Addressing EDM’s Drug Stigma

If you’ve been to an electronic dance music (EDM) event, you’ve seen it first-hand. If not, then you’ve probably heard about it from the news.

It’s a sad truth about this hip new trend in music. At EDM events, or so-called “raves,” there are drugs. Sometimes a lot. And you don’t have to be a DEA agent to figure out that lots of the people at these concerts are not just high on marijuana.

At 2012’s Ultra Music Festival, an annual, multiple day EDM festival held in Miami, Fla., pop icon Madonna referenced to the psychedelic drug MDMA, most commonly known as ecstasy, when she asked a cheering crowd, “How many people in this crowd have seen molly?”

MDMA is the active ingredient of ecstasy. Another popular street name for the drug is “Molly.” Courtesy

The name “Molly” is a more contemporary nickname for the drug that has been associated with the EDM scene since its early pop-synth and electronica roots in the ‘80s.

Madonna, who had just emerged onto the stage as a surprise guest at the start of Swedish house-guru Avicii’s performance, caused a lot of buzz within the blogosphere after the controversial drug reference, partly because of the sheer quantity of eyes and ears that were present to hear it. There were an estimated 150,000 people at the festival, but the performances were also streamed live online on YouTube.

Among all the backlash against Madonna, one individual who particularly fanned the flames of controversy was Toronto-based EDM superstar Joel Zimmerman, more commonly known as Deadmau5 (pronounced dead-mouse, in case you’ve been living under a rock the past half-decade).

Never known to sugarcoat his language, Zimmerman posted his thoughts regarding the matter on his Twitter and Facebook.

“Very classy there madonna. “HUR DUR HAS ANYONE SEEN MOLLY???” such a great message for the young music lovers at ultra,” said Zimmerman on his Facebook. “quite the f’n philanthropist. but hey, at least yer HIP AND TRENDY! fucking cant smack my head hard enough right now.”

Zimmerman has traditionally had an adamant and vocal stance against drugs, and other common trends at EDM events perceived to be ‘rave norms,’ such as furry boots, minimal clothing, glow-sticks, and pacifiers. Such views, which undoubtedly alienate a good portion of his fan base, have been criticized by others in the EDM community.

One fan tweeted to Zimmerman, “@deadmau5 do you need to be reminded that you would be pointless if it wasn’t for molly and ecstasy ?” To which he responded, “@djdaze i’d give up my entire career to remove the fucking rampant stupidity thats plagued my favorite type of music in an INSTANT.”

Strong words stemmed from strong opinions. But why would a high-profile artist feel the need to vocalize such opinions when the majority of his colleagues act blissfully ignorant of or even embrace the association between their genre and psychedelic drugs?

I would venture to guess that the main reason is that it’s just in Zimmerman’s nature to not care what anyone else thinks.

There are also instances that make all music fans stop and reflect on the brutal reality of what goes on at EDM events.

In 2010, at Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), a then-Los Angeles based (moved to Las Vegas in 2011) EDM festival similar to Ultra, EDM events took a devastating blow from the public after the tragic death of a 15-year-old girl who attended the event and overdosed on ecstasy. The event was for all ages, and people at the festival noted that IDs were not checked upon entry.

I was at the event too, and noticed that there were too many kids who looked to be in the 14 to 18 age group.

An outraged Los Angeles community questioned why there was no age limit at the event, and I feel compelled to echo their concerns. Most events of this nature are for people 18 years or older, what is the benefit of allowing preteens and teens to attend an event like this?

Cal Poly horticulture senior Aly Crofford, who also attended EDC 2010 and has been to many other EDM events–big and small–said that she has drifted away from the EDM scene lately because she has grown too uncomfortable with seeing so many attendees who seem to be too young and too drugged-out.

“It’s really depressing and revolting to see these kids at these shows just so…gone,” Crofford said. “It’s like no one’s there behind those eyes. It’s sad.”

Maybe I’m just getting older so 18-year-olds seem younger, but part of me thinks she’s right. To many, especially new EDM fans, these concerts have become more about drugs and less about the music. And the stigma is reinforced thusly.

EDM events are both visually stimulating and have a danceable rhythm and vibrating bass, all qualities that are perceived to complement the effects of MDMA and other psychedelics.

Instances like the Los Angeles tragedy–that involve drug overdoses or drug-related arrests–make headlines. More times than not, a story published on any mainstream media outlet about EDM is more than likely to have something negative as the news peg, resulting in the stigma that plagues the genre.

