It’s 40 degrees and I’m in a portable office on the edge of a paddock in Event Operations listening to six radio channels at once. Punters are dropping like flies from a drug called MXE that’s been sold as ketamine, similar but with three times the potency and I’ve never heard of it till now. Medical have been dispatched, but I feel as if some of the problems the festival community faces in 2015 might be better dealt with in other ways.
Skip back to 1997, when I was seventeen years old and I went to my first outdoor party.
My crew drove for fifteen hours from Adelaide to a party in the temperate rainforest in Victoria.
When we arrived we danced around coloured installations in the trees that turned to laser cathedrals at night. Crazy costumed freaks stomped under majestic nature lit by stars with giant black speakers vibrating in place of my heartbeat. If you dance from dark till dawn you can’t help but glimpse of the divine. It was connectivity, personal but transcendent, the individual as part of the universe….and I belonged.
That was fifteen years ago and here I am at a bush doof in the dust and extreme conditions still working for something I believe in.
With a multitude of music festivals now, from one-day shirtless meat markets playing anthems to hipster bush parties with boutique lineups to non-profit events trucking along decades after they were a crazy idea, there is something for everyone. While the formula and locations are similar, the growing population of and commercialisation of the electronic dance music scene means that we are losing some of the sense of the community. But that doesn’t have to result in dilution of the bigger picture. It doesn’t mean we stop looking after each other.
We need to actively use knowledge and compassion to perpetuate this feeling so it can follow us from the dancefloor into everyday life. Two important areas of the outdoor festival scene that need more programs to directly address our growing population is harm minimisation from drug use, and waste and recycling systems, the teaching of what ‘leave no trace’ mentality really means.
Despite outward differences, to be human is to chase experiences. We challenge ourselves to understand more about our place on the earth, to blow our minds and gain perspective and context to the world. Throughout generations and geography, subcultures and fringe movements have often been inherently linked with these explorations through drugs. The drugs may change over time, but the reason we experiment with them remains mostly the same.
Taken in a good environment, equipped with a little caution and the right information, I have felt the connectedness of every atom on the earth flow through me in rainbows. I have raised my face to the heavens and felt intrinsically part of the universe. I have felt music reprogram me and upgrade my understanding to a level I haven’t felt before. I have found new models of thinking and made lifelong friends from strangers. While I will probably revisit various drugs throughout my life, it must be acknowledged that I have also seen a dark side.
Once at Ravesafe (Dancewize) I spent six hours with a guy on his first acid trip who was fielding calls on his tiny Nokia mobile, alternating with a Lebanese cucumber he clutched in the other hand. In his mind, he was making deals, making things happen. I sat with him till the cucumber didn’t ring anymore, and sent him back to the dancefloor when he was calm and rational, phone stashed in his pocket again, the useless vegetable given to me as a gift.
In recent years, whether as a punter or working in various festival roles, I have helped both strangers and people I know triumph over similar challenges brought on by drugs. I’ve had a few of those times myself.
I watched a kid no older than eighteen turn blue in a few seconds from more speed and ecstasy than was rational, and I prayed to a god I may not believe in as chopper blades cut the air over the campsite.
Luckily, the boy lived.
Driving back from a festival last year, I collected a hitchhiker whose’ skin oozed the chemical smell of methamphetamine. He told me a sad and horrible story about his addictions and the social shunning because of them. He had been ditched by his friends to hitch home and offered a slew of dodgy pharmaceuticals in lieu of petrol money.
Each of us makes our own choices when it comes to drug use, but these choices carry consequences, and it is up to us both as individuals and our crew as a whole to watch out for each other.
Occasionally, even the most seasoned drug taker can find themselves not coping due to mixing of substances, or even worse, being sold something that is not what it’s advertised as.
Thankfully the high (or low) usually wears off eventually.
We are aiming to have a good time, all of us, together. Make sure you know what your friends are up to, don’t leave someone alone and freaking out. Often a drink of water in the shade and a hug can ground most people’s dangerous moments. Please seek help from medics or support services on festival sites, they are not there to judge you, just to keep everyone healthy and alive.
In addition to being more proactive with looking after our mates, we also need to take more seriously the preservation of these natural environments that we borrow to invade with our mini temporary cities.
Nitrous oxide should hide at camp and be disposed of, not be left in a litter of empty bulbs on the dancefloor. They are shiny and pink and careless, not biodegrading anytime in this lifetime. Some events have now taken a strict BANNED policy, due to this litter. I would like to believe that we can self regulate so that we do not need our choices to be ‘policed’ like this. Festivals I work at have to cart literally tonnes of waste out, from abandoned couches to rubbish to actual shit-filled tents left behind with no conscience.
It was humbling to go to Burning Man this year and be a part of a crowd of 70,000 people at the biggest ‘leave no trace’ event in the world. They have actually made a brand out of “M.O.O.P” (Matter Out Of Place). The punters themselves police it, ‘don’t give me that moop’ or ‘you are losing your moop’ or ‘that outfit looks moopy’. In true American style the subject of waste is addressed head on, directly, and in-your-face, but it works. Pack it in, Pack it out. There are consequences for camps who don’t abide this ethos. I want to live in a world where our festivals are ‘leave no trace’ for real and there’s someone with a tutu on and a megaphone screaming in the faces of litterbugs.
So as we head into another season of day parties under city bridges, and convoys of cars heading off to paddocks with feather boas streaming out of the windows, I write this article with honesty to begin these discussions and to continue them. There is a need to foster the growing community, to nurture the family. To share knowledge on a deeper level, not just ask each other where the closest porta loos are or who’s playing tonight.
It’s up to you, because you decide what the party is going to be like with your choices. Please be mindful about the greater issues, be proactive about the environment, and act as an ambassador for the togetherness we are all hoping to feel part of. If you take drugs, choose them wisely. Get educated. Get involved. Educate others. Keep hydrated. Bin your butts. Trust your posse. Set an example to the next generation of young ravers coming through. Pick up that rubbish or even better, tell the guy who dropped it to pick it up!
Let’s create a new reality, even for a weekend.