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The Culture of Electronic Dance Music Research Paper

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Updated: May 11th, 2020


Electronic Dance Music (EDM) is one of the music genres that comprise the North American popular subcultures. It has its roots in Detroit techno and the Chicago warehouse music. The rapid explosion of popularity of EDM amongst the North American youths came with the challenges of increased use of ecstasy and other designer drugs among concertgoers. This paper argues that the consumption of illicit drugs such as ecstasy has a direct relationship with participating in EDM concerts. It asserts that youths are drawn into the wave of drug use without adequate knowledge of the potential risks of their actions. Therefore, the paper holds that providing such information can incredibly aid in enabling youth to live drug-free lives, while still enjoying emerging popular subcultures such as EDM.


Electronic Dance Music (EDM) encompasses one of the music genres forming part of the North American’s popular subcultures for over three decades. It first appeared in the 1980s when techno coupled with rave dance music appeared in the scenes of the music industry. The popularity of EDM in the North American music movement has its roots in the Detroit techno music style. It comprises house music and traces, among many other micro-genres (Duca, 2014). As a genre borrowing aspects of rave culture, EDM faces criticisms associated with the rave dance music of the1990s such as presentation of sceneries of people abusing illicit drugs (Cava, 2012). In support of this assertion, Formal Research (2014, par. 1) posits that those “members of the youth that attended raves and listened to techno music were in large part there due to the scenes associating with drug usage as an escape from reality.” This assertion supports a hypothetical relationship between EDM and the use of illicit drugs.

This paper aims at providing evidence on the likelihood of associating the rise of EDM with illicit drug consumption. It narrows its focus on the abuse of ecstasy during EDM festivals. Ecstasy is a synthetic, psychoactive, and hallucinogenic drug that evokes feelings of happiness and brightness in one’s perception. It also lowers fatigue so that dancers can enjoy dancing without getting tired (Cohen, 1995). In a bid to realize its aim, the paper discusses the relationship between attending EDM events and the rationality that leads to the consumption of illicit drugs such as ecstasy.

The evolution of EDM in North America

The fundamental definition of EDM is a “music genre, which is produced principally via synthesizers and computers coupled with drum machines, and it targets partygoers” (Goddard, 2013, par.2). The earliest form of EDM was found in London when studios specializing in electronic music first produced their most primitive synthesizer in the1950s.In the “1960s through the 1970s, some musicians started to try various versions of synthesizers such as the Moog” (Goddard, 2013, par.4). In the late 1970s, EDM came into existence with Disco Demolition Night marking its prologue in 1979 (Goddard, 2013). This public portrayal of hatred for disco led to its retreat to New York coupled with Chicago based warehouses. In these warehouses, DJs such as Levan and Knuckles mixed disco, R&B, rock, and other genres like funk to entertain partygoers. Due to the increasing popularity of such parties by 1980s, the DJs started making their own mixes in an effort to liven reveling all night.

In recent years, EDM has been increasingly popular among many listeners both young and old. However, the concerts and festivals are incorporated and flourished courtesy of a mainstream pop audience. EDM events are characterized by sensory and physical stimulation, with a loud noise, bright lights, and numerous dancers (Parrott, 2004). In this sense, they resemble disco parties, as described by Lawrence (2006).

In its early years, EDM failed to have wide-scale popularity within North America due to the image of consumption of illicit drugs associated with it. However, today, it constitutes a mainstream music genre. The current rave (EDM) version has hit the market in a somewhat different style as opposed to the 1990s rave, which was seen as a cult. Mass moving artists like Justin Beiber, Rihana, and Minaj among others present their lyrics within background music provided by various producers including Zedd, and David Guetta. Much of these lyrics have characteristics of the 1980s to 1990s’ disco music as they reflect themes of materialism, eroticism, and romanticism.