Ann Powers, a writer for the Los Angeles Times wrote a perfectly sensible piece in which she drew comparisons between today’s rave culture and witness accounts of Woodstock in 1969 and a New York City disco in the late ‘70s. Powers conceded that drug-use has obvious, inherent health risks, but also used the past in order to “reflect the long history of chemically enhanced free-form movement as a route to bliss, if not enlightenment, for music lovers.”

While I don’t condone the use of any drug (especially if you haven’t studied up on its psychological and mental effects), there is some truth to what Powers said. After all, the vast majority of EDM event attendees that decide to take drugs do not overdose and die, and do not get arrested by police. If they did, there would be a lot more news stories about them, and a lot more negative public sentiment. But it only takes one individual who takes it too far to ignite a media frenzy.

Which brings me back to industry figures like Zimmerman who make their anti-drug, anti-raver opinions so valuable to the genre. For publicity’s sake, and for the sake of the well-beings of EDM lovers everywhere, EDM needs high-profile artists, promoters, organizers, and writers to publicly speak out against drug use at EDM events.

Will the drugs disappear? No. Drugs and music are forever linked, no matter the genre or (modern) time period. From jazz and marijuana, to country music and chewing tobacco, and psychedelic rock and LSD–each substance plays a role in making your live music experience special for you. But urging EDM fans to break up with “Molly” is a good way to start lowering the death and arrest count. At the very least it’s good public relations, and the EDM scene could use a lot of that.

Santa Maria’s DJ Shop: One-Stop Shop for SLOcal DJs

  • DJ Shop in Santa Maria new place specialized for DJs
  • Offers wide range of DJ products
  • Customers can test equipment in store

Riding the wave of electronic dance music’s recent surge in popularity, Johnny Valdez’s DJ Shop in Santa Maria, Calif. found his niche in the music industry’s newest fad.

The DJ Shop in Santa Maria, Calif. caters specifically to DJs.

Not yet two years old, the DJ Shop was started by Valdez in order to support local DJs, who he said require a resource specializing in their specific needs. According to Valdez, many DJs perceive themselves to be “frowned upon” in other music equipment outlets.

“Because really, DJs are kind of competition…in the local club or concert scene, you’re either a band or a DJ, and they’re competing against the same clientele…A lot of people see it that way,” Valdez said. “I kind of just decided, hey, DJs got to need somewhere to go.”

The DJ Shop offers a wide variety of products and services–nearly everything a DJ needs outside of a laptop. Whether a customer needs state-of-the-art turntables, or speaker cords, Valdez wants to make sure that his business is the go-to for central coast DJs.

The store provides a setting where customers can test equipment before purchase.

San Luis Obispo DJ and agriculture business senior Richard Grant, known on stage as DJ Philthy Rich, has purchased equipment and rented speakers from the store, and agrees that the DJ Shop is a valuable resource, praising it’s policies that allow clients to test certain products before they buy.

“It’s an awesome spot for DJs to come in and try out new equipment on shelf and get professional opinions,” Grant said.

Valdez, who used to work as a DJ and has experience working with sound production, set up a room in the store where clients can test equipment, or simply hang out and practice their skills.

Complete with working lasers, LEDs, fog machine, and loud speakers (not concert loud, but loud by normal standards), I almost thought I was stepping into a party when I first walked through the shop’s entrance. Inside, customers were fooling around with some funky electro beats.

Valdez said that he has a broad customer base, ranging from hip hop to house, amateurs and professionals.

“We get people coming in that are beginners, that don’t know anything about and want to get into it and learn, and we get guys who have been doing it for 20 to 30 years who just want to buy headphones or cables,” Valdez said.

The DJ Shop is located at 2003 Preisker Lane, Suite C, in Santa Maria, Calif.

How to Find EDM on the Web

  • Music fans will always try and find the easiest way to obtain the music they want.
  • Not all EDM can be found on mainstream digital stores such as iTunes
  • Internet tools like social media and blogs help make EDM more accessible to those who search for it.

It’s an age-old tradition that has adapted to the times we live in.

We hear a song we like, and the first thing we think is, “I have to add this to my music collection.” Whether they’ve been in the form of vinyl records, cassette tapes, compact discs or mp3 files, music always has and will continue to be consumed by music listeners. And as the times have changed, technology allows music fans to get what they crave with more ease and convenience.

The Internet has set the bar for this level of convenience–allowing anyone to download digital music from any artist, big or small. Apple’s iTunes offers music of all genres and from all over the world, available for purchase with a single click of the mouse.

