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Asian Americans Rolling With the Changes to Raves

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Asian Americans Rolling With the Changes to Raves

Picture of Nalea J. Ko
News of the increase in ecstasy use among teens comes as the rave community in California rolls out new changes.
Pacific Citizen newspaper
Friday, April 15, 2011

The electronic music beats of drum and bass first called Danny Ho to the rave scene some 10 years ago. Ho says he usually makes it a tradition to attend certain large-scale raves, or “massives,” each year.

Last year the 30-year-old was one of about 185,000 who attended the two-day long Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), a rave that was held in Los Angeles, Calif. with carnival rides and five stages for performers. Musicians like Moby, Will.I.Am, and Lil Jon energized the psychedelically-dressed, costumed and scantily-clad bodies that writhed in the crowd.

But months after the event, people were mostly talking about what went on off stage.

“If it was a 30-year-old guy and nothing happened at EDC, like with all the fence-jumping, I can almost guarantee you that none of this would have happened,” Ho explained, who is Hapa. “EDC would be at the coliseum this year like nothing ever happened.”

The rave, which is put on by promoters Insomniac Events, was moved from its previous location at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum following negative attention from the 2010 event. Video footage of revelers jumping a barrier fence during DJ Laidback Luke’s performance made the evening news. And the death of a 15-year-old attendee made headlines for months.

Sasha Rodriguez died June 29 as a result of complications from ecstasy use, according to L.A. Coroner Office spokesman Ed Winter. She attended the rave with her friends who later claimed the teen was slipped the drug. The autopsy report said she died from complications of ischemic encephalopathy as a result of methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) intoxication.

Almost a year after the tragedy, new research is shining the spotlight on the rave scene again. 
A new report released March 24 shows a 75 percent increase in emergency room visits involving ecstasy. Visits increased from 10,220 in 2004 to 17,865 in 2008, according to a report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

The research shows about 70 percent of the patients seeking treatment were between the ages of 18 to 29. The majority of the visits occurred in the southern region of the country.

Long-time ravers say they are not shocked by the statistics showing a rise in ecstasy use.

“Raving is about drugs,” Ho said, who says he often uses drugs at raves. “People can think what they want. If people think it’s like a drug den, you’re definitely going to find that for sure. You’re definitely going to find some fool rolling way too hard or some dude tripping on something that you’ve never imagined.”

Another study shows that ecstasy use among teens increased from 6 percent in 2008 to 10 percent in 2010, according to a study released April 6 by the Partnership at Drugfree.org and the MetLife Foundation.

Those who work in treating addiction say the lure of the club and rave scenes have attracted youth for years. 

“See the thing about the teens with marijuana and ecstasy use is that it’s been on a rise since several years ago, ever since raves have gotten so exposed,” Fred Payo said, a community organizer with the Asian American Drug Abuse Program, or AADAP. “There’s such a great glamour in going … to parties in general that once a youth actually hears about, ‘Oh there’s something that’s really popping.’ They would like to check it out.”

The recently released statistics on ecstasy use comes nearly one year after the EDC rave was held in Los Angeles. This year ravers like Ho are planning on traveling to the EDC rave that will be held in Las Vegas, Nev.

Some say the relocation of EDC to another state might signal greater changes to the overall rave community.

“The original Electric Daisy Carnival has moved outside of California. I think that’s a major change,” said filmmaker Le Shen Liu, a Chinese American who started going to raves in 1999. “So the rave scene is going to change one way or another. It’s all a matter of how it’s going to change.”

Liu, 31, is making the documentary “After EDC,” which will be released later this year. His film, which was patially funded by DanceSafe, highlights the changes to raves following recent events and newly released drug statistics. The filmmaker went to the popular EDC rave for years before the controversial 2010 party.

He said ravers told him on camera that the party was a life-changing experience.

“Just being there with thousands of people, hearing the music, the stage and the lighting. I think that’s something I wanted to highlight is that this is a very important experience for a lot of people,” Liu said. “But with that said I don’t want to let the rave scene off the hook. There are clearly a lot of problems and a lot of irresponsible behavior.”

Following the incidents last year at EDC, public officials formed a task force to address concerns.

“The Asian American Drug Abuse Program, along with other alcohol and drug providers, were invited by County Department of Public Health, Substance Abuse Prevention Control to participate in a task force in order to provide feedback to the coliseum commission on the dangers of ecstasy at local raves, particularly that at the coliseum,” said Jeanne Shimatsu, AADAP prevention coordinator.

Staffers at AADAP made key observations at the coliseum-based rave to address future safety policies.

They noticed, Shimatsu said, many attendees “rolling,” or high, on ecstasy and the air being “thick with marijuana smoke.” Based on these observations recommendations were made to the task force, public officials and rave promoters, Shimatsu said.

In response to incidents like those at EDC and other raves, California lawmakers also drafted the Raves Safety Act, or AB 74. The bill would require a threat assessment and action plan to be conducted if a certain level of attendance is expected at an event and there is a “strong probability that loss of life or harm to the participants” may occur.

“This bill is in direct response to an established pattern of incidents,” said Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, who introduced the legislation. “California lacks statewide public safety standards for high-risk events held on state property, yet the state remains liable and accountable when these tragic incidents occur.”

Ma recently attended the Southern California-based rave Beyond Wonderland in March to get a firsthand experience with rave culture.

“I saw an industry that is coming of age and I was pleased to see a promoter taking the risks seriously, addressing problems head on, and working collaboratively with the community,” Ma said.
Some ravers do not dispute the prevalence of drug use at raves, but they say relocating or shutting down raves will not stop the partying.

“The drug use is apparent and obvious. At least from a raver perspective it’s not about trying to stop that. I don’t think you can,” Ho explained. “In two or three years people won’t even remember EDC. At least that’s my perspective.”