Arguably, eroticism is not just a trait of EDM. In his article titled, ‘in defense of disco’ Dyer (1979) contends that eroticism characterizes all popular music genres. Tunes for popular songs can be best described as rounded off, self-sufficient and closed. They keep on returning to opening melodies, which also happen to be the last tune. Although EDM popular music seeks to entertain participants in the usually highly populated shows, their likely association with drugs and alcohol abuse cannot be ignored. Maxwell (2005) argues that the culture of EDM exposes more youths to the harmful impacts of drugs. However, this association remains unclear since studies on relationships or correlations of drug abuse and popular music including the EDM are still at infancy.

The development of EDM surge in the United States is different from its evolution in other parts of the world. A Dutch DJ named Tiesto as quoted by Formal Research (2014) argues that EDM scenes within Europe have been historically known to be big, but the United States is now displaying a complete and total explosion of the cultures. The main concern here is whether the United States will also experience a total explosion of increased hard drugs use among its youth fancying the EDM culture. Youths change trends with times as new music genres emerge. As argued before, in North America, EDM started as techno. Currently, several other subgenres like moombahton and trap have emerged. However, Formal Research (2014) maintains that these subgenres have nothing new in them apart from mass-scale youth attractions. David Guetta, who is a renowned DJ in the US, believes that EDM is on the way to becoming a trendy mainstream in the entire United States just like the Hip-Hop subculture, which was initiated in the ghettos before becoming a trendy mainstream across the world. In as such, EDM may become the chief American sound with potential for unstoppable increasing popularity. Such popularity is potentially dangerous if the association of EDM with consumption of ecstasy will not end, as more youth will want to become associated with lifestyles defining EDM fans’ subculture.

The EDM industry is rapidly growing. DJ shadow informs that by 2012, the EDM industry was worth $4 billion across the globe (Goddard, 2013). Indeed, in 2012, the Association for Electronic Music was born to ensure lobbying for the rights of EDM lovers’ rights to curtail likelihood for banning the culture like in the case of the European experiences with the rave culture in the 1990s (Goddard, 2013). Irrespective of the view that house music and techno pioneered in North America, it is only after they were exported to the United Kingdom that they became modified to suitable forms that could play in the US nightclubs (Goddard, 2013). The two genres became major hits in the European clubs to the extent that the nightclubs ran out of control. This aspect prompted the administration to ban them. However, the rave culture, as it was known, retreated to open fields, which also gained an immense attraction to the public fun lovers.

Similar to the contemporary status of EDM in North America, the rave parties in the UK were unstoppable. Goddard (2013) argues that even though they operated from underground, they attracted attendances ranging from 4,000 to 40, 000 people. Police under directions from administrators attempted to stop the rave cultural burst. Indeed, the more efforts they put, the deeper the parties penetrated underground. The parties’ attendants, coupled with organizers depended on complex communication networks to keep the reveling alive. Initially, payphones were immensely important, but the onset of the Internet made spreading parties’ information sophisticated for police officers to stop them effectively (Goddard, 2013). Similarly, in North America, EDM festivals rely incredibly on the Internet for information dissemination amongst the youths.

North America has been experiencing an unstable relationship with rave music, and thus the music festivals in general. However, Woodstock 99 opened an entirely new chapter in 1999 on a music festival. After the Coachella festival, New York, Tennessee, Los Angeles, Chicago, and many other states have been holding major music festivals with EDM dominating them. Goddard (2013) posits that these festivals generated well over $47 million in North America in 2012 and 2013. As argued before, EDM is similar to rave music or disco music. Reynolds (2012) sees EDM as rebranded techno culture with drugs used during techno raves rebranded and renamed as ‘molly,’ which is essentially ecstasy, but in powder state. Congruent with this line of argument, the scholarly interrogative whether EDM festivals have relationships with increased consumption of hard drugs such as ecstasy (MDMA) remains relevant.

EDM and illicit drug consumption

As EDM’s popularity consistently rises, the consumption of illicit drugs at the festivals is also escalating (McKay, 2014). At infancy, the association of popular music with illicit drugs not only had the initial impact of drawing away young from attending pop music concerts but also refraining from abusing their profiled drugs. However, the presentation of EDM culture as the current North American mainstream culture draws the attention of many youths as it continues to gain popularity. This attraction causes normalization of exposures to hard drugs. To this extent, Reynolds (2012) claims that the consumption of drugs like ecstasy, coupled with ketamine, has also been on a drastic rise.