Unfortunately for electronic dance music (EDM), not all producers and DJs are represented on the iTunes store, the number one music retailer in the world. Some artists of the genre–those who are still trying to make it big–just aren’t popular enough in the mainstream.

So how are underground EDM fans supposed to get their fix?

Luckily, the World Wide Web is a big place. Infinite, in fact. There are other means to find the music you’re looking for, you just have to know where to find it. Here are some places to start:


With over 1 million tracks from 90,000 artists and 8,000 record labels, is the most complete, comprehensive online music store for EDM fans as well as artists. Similarly to iTunes, tracks downloaded from this site cost money. However, Beatport is solely devoted to the EDM genre, making it an obvious first choice as an alternative to iTunes.

SoundCloud is a social media tool useful for any EDM artist, from the big-shot producers to the independent, amateur DJ. Unlike Beatport and iTunes, SoundCloud provides an online presence to any aspiring artist, even if he or she is not signed with a record label and/or has not sold a single track.

It takes the differences a step further by allowing the artists who upload their music to offer their work for free. Yes, that’s right, free music! Consumer convenience at its finest.

Blogs: citizen journalists’ contribution to the music industry

There are many, many websites out there that classify themselves as “music blogs.” They have become a way for music consumers to give back to the industry that they leech. Most are characterized by brief summaries or backgrounds on the music that they are sharing, followed by the content itself. Some take that extra step and provide a link to a free mp3 download.

Blogs are an indispensable tool for music fans, especially in the EDM genre, which (due to its rapid increase in popularity in the past decade) has become flooded by artists that are household names and up-and-comers in the scene. These sites help fans decide whether or not to buy the music they’re listening to or to spend a little extra and see the artist perform live.

Here are my favorite EDM blogs:

Music You Need, started by Joshua Jacobs, a Cal Poly business graduate, features all subgenres of EDM (house, dubstep, trap, moombahton, plus many more), as well as some hip hop here and there. Much of the music on the site is merely streamed (not downloadable), but a fair amount of tracks are up for grabs.

Jacobs prides his site on its dedication to featuring music that doesn’t come from the “most popular artists.” He said that Music You Need is about promoting good music that fans probably don’t know about.

“We feature artists that are truly passionate about creating music, and those that consistently surprise their fans and innovate their sound,” Jacobs said.

This Song Is Sick

Avoiding all possible confusion, the creator of presents music fans with a straightfoward approach to discovering good music.

The blog posts tracks from a wide range of genres, not confining itself to EDM, but most of the content is about EDM and its many subgenres. Like Music You Need, some material is available for free download, and every post comes with a little blurb about the artist and the track.

The Fresh Beat

Finally, there is Focusing on EDM, this blog offers the same characteristics of the aforementioned blogs, except that each track contains a link to an mp3 download. Coupled with a clear, concise description of each track, this blog will make any EDM fan feel like a fat kid in a candy store.

Comparing Electric Vine’s Downfalls with the Success of Big Gigantic’s Event


  • Low attendance at Saturday’s Electric Vine was a disappointment to attendees.
  • Lack of interest likely due to far distance between Paso Robles and Cal Poly
  • Differences between Electric Vine and Big Gigantic include accessibility and featured talent

The amount of people in attendance at Electric Vine, an electronic dance music (EDM) concert held in Paso Robles, Calif. this past Saturday, was not as strong as attendees hoped it would be.

The all-day Halloween-themed affair at River Oaks Outdoor Event Pavillion / Amphitheatre brought in only about 100 concert-goers, despite its large size that can host a much larger capacity. Compared to EDM events in the recent past, such as Big Gigantic’s show held at the Graduate on Oct. 7–which attracted at least three times the crowd–Electric Vine ended up as somewhat disappointing to those who made the effort to show up.

Cuesta College student and EDM fan Chelsea Lelito said that the lack of interest is most likely due to the venue’s location, rather than the event’s timing or the talent that it featured.

“[The small attendance] sucks because there are some great DJs performing today, but I guess a lot of people didn’t want to travel this far from SLO,” Lelito said.

Saturday’s concert presented performances by several EDM artists, including local talent TastyTreat, as well as Bay-area trio Cappa Regime and German duo Kyau and Albert. Regardless of the apparent lack of public interest in the concert, the artists performed with much enthusiasm.

TastyTreat member John Smith energetically bounced on stage during his set, a sure sign that he was enjoying himself to anyone who has seen him perform before.

“It doesn’t matter how many people are here, spinning for my friends is always fun,” Smith said.

