate has opened about the connection between EDM and drugs.

The mayor’s office announced that the deaths “appear to have involved the drug MDMA.”

Now a professional approaching 30, I see the false joys my years as a raver afforded. I frequented the EDM festivals and parties from the age of 16 into my early 20s, about a decade ago.

The drug-induced euphoria that pervaded the scene made raves happy places where seemingly everyone loved one another. That doesn’t mean everyone was on drugs, of course. But, it was extremely common for people to take synthetic drugs—more common than at rock or rap concerts, or any other musical events I had been to.

The pills came in various colors and with little pictures imprinted on them: blue butterflies, double-stacked white Big Macs, yellow stars. These classifications made people feel they understood something about the drugs they were taking—blue butterflies are like this or that, people would say.

It was common to see someone who had taken too much. It was common practice to check that the person was OK and had friends around to keep an eye on him or her in case anything went wrong.  

Maybe the scene has changed in the several years since I experienced it. But social media comments following E-Zoo deaths suggest the conversation is about responsible drug use, as if drug use is inevitable at these events.

The scene was less regulated when I was in it. Some of the back-alley EDM clubs would have people selling ecstasy at the door. Many raves were held in abandoned warehouses or other off-the-radar locations. An organized event on Randall’s Island, New York City, is a horse of a different color.

If an overdose can happen at an EDM event there, it can happen anywhere.

Is there such a thing as “responsible drug use”? I used to think so. But the truth is, no one really knows what ingredients have been mixed into the drugs. The greater danger also comes when people think they have drug use under control. How many people did I see take one pill at a rave, then gradually think they could handle more and more as they attended events frequently?

I would think a friend had taken one pill, only to find she had taken a few more as the night progressed.

I didn’t see any overdoses, but I saw close calls, and it was scary—friends with their eyes rolling back in their heads and jaws chomping as they assured me they feel great. A girl huddled in the corner of the bathroom looking grey, sweating, like I could see the chemicals filling her blood, oozing out her pores, and gripping her body.

I enjoyed the music when I was in the scene—the dancing, the joint appreciation for the artists spinning, and the atmosphere. But, in retrospect, the events themselves seem to me like a short-lived intoxication—synthetic, frenetic.

Dancing and enjoying music is OK.  I urge people, however, to consider that what can start as a party, can end as a nightmare and a lifestyle of addiction. Ecstasy opened the door to meth use among some people I knew. Staying up all night became a regular weekend occurrence for some—and it was rarely achieved on natural adrenaline. Thinking you have it under control doesn’t mean you can’t lose control quickly.

I would characterize the scene, as I look back on it now, as frenzied and chaotic—two qualities I believe cannot add to a person’s peace of mind or well-being.

There were misconceptions and outlandish rumors about what went on at raves a decade ago, too. The worst perceptions are probably spun out of isolated incidents. While the drug problem may not be as widespread at raves as some may think, only when drug use becomes rare at EDM festivals will the danger of youth overdosing decrease significantly.


Jeffrey Russ and Olivia Rotondo Identified as Two People Who Died at Electric Zoo Festival

Central Park EZoo: After Electric Zoo’s Third Day is Canceled, People Go to Central Park

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.