Drug Overdose Prompts Moratorium on L.A. Raves

9 Jul

Crowd surge at Electric Daisy Carnival, Los Angeles (Photo by Jesse Solorio)

A massive Los Angeles rave that ended with the drug overdose death of a 15-year-old girl has prompted a moratorium on similar dance events and a government-appointed task force to investigate the issue.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to establish a task force of city employees, police and hospital workers in response to reports about safety issues at the Electric Daisy Carnival, which attracted 200,000 fans to Exposition Park and the L.A. Coliseum on July 26-27 for what was billed as the largest two-day festival in North America.

Shortly after the festival ended, reports of severe overcrowding and rampant fence-jumping emerged, followed by the death of a 15-year-old girl who reportedly overdosed on the drug Ecstasy. According to hospital officials, over 200 people had to be hospitalized for drug overdoses and injuries sustained at EDC.

Coliseum staff have announced a moratorium on new contracts with rave operators, which could prove a double whammy for the beleaguered stadium. In June, the University of Southern California football team — the stadium’s main tenant — was banned from participation in Bowl Games for two years because of player and coach rule violations from previous seasons. That ruling will surely hurt the team’s ability to recruit top players, which could have an impact on ticket sales.

Exposition Park’s aging arena has also had difficulty booking major tours as it faces competition from the Staples Center and even the nearby Forum in Inglewood, Calif. According to Jonathan Lee, director of Marketing and Events at the Coliseum, raves and electronic dance events make up the bulk of concert revenues coming into the facility.

So just how dangerous are raves? Most electronic music organizers agree that the name itself conjures up negative feelings, associated with the rave-scene of the late 1990s. Electronic music events then generally lacked permits, were held illegally at warehouses or on patches of desert, and often included rampant drug use.

“To me, rave is a four-letter word and I would never use it to describe the events we host,” said Jesse Fleming, partner at The Do Lab, a Venice Beach, Calif., firm that hosts several electronic music events including a long-running electronic music showcase at the annual Coachella Arts and Music Festival in Indio, Calif.

“Raves conjure up images of kids in obnoxious fluorescent clothing, sucking on pacifiers so they don’t grind their teeth from all the drugs they’ve done. We want no part of that,” said Fleming, who acknowledged that drug use is still rampant in today’s electronic music circles.

“Just because there’s a DJ playing doesn’t mean you’re going to have the same type of crowd you normally expect,” said Thushan Rajapaksa from StaffPro, a Huntington Beach, Calif., firm that provides security for several electronic dance events, but didn’t do security for EDC. “Someone like DJ Tiesto will draw an older, more educated crowd. There are different crowds and we as an industry have to educate ourselves,” Rajapaksa said.

Thushan said the top way to prevent rampant drug use and sales is to ban backpacks, bags and anything that can be used to conceal drugs. He also said he supports full pat downs and drug-sniffing dogs placed around the facility. While that might deter individuals from bringing drugs into the club, it won’t stop individuals who ingest drugs before they pass through security.

“You can’t stop all of it; there’s no silver bullet,” he said.

As for rapid overcrowding and reports of people jumping fences and pushing through to the floor level, Rajapaksa said it’s generally a bad idea to have different ticket pricing levels separating the floor and the reserved seating, especially at dance events. Many fans see a bustling dance floor and want to take part, instead of dancing in their seats.

One Los Angeles event that was closed down because fans were jumping into the lower seating level was the Hard Halloween Fest at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., in October 2009. The next Hard event is scheduled for late summer at the LA State Historic Park.

“I’ve had multiple meetings at City Hall, our plan is the exact same plan as before Electric Daisy,” said promoter Gary Richards. This year’s concert will be held on a 36-acre swath of land “with plenty of room to spread out. We want to develop this site for festivals over the next five to 10 years.”

Richards said he worries about drug use at his events and said the rave culture of the 1990s certainly encouraged fans to use ecstasy, LSD and other psychedelics as a way to enhance the live music experience.

“I’m just trying to tell the kids you don’t have to be high to enjoy the music. I hope that’s not what it’s all about,” Richards said.

Age limits are also a concern for rave organizers. The girl who died at EDC was 15 years old, although organizers put a 16-and-older age restriction on tickets.

“Right now we follow the example of the city’s largest promoters and make most of our events all ages, except when the events are held in bars and nightclubs,” said Richards. “We’ve already sold thousands of tickets to this year’s Hard concerts, but we’ll consider an age restriction at future events.”

As for promoter Insomniac, it’s unclear what the future holds. The group is set to hold the Electric Daisy Carnival at Sixto Escobar Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Aug. 28. Two past events, a June 19 rave at the Texas State Fairgrounds in Dallas and a June 12 rave at the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds in Aurora, Colo., wrapped with no serious injuries. The Love Fest, an electronic dance party at the Coliseum set for late August, is still set to go. – Dave Brooks

Interviewed for this article: Jesse Fleming, (310) 621-0761; Gary Richards, Thushan Rajapaksa, (714) 465-7448; Jon Lee, (213) 765-6357

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One Response to “Drug Overdose Prompts Moratorium on L.A. Raves”

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  1. Drug Overdose Prompts Moratorium on L.A. Raves « Venues Today – EVENTSYNTH.NET - July 9, 2010

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