How We Learned to Spread Love at the Biggest Rave in the World

We cooked up a grassroots movie campaign at EDC… and we failed miserably

A couple weekends ago I went to the biggest rave in America—Electric Daisy Carnival. From what I experienced as a kid—joining 1,000 people in abandoned warehouses—to being among 150,000 people at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it’s clear that rave culture has reached the masses. From kandi to cuddle puddles and shuffle dances, the core traditions still stand: dance, adornment, totems and most of all, community. These customs go all the way back to aboriginal tribes (more on that in a moment). As the mainstream embraces the primitive roots of rave culture, what does that tell us about our own evolution?

I am finishing and will soon release my first Netflix Original feature. It’s a coming-of-age ensemble set at the biggest (fictional) rave in America, XOXO. I grew up going to raves in SoCal and went from a kid tripping out in cuddle puddles to becoming a DJ at 17. Now I’m making a movie about those experiences, and it’s important that the community for whom I made the movie understand XOXO is a movie ‘by the people, for the people.’ So my executive producer and girlfriend, Dessarae Harrington, and I cooked up a grassroots campaign to spread the word of XOXO at EDC… and we failed miserably!

We made 5,000 love letters on Post-its that included uplifting taglines from the movie like Jump and the universe will catch you, Good Vibes, I fucking love you!, and signed them XOXO. We were going to plaster the festival with the Post-its and ask ravers if they wanted to get an exclusive listen to an unreleased Galantis song from our soundtrack or if they wanted a sneak peek of the movie on my iPhone. Wow, that even sounds stupid just typing it out. Who in their right mind, when at one of the biggest parties in the world, would stop to listen to a song on headphones or watch clips from an unknown movie on an iPhone? Obviously not many people.

We left Day 1 dejected. I thought maybe the scene has changed? Maybe I’m too old? Maybe nobody cares about my movie? Or maybe we just suck at promoting? The answer was a little bit of all the above.

Day 2 we were discouraged but still determined, pressing about 1,000 more Post-its and changing our plan. Instead of hitting walls, trying to sell the movie, we decided to just have a good time. We got to the festival as Martin Garrix’s set started, and an amazing vibe was permeating the crowd — you could feel the energy across all 60,000+ people at his stage. It was that magical feeling I felt at warehouse raves 15 years ago, only about 100 times bigger. Whipped up in the moment, we pulled out our Post-its and started posting them on people: on arms, backs, chests, hands, foreheads. We handed them out with mini massages and were met with hugs, smiles, kandi bracelets, and a whole lot of love. In the normal world, this type of thing would never be kindly received, but at EDC, it was like handing out cold hard cash. Hands were reaching through the crowds, grasping for Post-its. We even enlisted ambassadors who asked for a handful so they could help spread the love.

Nineteenth century French sociologist Emile Durkheim studied Pueblo Indians and Australian Aboriginal tribes. His theory was that the foundations of any society are the sacred practices that reaffirm their beliefs and bind the communities. He coined the term “collective effervescence” to describe “the moments in societal life when individuals that make up a society come together… communicate the same thoughts and participate in the same actions, unifying the group. And a certain ‘electricity’ is created and released, leading participants to a high degree of collective emotional excitement or delirium. This extra individual force, transports the individuals into a new, ideal realm, lifts them up outside of themselves and makes them feel as if they are in contact with an extraordinary energy.”

This is like Rave 101.

Durkheim’s example of this was the Rain Dance. Across the world, tribes believe(d) their dance rituals would bring rain for necessary harvests. They’d gather, dress in adornments, bring out their totems, suspend the societal norms for the day, and dance. No rain, no problem; they’d dance harder. No rain, dance even harder; still no rain, dance even way harder.

As always, it would eventually rain, thereby reaffirming their ritual, their adornments, their dress, their commitment to each other, and their connection to an “extraordinary energy.”

That “extraordinary energy” is what inspired me to take my first ecstasy pill, to get off my ass and start DJing, and to make my first movie 15 years later. And last weekend, it inspired us to stamp strangers with love letters at EDC.

And slight aside here: Dessarae and I were totally sober during our EDC adventure except from a Red Bull on Saturday night. I’m not going to deny that part of the “electricity” could have been facilitated by a large portion of the crowd rolling face, but man, the Pueblos or Australian Aborigines—they were just high on the vibes (or maybe some peyote? I don’t know).

As we evolve technologically, communities are changing shape and moving to digital spaces; face-to-face conversations have been replaced with email, and phone calls with texts. I think raves and festivals give us that sense of community and belonging that we’re now lacking. They get us out of our heads, where we think our lives are so damn important, and remind us we’re all a part of something bigger.

Festivals, raves, EDC, EDM: all of it is here to stay, and it’s playing a crucial role in our society. Festivals are becoming more a rite of passage for younger generations. Just like with tribal traditions, they reaffirm our collective beliefs and offer solace to our mysterious existence on this little rock in the midst of an infinite universe. Yeah we don’t dance for rain anymore, I think we dance for a lot of different things, but at the core of it all is gaining comfort in the fact that we’re not alone.

Even if you don’t trust my anthropological digs, there is no denying that festivals offer a rare opportunity for us to put down our phones and our guards, and just be in the moment. When’s the last time you felt collective effervescence while scrolling your Facebook feed?

XOXO premieres August 26 on Netflix

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