Dancing, Drugs, and DJs

Image by Ali Naas

The diverse culture of Electronic Dance Music

Flashing lights, people in costume, sweat, dancing, drugs, and a bass so loud that you can feel it in your chest. Welcome to an Electronic Dance Music (EDM) concert.

While EDM itself began as an underground movement in the 1980s, it is relatively new to the mainstream. What draws more music fans to this genre now, the musical intricacies, the dance music culture, or the drug acceptance? Answers vary.

Mike “Guggenz” Guggenbuehl, a 22-year-old student at the University of Minnesota, is an electronic music DJ. To Guggenbuehl and many others, this genre of music is about more than pressing buttons on a soundboard in a drug-filled club.

Guggenbuehl’s experience in music started when he was 5-years-old, when his parents encouraged him to learn piano. At age 8, he started playing guitar and his passion for music took off.

“I used to record myself playing on my computer, which eventually evolved into making solely electronic music,” said Guggenbuehl.

Because it began as a hobby, it wasn’t until a few years ago that he began to take his musical career more seriously. Now, he said, his goal is to improve his craft with each new song he creates. For Guggenbuehl, EDM is about using his background to create innovation and progress in his craft. Though drugs are a large part of the community, he said there shouldn’t be a connection between the DJs and drug use. To hear some of his music, you can check out his SoundCloud here.

DJs aren’t the only ones advocating that there’s more to this culture than drugs; the ravers themselves are also frustrated with the misrepresentation. Twenty-two-year-old University of Minnesota student, Tony, whose last name has been omitted for privacy purposes, attends classes during the week but spends his weekends immersed in the EDM culture.

Tony’s main interest in EDM is the atmosphere when attending a show. “Quite honestly, the live experience contributes to my interest in the genre,” he said. “If I had never attended a live electronic show, there is a very good chance I would have no interest in the music.”

And attending those live concerts is a top priority. One of the more meaningful EDM experiences for Tony was when he traveled with his cousin to the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado to see Big Gigantic, a Boulder-based group.

Sharing these experiences often results in new friendships, Tony said. “Most of my very best friends in life I have met through electronic music, and most of my friends through life are also very interested in dance music and the culture as a whole,” he said.

Following the music, Tony said he’s run into a few friends at different festivals. One summer, he met a friend at the Summer Set Music and Camping Festival in Wisconsin, only to run into him when he went to the Electric Forest Festival in Michigan.

While all of these ravers mentioned that drugs do have a clear presence at EDM concerts, there isn’t a clear consensus on whether or not they are the focus of this musical culture. Another raver, 21-year-old Logan, whose last name has been omitted for privacy purposes, said that while he isn’t opposed to taking drugs while at a concert, he’s primarily there for the music. He also said that when he has attended shows sober, he has just as much fun, if not more.

“I might do them, but like, I’m there for the music,” Logan said. “Therefore, I know I can go there without them, and I’ve done that before.”

Logan also advocated for the safe use and sale of illegal drugs to complement the music. He said these drugs are “basically the same as drinking,” because they can be taken responsibly or irresponsibly.

On the other end of the spectrum, California attorney James Penman told the LA Times that he didn’t support an environment where drugs played a large role. “The city should have zero tolerance for any activity where drugs are an integral part,” Penman said. “A rave without drugs is like a rodeo without horses. They don’t happen.”

Since much of the mainstream media highlight accounts from people like Penman, the public receives a relatively one-sided view. Yet by diving into the culture, and getting to know the community’s integral members, it’s clear that this rave culture goes far beyond drugs.

Take the PLUR experience, Tony said. PLUR, which stands for Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect, is a movement of people who are looking for a sense of community, beyond the party. Ravers who associate with PLUR call themselves Kandi Kids and wear beaded bracelets that they exchange in a ceremonial handshake.

“Many of my friends are also Kandi Kids, and we often hang out and make random things together,” Tony said about the more innocent moments of EDM. “It’s quite therapeutic and really brings back the days of being younger. I dig it.”

For more information on EDM and the organizations surrounding it, check out these sites:
DanceSafe is an organization focused on spreading advocacy about safe drug use and other festival behaviors
Here is a link to the EDM concert calendar in Minneapolis if you want to get the live experience
The Electronic Dance Music Club is an official student group on campus, and anyone is welcome to join! Here is their Facebook page