Everything horribly wrong with EDC Las Vegas…
In 2013, the final day of Electric Zoo festival in New York City was cancelled after two attendees died from hyperthermia and an overdose of MDMA. Four others had fallen ill. This year, Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas host (Insomniac) announced one allegedly heat related death and over 1000 medical emergencies. I find myself completely awestruck by this. Not that it happened and continues to happen, but rather that it has become a normality in electronic music festival culture.
It is for that reason alone that I feel I need to speak up about my experience at EDC Las Vegas 2017. Keep in mind I was an average festival goer. I had no VIP admission or premier shuttles. I had the standard general admission 3 day pass and a standard shuttle pass departing from The Linq on the Vegas strip.
First and foremost, I have to comment on the security screening. Sites like YourEDM explained how in the wake of the Manchester terror attack, EDC Las Vegas could be a potential future target. I am happy to report no such atrocity occurred. However, it was no thanks to the security screening process. Walking up to the line, security team members made jokes about confiscating drugs for personal use.
Upon arrival at the shuttle pick up spot, our ID’s were checked effectively. While I didn’t see anyone actually turned away, the security team at least appeared to be making sure ID’s matched the faces of people entering. I suppose a fake ID would have worked equally as effectively as our real ones however. All was well and good at this point, but that’s where the satisfaction ended. We walked through to bag checking. Bags were opened and glanced into for obvious contents, but not searched in depth by any stretch of the imagination. Honestly, a hidden compartment or pocket would have easily concealed anything unsavory. Drugs, weapons, or god forbid an explosive of some small variety. The mentality for the bag checks seemed to be “out of sight, out of mind.”
What was even more shocking in my opinion was the actual body checks. There were zero metal detectors. Not a single one. Not even wands. Men were patted down (very ineffectively) by a man and women were patted down (very ineffectively) by a woman. That was it. I was left with the feeling of “this can’t possibly be it… he basically just tickled me a bit and passed me through.” I voluntarily emptied my pockets fully, pulled them out, and even offered to take my hat (baseball cap) off. They declined. I could’ve smuggled anything in if I wanted to. The screening was that awful.
I know for example that I could easily smuggle things in my shoes because on both Saturday and Sunday, I did! Friday night we bought a tiny stick (with the word stick used lightly) of lip balm for $4. Ridiculous pricing is one of the many flaws of the festival, but was entirely expected so I won’t comment on it. However, I was unwilling to spend $4 per day for lip balm seeing as the festival policy forbids bringing your own unsealed stick. With that said, I stuck it in my shoe both Saturday and Sunday and made it in without question.
For obvious reasons, this is completely unacceptable. Their “zero tolerance” policy regarding drugs was clearly a joke. More so than just the blatantly lazy security checks, there appeared to be just a complete lack of interest in stopping the drugs from entering the festival. On a nightly basis, around 135k people attended EDC. On Friday, 29 were arrested for narcotics. Saturday, 27. Sunday, 34. Total, that’s a whopping 90 people arrested on narcotic charges. There were more people posting pictures of their drug inventories daily on the Radiate app than there were total arrests. Additionally, the EDC thread on Radiate was seemingly monitored and often updated by Insomniac themselves. How is it possible that someone could openly express on a social profile their possession of narcotics, and yet still get away with bringing, selling, and distributing them inside the festival?
Disgustingly, with all things considered it appears the “zero tolerance” drug enforcement policy is much more than just a complete joke. It is almost expected to fail with no back up plan. Upon arriving at the festival by means of shuttle, a large sign noting “MDMA Notice” was visible. I didn’t read its entirety, but the general idea was that while the drug was not allowed, it is more than expected to still be present in the crowd. This sign alone gave me the impression that the event host had little to no confidence in their screening process. I understand that the drugs will make it in one way or the other, but to have such an insane number of medical emergencies, a death, and yet such a small number of narcotic based arrests is absolutely disgusting. Of course heat played a large part, but it’s naive to believe drugs weren’t at play at all. Whether festival goers like to admit it or not, drugs are a plague on what is otherwise a beautiful culture of acceptance and love.
Furthermore, if the zero tolerance policy is tolerant enough to expect such an incredible MDMA turn out, perhaps a back up plan should be implemented. Many electronic music blogs have posted articles regarding the new experience enhancing supplement called Katy. It’s legal, safe, 98% organic, and even healthy to take. The effects of Katy are supposedly very similar to the effects of MDMA or Molly, but without many of the health risks that make them so dangerous. Much like the way public schooling mishandles drug abuse education, Insomniac offered no alternative. Katy was equally frowned upon and “prohibited” from the festival grounds.
The only thing worse that plagued EDC was the incredible heat wave that struck for the weekend. The days in Las Vegas rarely dipped below 100 degrees and nights rarely dipped below 80. With that said, the shuttles going to the festival were often not air conditioned at all. All three of my experiences going were not air conditioned while I heard other buses actually were. The air conditioning also never seemed to be an issue when returning from the festival. On Sunday, we took the 8:00pm shuttle from The Linq to the festival and it was so hot, the collective of festival goers cracked open the emergency ports on the bus’s roof and all of the windows just to access some sort of airflow. Back to the terrible screening process for a brief moment, everyone behind us on the bus (about 8 people) were openly snorting cocaine. Riddle me that, Insomniac.
The first day, our shuttle bus drivers got lost. Three times. We didn’t know any better until we acknowledged our full string of buses making U turns. While it was hot, it wasn’t a super big deal. Just better organization and planning would have been appreciated. The fact we were forced to dump out all liquids (including water) before boarding the not air conditioned bus however definitely made the experience that much more painful.
On top of the horrendous heat wave, there were but four free water stations. The problem… there were 135k people there. Let’s do some math real quick, shall we? Assuming there were 30 water units at each station (which I believe is being pretty generous), that’s 4.5k people per unit (total of 120 units). Assuming everyone refills their water bottles at least once every 2 hours (which should be an underestimation), and they are evenly distributed to all of the 120 units, that equates to 37.5 people trying to refill their water bottles per unit, PER MINUTE.
The water distributed from these taps were slightly chilled at best and was quickly warmed in the souvenir bottles offered for sale by Insomniac. They didn’t even hold ice for more than 10 minutes. Why use crappy souvenir bottles? Why not bring your own? Because festival policy forbids that as well. It’s a money grab, and a dangerous one at that. Ice was not readily available to my knowledge. Realistically, if someone followed this policy and didn’t have the money to purchase a souvenir bottle for $15, they would dehydrate very quickly. I saw a lot of people purchased Dasani water bottles and just refilled those, but you’d still need to purchase a new one every day (according to festival policy) as they are not allowed to be brought into the festival. That would still end up costing $12 over the course of the weekend (I believe water bottles were $4 a piece, give or take a buck or 2).
The venue was also disgusting. Friday night was great but the trash began to accumulate on the ground by the time morning came around. Saturday night, it appeared the festival grounds hadn’t been cleaned at all. Sunday night, leaving the circuitGROUNDS stage was like walking through a landfill. This is not exaggeration. There was a dip in the pavement which I assume was a drain (for when it rains at the motor speedway). Come Sunday night, it was just a pit filled with crushed bottles and cans. You couldn’t walk anywhere near a stage without stepping in trash. Headbanging at Excision’s performance, I found myself constantly kicking away bottles, cans, cigarette cartons, and various other pieces of trash. Yes, there were plenty of trash cans. Many of them though, especially come Sunday night, were overflowing with trash.
All in all, the festival was a blast but it was definitely not without horrible flaws. In fact, I was genuinely fearful that the overly relaxed security would potentially spell disaster for the festival. Luckily, it did not. The heat and poorly provided water supply was rough, but manageable (at least for us). The drugs were a very real issue as was expected, but Insomniac clearly put very little effort into keeping it out and even less effort into punishing those who ignored the policy. In fact, Insomniac only seemed to uphold the stupid policies like dumping out water before boarding the shuttles. Bags were supposed to be limited to one pocket, but full backpacks were everywhere. This would have been fine if the bag checking process wasn’t so worthless. Outside water bottles (even empty ones) are prohibited which is ridiculous, but it seemed that they got in after the first night just fine.
The fact I, according to policy, had to smuggle lip balm made me both laugh and sick. The fact that, according to policy, drugs were not permitted yet so much of it was readily available and being used in plain site made me both laugh and sick. The fact water was available for free, but I was still considering buying individual overpriced Dasani bottles to avoid lines made me… well you get the point.
EDM culture is already way too saturated with substance abuse. If people are attending festivals and/or shows to do drugs, they shouldn’t attend. There are plenty of people that are there to actually enjoy the music and have a good, clean time. Stop making it so easy for drugs to get in. Maybe try promoting safe alternatives. Increase security and improve the screening process. The same precautions should be taken to avoid weapons and other potentially harmful items from being brought into the festival. Festivals and venues need to crack down harder than ever before.
Water needs to be more readily available. If there are eight stages, there should be no less than eight water refill stations. Nobody would object to replacing a carnival ride or two with extra water stations. Let’s cut that 1000 medical emergencies down, and never let another person die at a music festival due to hyperthermia or dehydration.
Organize a little bit better and be sure to offer people a real bang for their buck. Shuttles cost $100 per person. I didn’t pay to sit in a sauna for an hour while your drivers made wrong turns. And at least make sure shuttles have air conditioning if they are going to get lost.
Finally, and this one is a bit petty, never let Buzz Pops back in to vend. On Saturday, I was suckered into buying a $10 frozen push pop with what I imagine was a 1/16th shot of tequila in it. Why? I was promised free ice for the rest of the weekend. But like a shady guy selling electronics out of his van, Buzz Pop packed up and bailed after Saturday night. Gone without a trace (except a bunch of their pops they left behind… super shady).
Other than all of that, thanks for hosting a great event and I’ll be back next year hoping to feel safer and see improvement. If it’s the same next year, I might not be back again.