Pubdate: Sat, 3 Jul 2010
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Page: A3
Copyright: 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Jean Guerrero


LOS ANGELES-Twenty years after their heyday as an underground 
phenomenon, the drug-fueled dance parties known as raves are making a 
comeback as massive, commercial events.

But a recent wave of ecstasy-related deaths and hospitalizations tied 
to such events have left some officials skeptical about their makeover.

Last week, a 15-year-old girl died of apparent drug-related causes 
following an enormous rave held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 
prompting a temporary moratorium on such gatherings at the 
municipally owned venue.

An estimated 180,000 people, many of them teenagers, attended the 
two-day party, known as the Electric Daisy Carnival.

The joint state, county and city commission that oversees the 
Coliseum is to meet July 16 to consider extending the moratorium or 
imposing other limitations. Officials in the San Francisco Bay Area 
are also mulling similar steps in the wake of their own rave-related deaths.

Unlike the original raves in the late 1980s and early '90s, which 
were often staged without permits in hard-to-find patches of desert 
or abandoned industrial warehouses, today's version has gone 
aboveground. Events have been held at other city buildings, at the 
Cow Palace in Daly City, Calif., near San Francisco, and at New York 
City's Randall's Island. Promoters charge as much as $85 a day 
admission, set age restrictions and impose relatively early closing times.

The soundtrack for the events remains the throbbing electronic dance 
music known as electronica, spun by DJs.

Another thing that hasn't changed: The drug of choice for many 
attendees is still ecstasy, an illegal stimulant/hallucinogen also 
known as MDMA that is often cut with other substances.

Taken as a pill or powder, the drug, whose full chemical name is 
3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, can induce euphoria and doesn't 
typically cause the kind of traumatic overdose symptoms associated 
with drugs such as heroin. But ecstasy can cause 
dehydration-potentially a serious health problem for people dancing 
all night in hot, cramped conditions.

Doctors say many ecstasy-users end up in emergency rooms because they 
try to combat dehydration by drinking too much water, causing water 
intoxication-which can lead to seizure and coma.

The promoters of today's biggest such events often seek to downplay 
the ecstasy connection and ban paraphernalia typically associated 
with the drug. Banned items have included pacifiers, used by rave 
goers on the drug to minimize the effect of grinding their teeth, and 
Vicks VapoRub, believed to enhance the effects of the high.

In fact, promoters typically insist that their massive dance parties 
aren't raves. Instead, they bill the affairs as "electronic-music 
festivals" and market them as safe events.

Event promoters, such as Insomniac Events and HARD, both based in 
L.A., say they work with city officials to ensure safety, buying 
permits and hiring private security, undercover narcotics officers 
and other law enforcement.

Gary Richards, president of HARD, who says his events aren't raves, 
puts attendance at the HARD Summer in Los Angeles event at 16,000 
last year, up from 6,000 in 2008.

"We're trying to create a party element but encourage people to be 
responsible," Mr. Richards said. He added: "You don't have to be on enjoy electronic music."

But city officials aren't buying it. "A rave by any other name is 
still a rave," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, 
who requested the moratorium at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and 
Sports Arena. "It's the atmosphere and the culture of the event, and 
the resultant behavior that is the concern-not what we call it."

Although last weekend's Electric Daisy rave was supposed to have a 
minimum age requirement of 16, attendees say it wasn't enforced. One 
hundred fourteen attendees were also hospitalized, and 118 were 
arrested, largely for drug possession, according to local 
authorities. Some say the rave was chaotic and oversold, with 
insufficient security.

"They don't really enforce the age limit because if they were to 
check everybody's ID, the line would take forever," said Alex Pastor, 
a 21-year-old attendee of the Electric Daisy rave.

Videos circulating on YouTube show crowds of scantily-clad people 
crashing through gates to stampede into the event, trampling over 
other attendees, security and police officials.

Pasquale Rotella, owner of Insomniac Events, the promotion company in 
charge of the Electric Daisy Carnival, didn't respond to requests for comment.

The rave scene waned in the mid and late '90s amid changes in musical 
tastes and other cultural shifts. The 2003 Illicit Drug 
Anti-Proliferation Act further dampened enthusiasm for hosting raves 
by increasing the liability of anyone involved with organizing events 
whose purpose included the distribution of drugs.

But in recent years electronic dance music has gone mainstream in the 
U.S., with popular artists such as Kanye West and the Black Eyed Peas 
embracing the sound in hit songs. That, in turn, has helped fuel a 
resurgence in the massive dance parties that feature the music.

Last year, the French electronic-music DJ David Guetta released his 
album "One Love," which has sold about two-million copies and 
featured mainstream hitmakers such as the Black Eyed Peas and Akon.

"I think what happened is the scene was very underground and then a 
few people like me had crossover hits that were being played on the 
radio, and then it started to touch a different audience," said Mr. 
Guetta in an interview. Mr. Guetta says he has a whole new fan base 
in "popular-music fans."

Promoters took advantage of the renewed interest, booking more and 
bigger DJs. Thousands of rave-goers donning colorful, homemade bead 
bracelets started popping up on the streets again to attend the events.

As electronic music has started to influence mainstream pop genres 
such as hip-hop, interest in the U.S. has surged. Booking fees in the 
domestic electronic-music market are expected to hit about $180 
million this year, according to Joel Zimmerman, managing director of 
William Morris Electronic, a large electronic-music booking agency. 
That's up from $100 million in 2008. Also, he expects that the 
country will go from representing 20% of the global booking market 
for electronic artists in 2008 to 35% this year.

"It's just at its fever pitch-it's beyond anybody's wildest dreams, 
that it could be this big," said Mr. Richards of HARD.

At the same time, medical complications related to ecstasy have soared.

Since 2005, seven-and-a-half times more Los Angeles County residents 
using drug-treatment facilities are listing MDMA as their primary 
drug of choice, according to a June report from the Centers for 
Disease Control and Prevention.

The report also cited findings from the Drug Abuse Warning Network 
that MDMA-related emergency-room hospital visits rose nationally 
almost 75% from the 2004-08 period. In contrast, visits related to 
other drugs-including heroin, amphetamines and 
methamphetamines-decreased markedly over the same period.

Marc Futernick, medical director of emergency services at California 
Hospital Medical Center in L.A., said the hospital has averaged about 
one death a rave in the past few years. Patients who arrive from 
raves come in with a mixture of MDMA and amphetamines in their 
system, he said, because ecstasy pills are often cut with multiple 
substances. This has led to comas, seizures and high blood pressure 
in children as young as 13.

When raves happen, he added, "it's the only night we see this level 
of overdose." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake