Hunter S. Thompson published “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” in 1972 as a reflection on the failure of the 1960s counterculture movement.
The opening page includes:
“We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.”
His drug-induced opus makes your head hurt, even by 21st century standards.
I wonder what he would have to say about rave culture today. About EDC LV specifically.
Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas, a massive three-day event taking place on the periphery of Vegas intended to celebrate “Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect” (PLUR), is attended on each of its festival nights by 135,000+ people.
Rave culture, with its emphasis on sharing good vibes and spreading the love, is the closest thing we have today to the hippie movement that Thompson and San Francisco of the 1960s prided themselves on. Except, in true Millennial fashion, it’s been corporatized and capitalized for mass-market consumption.
A mainstream version of “positive energy,” packaged in the form of beads, drugs, electronic music, and Instagram photos. How does our self-chosen form of mass expression reflect on our generation?
EDC began in the 1990s as a series of warehouse raves in Los Angeles — it has since morphed into America’s largest dance festival, riding a meteoric 8,000 percent increase in size since its inception.
EDC is a Spectacle with a capital “S”, and it delivers on that end. This is America. We know how to put on a show.
But the community feel that’s usually present within rave culture —
“Hey dude, can I bum/borrow -fill in the blank need that must be met-?” is always, ALWAYS greeted with a “Yeah, fersure, lemme help you out in whatever way I can”
— is missing from the country’s biggest rave.
I won’t delve too much into the absence of “good vibes.” We have angry Facebook threads to fill that niche. If you know what the EDM community feels like and you’ve been to EDC, you know what I’m talking about when I say the former is AWOL from the latter.
Bottom line is: EDC, as one of my friends put it so aptly, has been gentrified — spruced up, made over, and beautified for the Snapchat video, but at the expense of that neighborhood feel. Let’s not get started on corporate sponsorship. Jesus, we get it, 7-Up wuz here.
On the second night, I met a man sitting in the stands named Roddy who was an electronic music producer from Canada. EDC was his Mecca.
On the shuttle back to the hotel, I met a Peruvian woman named Jenny who came out for the event just because it was something everyone else was doing.
“I see the pictures, I want to see it for myself. I don’t even like the music that much. You know that sound, that WAH WAH WAH sound? It scares me. I just wanted to see it, like in the movies, you know?”
A good portion of EDC attendees are Roddy, a good portion are Jenny, and everyone else is somewhere in-between.
People flock for different reasons, but people flock, and not cheaply either. Assuming they’re paying full bill for the 3-day experience, folks are spending a minimum of $500 for the weekend. And that’s a very generous understatement.
So why are we all buying into this money pit of lights, sweat, and deep bass?
An article I recently read claimed that EDC was an event for a “post-Millennial” age.
EDC’s official motto this year was “You are the Headliner.” If that individual-affirming phrase is not the most Millennial thing you’ve read this year, you need to give Pasquale Rotella a call and let him know that someone finds his marketing scheme to be amiss.
Our parents and grandparents, whose own counterculture movements ultimately failed, translated their resentment towards imposed societal standards into media to feed the younger generations. The 1960’s violent backlash couldn’t win, the 1980’s subtle disdain couldn’t win, but maybe their children could.
We weren’t raised on “dream big.” We were raised on “Dream BIGGER.” Follow your hearts, goddamnit.
The critics claim that the outcome of such messaging led to a generation of entitlement and narcissism. “Lazy workers” and “social media-crazed brats.” But that’s simply a surface-level breakdown — analysis running scared.
What the Millennium really led to was a deep disappointment, a dissatisfaction in the way the world was turning out, and the fact that little we did seemed to make any impact.
We dreamed so big, we cared so much, we followed the shit out of hearts, and we reached real life and realized the corporate grind, the 9-to-5 trap, the selling of our souls to Capitalism and its overlords, was in one way or another, inevitable. Progress, if any, would be a long time coming.
So we looked for escape. “A generation that measures its worth in weekends,” as the saying goes.
Escapism isn’t anything new. But for the Millennium, which had been raised on “each one of you is an individual and special in her own way,” we needed, on a very basic level, to discover a new faith in the collective masses.
Enter: the explosion of rave culture. Find your friend Molly and you’ll be on your feet for hours thumping to the music. Happiness, euphoria, friends, good times, all made possible within throngs of thousands.
Now THIS was an experience we were entitled to.
So we flocked by the hundreds of thousands, unapologetically, in absurd desert heat, for an experience we deserved.
The American mainstream showers contempt upon counterculture, but I think deep down, each of us wishes we could pay heed to reckless abandon, screw the world and its disappointments, and “find love in a hopeless place.”
That’s what made rave culture and EDC so appealing. We could have a small bite of that, a tiny indulgence in it, just for a weekend. We deserved this happiness, even if it was artificially induced. No, scratch that. Especially if it was artificially induced.
Part IV explains why EDC became so big. Not because of social media, and certainly not because of the amount of money Insomniac puts into EDC’s production.
Given the proclivities of our generation, EDC’s rise, and the rise of the massive music festival, was inexorable.
But in Part II I told you that the X factor that made EDC so appealing in the first place has disappeared. Throw too much money at something, and you get a layer of gild, not gold.
Mark my words, in the next three to five years, EDC, Coachella, and fellow massives will have faded out of relevance.
Because fundamentally, we aren’t there for the Spectacle. We obsessively absorb the Snapchat and Instagram photos, but we’re not “jelly” that our friends were able to experience an insane production. We’re jealous that maybe, just for a moment, our friends got to be a part of something bigger than Money, Power, and Respect.
Once you start losing that aspect of massives, the Millennial following will also tune out.
By Hunter S. Thompson’s standards, has our little experiment in counterculture failed, just as our parents failed and their parents before them? Has the mainstream ruined everything?
Perhaps all these little experiments didn’t fail. Perhaps the mainstream doesn’t ruin things.
Well, it does. But what the mainstream functions as is a lever for evolution.
Side note: “Mainstream” implies that a majority of people in the country approve of a given something. This is not inherently bad. What makes mainstream awful is that with a large audience comes forces that decide they want to capitalize on it. And what was once supposed to transcend Money, Power, and Respect then becomes about it.
So what next? What is the evolution of this event?
Because someone will find a better way of doing this. A different venue, a different space, but an improved version to pander to the same Millennial ache.
And that’s why the fading relevance of EDC is good. It means metamorphosis is on its way.
Image source: Insomniac