The drug-fueled rave culture has now found its way into the American popular music, viz. EDM. The Los Angeles Times in 2006 noted that about 14 people of all participants in EDM concerts courtesy of Rotella coupled with Gerami events’ organizers die due to complications associated with hard drugs overdoses (Formal Research, 2014). This assertion supports the arguments by coroners’ analysis findings coupled with reports compiled by law enforcement agents in about nine states in the United States, which found ecstasy as the common cause of deaths registered during and after EDM concerts. Many of the concerts goers have some awareness about the risks of drugs, which is disseminated by local authorities and health institutions.

However, the local government supports the events by virtue of substantive income they bring in the form of tax revenues. This argument is supported by judge Barkemeyer’s comments when he was issuing a permit for Rotella EDM festival. He observed that EDM concerts bring in a lot of commerce (Lin, Pringle & Blankstein, 2013). In this statement, the concern over likelihoods for concerts leading to ecstasy-related deaths is largely absent. Hence, the permit was issued only on the ground of economic benefits of EDM festivals to the local governments.

Penman, the city lawyer for San Bernadino, later argued that heightened drug abuse accompanies EDM festivals. He maintained that as opposed to judging Barkemeyer’s line of thought, economic advantage should hardly form the basis for justifying an event in which drug use defines its success (Formal Research, 2014). However, the association of all EDM festivals with ecstasy abuse is incomplete and unfair without the consideration of arguments raised by the events’ organizers in their support for the festivals.

Gerami and Rotella accept that raves have drug-ecstasy use cultures. However, they are quick to differentiate the festival, which they refer to as ‘electronic music festival,’ from ‘raves.’ They argue that ambulances, security personnel, and medication stations are always in absence at raves while abundantly present at the electronic festivals (Formal Research, 2014). In its website, Rotella also warns its potential clients of the likelihoods for prosecution in case they are found taking or in possession of ecstasy and other designer drugs. However, arguably, such a measure does not amount to an effective and reliable deterrent. Formal Research (2014) supports this proposition by arguing that drug use during EDM is not fuelled by the scenes, but rather by the need to run away from realities of the day.

Amid the arguments advanced by the EDM events’ organizers, the problem of deaths induced by ecstasy consumption remains a major problem amongst popular music festival attendants in North America. Formal Research (2014, par.10) reckons that the “drug is known to enhance the effect of the beat-heavy music and pulsing lights known to EDM music.” This assertion suggests that participants in the EDM festival who take ecstasy have a feeling of better enjoyment than those who do not take it. While this assertion does not advocate for people attending the festivals to abuse ecstasy and other hard drugs to help induce happiness and relax fatigue, it implies that EDM festivals are prone to having their funs consume ecstasy. According to Lin, Pringle, and Blankstein (2013), many EDM attendants consume ecstasy in the absence of adequate knowledge of its effects on their bodies. For instance, a 20-year-old youth, who attended Gerami festival in 2007, took an overdose of the drug (Lin, Pringle & Blankstein, 2013). His body temperatures increased up to 108 degrees until he died six days later. The boy only thought that the drug would enable him to have a fancy and good time at the EDM party.

EDM has similarities with rave culture, which was born from house music in Chicago and techno in Detroit. Kelly (2005) argues that since the emergence of rave culture, one of its key aspects is intensive use of illicit drugs by partygoers. Yacoubian and Wish (2006) identify some of these drugs like LSD and ecstasy. With the increased popularity of EDM, it suffices to infer that it is taking over rave parties’ fun base across North America. In fact, Anderson (2007) posits that both EDM and rave are situated within a continuum of ‘rave-club culture,’ which is characterizing commercial clubs across the United States and the United Kingdom. This observation suggests a scholarly difficulty in distinguishing rave and EDM parties as they share similar aspects, including the culture of ecstasy use.