Considering that the concert occurred the weekend before Halloween, many, including myself, thought that the event would attract a lot of college students, especially since it was held in a spacious, scenic, outdoor venue.

As it turned out, the amount of interest paled in comparison to Big Gigantic’s show three weeks ago.

Big Gigantic, a dubstep group that features live saxophone and percussion, played in front of a full house on a Sunday night at the Graduate, located much closer to the Cal Poly campus.

Recreation, parks, and tourism administration senior Tori Russick went to Big Gigantic’s show on Oct. 7, but declined to attend Electric Vine in small part because she preferred the lineup of the earlier show, but mainly because Paso Robles was too far to travel to.

“Driving to Paso and back seemed like too much effort, so I decided not to go,” Russick said. “If it had been in SLO, I for sure would have gone.”

Those who attended Big Gigantic’s show at the Grad were entranced by the group’s infusion of the jazzy sounds of the saxophone into a genre of music that rarely emphasizes live instruments.

The organizers of Electric Vine did well to try to create an ideal atmosphere for an EDM event, but it seems that a major factor of an event’s success on California’s central coast is easy accessibility to San Luis Obispo’s college-student population.

Behind the Speakers – One-on-One with SLOcal DJ Nasty Nate

Bass Heads to Take Over Avila

  • Dubstep DJ/producer Bassnectar will return to SLO, performing in Avila Beach this Friday.
  • Bassnectar fans, new and old, are excited to see what is arguably the most highly anticipated EDM show in SLO.
  • Bassnectar is a model for the EDM community, not only for his great music but also for his philanthropy.

On Sept. 16 of last year, Lorin Ashton, known on stage as Bassnectar, took the stage at Avila Beach Golf Resort, received by the screams and cheers of thousands of San Luis Obispo residents.

“This is my first time in your beautiful town,” said the Santa Cruz, Calif. native. “And quite frankly, we’re pretty excited to see how you do it.”

The pioneer of the dubstep subgenre of electronic dance music (EDM) must have liked what he saw, because he’s coming back for a second dose this Friday at the same venue.

For those of us who were there in 2011, Friday provides another opportunity to get down and dirty with some of the loudest and deepest bass frequencies that you can find in any concert anywhere. Take it from someone who has seen the DJ/producer perform three times–this artist is among the most talented EDM acts in the world, and each live show has been better than the last.

I’m not the only “bass head” that can be found in SLO. Theatre arts senior Ellen Jones has seen Bassnectar perform before as well, including last year’s event in Avila Beach. Jones said that she is eagerly anticipating the sure-to-be massive dance party on Friday night.

“There’s no way I can miss this,” Jones said. “Dubstep on the beach is just the perfect combination.”

For nearly two decades, Bassnectar has been blowing audiences away with a sound so resonant, you’d think the earth itself was trembling. Recognizable by a wild, brown mane of hair that whips from side to side, the bass aficionado has brought his wobbly dance beats to major festivals including Coachella, Outside Lands, and Burning Man.

Bassnectar’s performance in Seattle, Wash. on May 12, 2012. The dubstep producer will be bringing his tour to SLO this Friday, his second appearance in SLO in two years. Photo Credit: Michael Holden

Bassnectar fans were surprised when the artist revealed a “secret show” in SLO during his fall 2012 tour on his website in early September. It was big news for mechanical engineering senior Justin Chadwick, who has been itching to see the DJ perform for the first time.

“He’s just one of those guys on my list,” Chadwick said. “I’m beyond stoked.”

Ashton’s stop here in SLO is one of the many performances that are part of his Dollar Per Bass Head campaign, where one dollar for each ticket sold is donated to non-profit organizations. The artist’s customary devotion to giving back to the community and being politically active has been part of what sets him apart from the rest of his genre–a music community populated by artists who seem to revel in the rave-party culture that responsible parents try to keep their children away from.

“The ideal state I want people to be in is one of balance and awareness,” Ashton said in a 2009 interview with “Awareness, meaning clear, smart, inspired, strong in thought…Balance, meaning its great to party…but I think it is key to balance that luxury/privilege with some work, and we are all really capable, privileged people.”

Lorin Ashton, a.k.a. Bassnectar, is not only a premier dubstep artist, but also a politically and socially active individual. Photo Credit: Michael Holden

If more EDM artists had an outlook like this, perhaps the EDM community would not be plagued by negative publicity that fixates on ravers’ consumption of drugs and alcohol. Truly, Bassnectar’s taste for philanthropy is something DJs and festival organizers should consider adopting.

For the Dollar Per Bass Head campaign, Ashton and his crew announced four organizations that they want to support, and allowed fans to vote for the cause they supported most. Of the $100,000, $50,000 will go to the first place winner, A Home Within, which provides therapy for foster children. The second, third, and fourth place finishers, Free Press, Democracy Now, and Head Count, will receive $25,000, $15,000, and $10,000, respectively.

Top 3 Venues to Find EDM in SLO

In the past few years, San Luis Obispo has hosted a number of widely popular, very talented artists in the electronic dance music (EDM) genre. Producers and DJs from all over the world, such as Dada Life (Sweden), Laidback Luke (Netherlands), and Zeds Dead (Canada), have visited this small college town, bringing some of the most praised EDM in the music community.

San Luis Obispo’s newfound relevance in the music industry seems here to stay, so below are my three favorite concert venues where I have witnessed some breathtaking shows by talented artists from this surging music scene.

  • There is an overall lack of venues that are ideal to host big-name EDM artists that can draw large crowds.
  • The largest and most accommodating locations in the county are furthest away from where the majority of the student demographic lives.
  • Some venues are better-suited for local acts.

1. Avila Beach Golf Resort – 6464 Ana Bay Drive, Avila Beach, CA

If you’re looking for the ideal live music setting, look no further than the Avila Beach Golf Resort. With the ocean in the background and plenty of open space in an outdoor setting, this golf course transforms into an unforgettable live music experience.

In the past year, this venue has hosted some of the biggest names in EDM, including Tiesto and Bassnectar.

A large outdoor stage with well-kept grass and a view of the sunset are enough to pull thousands of attendees to the concerts held here, but every setting has its downsides.

While the resort has many perks for concert attendees, Avila Beach is a 10-minute drive on the highway from San Luis Obispo. This makes transportation without a designated driver or a SLO Safe Ride shuttle pretty difficult.

Furthermore, the Avila Beach Golf Resort only hosts a select few concerts, and only during the spring, summer and early fall.

Despite these drawbacks, it’s never a good idea to pass up a live music event at this location. There’s not much that can beat the combination of loud bass and the beach!

“I love shows here because it’s a big, open space right on the beach where you can smell the ocean. Everyone loves Avila Beach and that’s what makes the venue so attractive.” – Aly Crofford, horticulture senior

2. The Graduate – 990 Industrial Way, San Luis Obispo, CA

The Graduate, located off Broad Street, is the most common destination for EDM artists when they come into town to perform. For Collective Effort Events, a local event planning company, the Graduate is a reliable option because it is one of the only venues in the area that is consistently available to rent on the weekends, and company owner and partner Tyrone Galgano said that its large size provides the best opportunity for Collective Effort Events to give San Luis Obispo residents a good show.

“There just aren’t enough venues around here that can hold the capacity we’re looking for,” Galgano said.

Indeed, the Graduate’s large, elevated dance floor and overhead lights make for a fun time.

Unfortunately, like Avila Beach Golf Resort, its location is not ideal for the students who live close to campus. An average taxi fare from downtown to the Grad usually goes for around $15. If you’re not willing to pay that much, or you’re in a big group, try SLO Safe Ride. The best bet is to find a designated driver, if anyone is willing to take one for the team.

The Graduate, located on Industrial Way, regularly hosts EDM concerts. The venue’s size provides the ideal atmosphere for event organizers.

3. Mother’s Tavern – 725 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo, CA

For Cal Poly and Cuesta students who want to find a good beat to dance to closer to home, the best option is Mother’s Tavern in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo, on Higuera Street.

On the weekends, this bar gets its patrons jumping by playing a healthy mix of Top 40 hits and EDM.

Local DJ and Cal Poly graduate Nathan Paulson, known on the stage as Nasty Nate, said he enjoys the classy vibes and eclectic array of music that Mother’s offers on the weekends, but he prefers the weekdays, where purely EDM DJs like him get to perform for a crowd.

“My favorite night at MoTav is Tuesday nights when people get a chance to see local EDM music for people who truly enjoy that style of music,” Paulson said.

Mother’s Tavern is not just a venue for small-time acts. It has also featured EDM artists that are quickly becoming popular nationwide, such as Lazerdisk Party Sex, who have performed at massive festivals like Ultra Music Festival.

Sadly for San Luis Obispo residents, Mother’s Tavern, despite its prime location, does not have the space needed to host the capacity necessary for big names like Tiesto or Bassnectar.

Mother’s Tavern, or MoTav, is a venue in downtown San Luis Obispo that hosts local DJs and provides drink specials for its patrons.

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