Jeffrey Russ, 23, and Olivia Rotondo, 20, died August 31st, 2013 from an Ecstasy overdose. The two were concert-goers at Electric Zoo, a three day electronic-dance-music festival. The deaths prompted New York City officials to cancel the final day of the event. This is only tangentially Jeffrey and Olivia’s story.
Electric Zoo is like many other half-concert-half-raves which have experienced a meteoric rise in popularity in the past 5-10 years. I’m talking about Ultra Music Festival, Electronic Daisy Carnival, Sensation White &c. All these rave-concerts share a host of similar features: scantily dressed young women, flashing lights, throbbingly iambic oom-sahs, and a drug underworld that would make Hunter S. Thompson blush. Concert-goers prefer to dress up in ridiculous and notably un-pragmatic clothing: boys wear backwards caps, and tank tops and sunglasses inside; girls wear furry leggings in 90 degree heat, or clothing made completely out of candy.
The lion’s share of concert-goers are between 15 and 25 years old, but you’ll still see some 30-something-year-olds walking through crowds with enlarged pupils and camelbacks to keep hydrated. Their expressions seem to suggest a hint of shame mixed with confusion, as if they too are not quite sure what they are doing there. The perhaps more upsetting outliers are the 12 to 15 year olds who attend these raves, dressed such that even the most liberal of people are forced to wonder, “Where the heck are these kids parents.”
Concert-goers are predominantly white and (I’d guess) come from relatively privileged families. I claim this because tickets to these sorts of concerts are expensive—$100 per day or $300 for the whole festival. Of course, that cost does not include whatever drug of choice the concert-goer chooses to take to make 12 hours of fairly repetitive music bearable.
Concert-goers are generally unskilled dancers. Flailing arms and head nods. Some choose to watch and record the concert through their phone camera—the real thing seemingly too much stimulation for their natural faculties.
Venues vary from large open fields with multiple stages to huge mega-domes with laser lights and everyone dressed in white as if to explicitly recall that EDM is a cult following. Large groups of people walk around holding hands so as not to get separated from their friends. (This practice always struck me as funny, as if, as soon as the link was broken all hope of getting out in one piece was lost.) Others stand around dazed looking for someone/thing they’ve lost—desperation palpable, emotions running high. Still more scurry on from one show to the next in absolute glee. Bros greeting bros. Women yelping with excitement. The emotions of a single concert-goer and the population at large see-saw on the drop of a dime: mini bursts of bipolarity.
Still there are some who just look queasy or like downright hell. Passed out bodies and paramedics running around. Most are just dehydrated or over stimulated and just need a minute to breathe.
It is weird, feeling disconnected from one’s generation. Not so much in general (though presumably this is even more disorienting), but in a very specific time and place.
I’m not sure if generational studies even really make sense. To what extent do the political, social and cultural climate we grow up in make us similar? A recent NY Times article said that we Millenials are searching for purpose and value in our lives comparatively more than the Baby Boomers. We apparently are relying less on money-induced-happiness because we came of age during The Great Recession. I don’t know: maybe this is the case maybe not. My intuition is that it is easier to understand what a generation is from the outside looking in, both psychologically and temporally. The rebellious liberal wave of sex, drugs and rock and roll during the 1960s is more easily explained in hindsight than at the time.
Walking around Electric Zoo this past Summer though, I took on the odd psychological position of outsider looking in. What would these hedonistic, saturated, oddly beautiful raves tell the future about the Millenials in aggregate?
A sort of cathartic numbness was my defining characteristic. These raves are extra-sensory experiences. Huge sounds and sights distract an underlying frenzied anxiety about the world. A normal sort of anxiety: the type most kids our age experience and have always experienced. Fear about the future and maybe the beginning of the end, apocalyptical nerves redoubling upon themselves.
And so the concert-goer’s sink—in some sort of Dionysian release—into one collective conscious. One organism listening to literally ear-numbing music and perhaps escaping their undeniably ever present egocentric view of the world. The constant “I” dissipates if only for one moment.
There is a reason it is called trance.
And yet I worry too, that the sort of numbness, the sort of Dionysian release that our generation craves is ultimately an apathetic one. This is our Woodstock, like it or not. This is where minds come to release and yet all the discussion is missing. The flow of ideas isn’t at all present. This isn’t counterculture; it is blind submission.
#TechnoIsLife the big electronic screen said in neon colors. A huge uproar burst out. What scared me wasn’t that everyone around me nodded along in sincere agreement; it was that for just a second I almost did too.