Deep into his brilliant six-part essay “How Hip-hop Failed Black America,” Roots maestro Ahmir Khalib “Questlove” Thompson dropped a zeitgeist idea on EDM culture. Thompson compared the wildly popular electronic music to that of commercial disco in the ’70s, when labels pressed a marketable, production-by-numbers sound to meet the high demand for party music. “The most popular music these days,” Thompson wrote, “is nothing if not a modern disco—just as artificial, just as geared toward the party, but with the product of the record replaced by the product of the concert experience.”
The EDM/disco likeness continues with the drug use associated with the styles of music. In the ’70s discothèques of flowing Halston dresses and double-wide polyester collars, the drugs of choice included poppers, ’ludes and cocaine, the granddaddy of them all.
On the dance floors of 2014, wearing whatever substitutes for contemporary rave gear, EDM audiences pop molly, or whatever empathogen substitutes for it, with abandon. Unlike the notoriously seasoned drug users of Studio 54, the college-aged audiences of EDM have been overdosing with the predictability of a dubstep bass drop.
At an Avicii show in Boston this June, more than 50 people were treated onsite and 36 were sent to area hospitals with symptoms of overdose, enough to register as a state “Level Two Mass Casualty Incident.” Earlier in August, two concertgoers died from overdose complications at the Columbia, Md., stop of the touring Mad Decent Block Party.
Despite the trends of overdoses at EDM gatherings, the music itself is not to be blamed. Popular music and drug use have a long and entwined history, dating back to the jazz age back rooms of viper haze and prohibited booze. But, because EDM is built for a body bumpin’ concert product—an experience partially defined by euphorias in pill form—EDM and XTC will remain codependent.
If EDM is the modern disco, then the Mad Decent label is the new Casablanca Records, dishing out their brand of music with great speed and carbon copy consistency. Founded by EDM icon Diplo in 2006, the Philadelphia-based label has since assembled a wrecking crew of producers and rappers, including Riff Raff, Bauer and DJ Snake.
Headlining the WhiteWater date, the label’s Block Party features Mad Decent heavyweights Flosstradamus and Zeds Dead. Both duos engage in the time-honored EDM tradition of reworking rap hooks with hectic rhythms and constant shifts in energy, keeping dancers (i.e. bros thrashing up-and-down) in a perpetual state of motion.
Though many of the Block Party sets will blend together—as they’re intended to—Toy Selectah should stand out as a unique rhythmic force among his Mad Decent labelmates. Five hours down the road in Monterey, Mexico, Toy Hernández has been combining the structural molds of American EDM with the rhythms of cumbia to an exciting new effect. A member of Monterey boom-bap rappers Control Machete, Toy Selectah sidelined his Spanish rhymes in the mid-2000s for a career in electronic music.
In August, with heat indexes casually reaching the triple digits, threats of molly overdoses and related heatstroke grow with each degree. For the inevitable MDMA users in the readership, please hydrate and take shade breaks. Sincerely, Matt Stieb
4pm-midnight Sat, Aug 30
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