Concerns of drugs use in both rave and EDM parties have prompted the emergence of scholarly research seeking to offer details on illicit drug use among participants in rave and EDM parties. Researchers approach this topic from two main diverse paradigms. The first approach has cultural dimensions incorporated in it. Rooted in the work of Hutson (2000) and Sylvan (2005), this paradigm argues that EDM and rave have their roots in the communal feeling of empathy for other people and they highlight themes of unity, respect, and love for other people. Work in this school of thought contends that although many participants in the EDM and rave parties use drugs such as ecstasy, the drugs do not help in making a culture of binding fans. Instead, the empathy induction attribute of ecstasy only aids in enhancing feelings of unity, love, and respect for others (Maxwell, 2005).

The cultural school of thought fails to articulate issues such as negative implications of ecstasy use amongst EDM and rave partygoers. However, empirical research findings in public health depict EDM cultures as posing various health and interpersonal challenges irrespective of the meaning attached to the cultures by the participants in the concerts (Kelly, 2005; Sterk, Theall & Elifson, 2006). From this line of thought, feelings of excessive happiness experienced during EDM parties by people abusing ecstasy and other designer drugs are due to excessive use of the drugs, but not EDM or rave scenes. In North America, the public health school of thought is dominant. However, economic perspectives compel local governments to consider EDM parties as attractive. However, they are also dangerous, especially by considering that the events’ organizers evade strict liability for drug use among their ticket buyers.

Scholarly evidence shows a relationship between EDM and ecstasy use. For instance, Sterk, Theall, and Elifson (2006) and Yacoubian and Wish (2006) consider EDM scenes as encompassing dangerous subcultures, which encourage the use of ecstasy. Data from ONDCP indicates that in the United States, incidences of ecstasy use rose substantially between 1998 and 2001 (Yacoubian and Wish, 2006). Since then, prevalence rates have been on the rise. Demographic research shows that EDM concert participants have higher prevalence rates for ecstasy use as compared to other population segments (Yacoubian & Wish, 2006).

From 1995 to 2002, the United States experienced 856% rise in emergency cases related to ecstasy abuse (Department of Health and Human Services, 2003). This observation corresponds to the time when the popularity of EDM was on the rise. Abusers of the drug may also cause accidents when they drive under intoxication, and drug use results in increased cases of promiscuity, thus increasing risks of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Apart from depicting interpersonal problems, ecstasy abusers also have psychological and physiological challenges like acute depression and dehydration. Although long-term implications of abuse of ecstasy remain unclear, the drug poses a major threat to public health. Evidence on the positive association of ecstasy abuse with EDM parties is particularly wanting.


Ecstasy is a drug that delays fatigue, coupled with creating an exaggerated feeling of happiness. Therefore, it is not coincidental that it finds usage in EDM festivals, which are characterized by loud and high beat music genres. Considering the prevalence of the drug in EDM festivals, this paper maintains that other hard drugs are also associated with EDM mainstream culture, which is rapidly shaping up the North American’s entertainment industry. Due to the high popularity of the EDM mainstream, large numbers of innocent youth are swayed into it due to peer pressure and lack of knowledge on the repercussions of indulging in such behaviors. Being an emerging culture, participating in EDM festival builds confidence in its participants and thus the community pressure on those not attending the festival is intensive, which compels them to attend the festivals and consume ecstasy and other designer drugs.

Therefore, if EDM had not emerged as popular music culture in North America, the prevalence rates of use of ecstasy and other designer drugs among the youths could have been lower than it is in the contemporary times. Some of the innocent participants in the EDM festival are rushed to hospitals in dire need for saving their lives. This aspect suggests that they take the drugs while unaware of the imminent consequences. Consequently, it is necessary to spread information about the likelihood of youths consuming ecstasy and other designer drugs after attending EDM festivals in a bid to reduce their consumption. This move will save the lives of many innocent youths attending such festivals for entertainment purposes.


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