It’s Ultra 2011. Our plastic-bound tickets are hanging from our necks, our Camelbaks are packed. Phone? Check. Wallet? Check. Fake ID? Check. Drugs? Check.
Amidst a sea of neon, the floodgates open to the largest electronic musical festival on the east coast. It’s teetering on prime time for EDM in America: a pre-Levels Avicii holds 3 slots on the lineup, the not-even-Knife-Party Pendulum boys rock the main stage, and a still-existent Swedish House Mafia shows early resistance by setting up shop at the rivaling Masquerade Motel on the shores of South Beach.
We run through our checklist and head towards the entrance. Gangs of cops, scattered dogs, and a sea of security guards line the gates, and we know our bodies are about to be groped. Hard. But there’s no question that the risk is worth the reward; baggies stashed in places we’d rather not admit, a few yellow shirts and navy uniforms stand between us and the time of our lives. After all - it’s spring break, it’s a festival, and we’re here to fucking party.
The trajectory of dance music’s modern popularity in the states soon followed suit. Big room sounds paved the way for even bigger parties, and Bad Kids around the country caught the EDM bug. By the time Cedric Gervais asked if you’d seen Molly, half of the frats at your college had thrown their own raves. Neon-clad gangs of sorority girls designed matching fanny packs, while your high school ex learned Serato in his basement.
Beyond that, your unsuspecting neighbor became the neighborhood dealer. For $20 a pop, whatever mixture of amphetamines, MDMA, and mephedrone he’d throw in a capsule would be the perfect accessory to a neon night. And you know what? It was fucking awesome. With the least likely of suspects, nights turned into epic mornings, strangers turned into best friends, and music became the most visceral, passionate recreational outlet there was.
It’s no wonder dance music got a bad rap; drugs and EDM culture literally followed the exact same rise. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who hadn’t rolled, and even harder pressed to find a party where EDM wasn’t being played.
And as anything in excess does, the over-the-top mentality eventually meant things got out of hand. Oversaturation of the market meant an increase in bad music, bad drugs, bad experiences. And not the good bad. The bath salts bad, the Paris Hilton bad, the E Zoo deaths bad. People who got into the music because of the drugs drew causative conclusions linking the two. Done with the drugs meant done with the music. Ship sailed, party over. Back to Top 40.
But all the while, something else was developing. Long before the mainstream, long before there was even talk of a bubble that could burst - a community was slowly forming. A group of people who realized the power of music, the passion of the scene, and the bonds that formed when you mixed the two. A collective of Bad Kids.
From the trance family to the house mafia, Bad Kids found simple solidarity in a mix of good music and better company. The same euphoria we felt from those epic nights was translated and replicated -- just add friends and beats.
So we kept at it. Festivals, parties, shows and raves became strikingly ubiquitous and communities of passionate fans banded together. The state of mind wasn’t dictated by the substance. It didn’t matter the genre, the region, the time of day. It didn’t matter if you were drunk in a basement, at home watching a livestream, or en route to work blasting your new favorite track. Scrutiny from the media? Forget it. Inquisitive parents? Not an issue. Bad Kids kept the fire alive with their love of the beats. Fuck it, Mom, you’ll love this Kygo track. From the dubstep days to the deep house dawn - for the true fan - the party was all in the music.
Four years older and four years wiser, here we are today. The much-discussed bubble has arguably burst, so where do we stand? With a new festival popping up in nearly every market, it’d be ignorant to deny it's still-mainstream prevalence. There’s no shortage of DJs, no absence of parties, no clear drop in drug use. But I’d venture to say there's a new air of maturity lingering among us.
Sure, we don’t bounce back like we used to. Roll for one day, recover for two. Drink like we’re 19, stay hungover for a week. It’s not to say that we don’t still party -- you can find any of us at Output on a Saturday night, 5am and feeling on top of the world.
But a few days later, look again. You’ll find us at Space at 7am, coffee in hand, dancing our asses off at a Daybreaker party before work. Or notice us bridgeside in McCarren Park, joining forces with Verboten for a deep house yoga session. The disassociation of drugs and music is becoming more and more prevalent, shedding new light on a scene that’s lived in the palls of the media for so long. Huffington Post describes these trends as “wellness clubbing.” We describe them as the key to dance music’s future.
Whatever the case -- something is shifting and it feels good. Governor’s Ball landed in Randall’s Island this month, and its neon-lacking, bohemian vibes almost served as an E Zoo PSA of its own. It was refreshing to see people enjoying the music, enjoying the atmosphere, even enjoying whatever they were fucked up on -- but not having it be the primary focus. Everyone was there to have a good time -- a notion that didn’t become tainted by an EMT vehicle or a sea of neon bro tanks.
Walking into Randall’s Island that day, I realized my festival checklist looked a whole lot different than years prior. Less concerned with security, I was deep in thought, trying to plan the shortest route from the bar to the burger stand, all while double fisting my two $50 tequilas on the rocks.So maybe it’s just that; like everything else, as we get older and the scene matures, things like our definition of sobriety evolve too. In the end we’re likely not actually going to be sober at the Sober Ball tent. But with perspective, tequila drunk might as well be the same thing.