I walked into the dark room after paying the ten-dollar cover charge. The music was what I noticed first. It was very loud and made a ring linger in my ears. The music was house music, also known as techno or electronic music. The next thing I noticed was the people. The majority of them were young adults, anywhere from their late teens to early 20’s. It wasn’t the people I noticed so much, but how they were behaving. Most of them were dancing, but not just your typical dancing that you would see in most dance clubs.
People were very close together and there was a lot of physical, euphoric interaction between them. They were dancing to the beat, almost together as one. Also moving the groove of the music were many lights of all different colors. Most people were dancing with glowsticks as well as other various kinds of lights. It was clear to me right away that the majority of the people inside the room were not sober but were under some kind of influence.
I had walked into the world of the rave.
It was a Saturday night in Jacksonville, Florida. I was at a club in the Downtown area called 618. It opens at 10 p.m., a time when most other places are getting ready to close. The patrons there however, were just getting their night started.
I walked around the club, observing as I walked. I saw people hugging a lot, giving each other massages or giving each other light shows. I asked a girl what the light show was for. Her name was Sara and she replied, “The lights look really cool when you’re rolling.” Rolling is term most ravers use when are on the popular club drug ecstasy. Sara was 19 and dressed like a lot of the ravers I saw there. Loose shirts and baggy pants. She had jewelry on that looked almost like children’s jewelry. She said kids there who wore that kind of apparel were called “candie ravers” or “candie kids”.
Ecstasy pills are made of a compound called methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA. It’s an old drug: Germany issued the patent for it in 1914 to the German company, E. Merck. It’s chemists thought it could be a promising intermediary substance that might be used to help develop more advanced therapeutic drugs.
It was not successful however and disappeared until 1953. That’s when the U.S. Army funded an animal study of eight drugs, including MDMA. They were trying to find a lethal drug for use on soldiers during the cold war. They did not find it to be as toxic as they had hoped however and MDMA was forgotten once again.
It wasn’t until 1985 that it was outlawed and made a Class I substance, in the same category as heroin or LSD. By then, college-age people in Europe and India were taking the drug to enhance rave parties, where thousands of people danced to loud techno music. As years went by, MDMA got more and more popular, especially among users in their late teens and early 20’s. The drug sells for $20 to $30 today in the United States.
People who have taken the drug say the experience is a several-hour intense journey. All five senses are heightened. It’s not uncommon for people to massage, touch and hug one another while “rolling” to increase the pleasure. Some say it makes them happy and energetic. Others say MDMA releases their “true selves”.
I asked Sara how long she had been rolling and why she did it. “I dropped my first pill around the middle of 1998. That first time was so awesome. It was like a whole new world that I’d never seen. Everything around you is just a hundred times better than when you are sober. The air you breathe feels good, just to breathe it. Your skin is really sensitive to touch. And it feels so good just to hug people because you just feel like you have to. It’s like everyone here is a family and we are unified.” Then Sara reached over to me, grabbed me and gave me a very embracing hug. It caught me off guard and surprised me. She looked at me and said, “I just had to hug you, because everyone here needs a hug, they need to fill the love. This place, this feeling, it’s like being in heaven.”
Another raver I talked to had quite a different perspective about raving. His name was Eric, a 21-year-old student. For him, raves are “all about the music.” Says Eric: “Real party kids don’t do drugs. We go to dance and to have a good time. A lot of people don’t understand it, but the guitar thing has been done. Electronic music is all I listen to. It beats my heart.”
The popular DJ, Josh Wink, was at 618 the particular night I was there. He spins “Hard House” music, that is house music with hard and continuous beats. The music is produced with two turntables and vinyl records. The DJ is said to be a “mixing artist.” Blending popular songs together, making them one, is part of what drives fans to dance their hearts out.
After hearing these different opinions, I decided to inquire as to whether most ravers thought raving was about the drugs or the music.
I talked to one girl I saw dancing on the dance floor who wished to be known as Butterfly. She is an 18-year-old girl in her senior year in high school. She appeared to be rolling judging by her body language and she told me that she indeed was. I asked her if she thought raving was about feeling good and the drugs or was it about the music.
“When I first got into raving, I went for the drugs. I didn’t know anything about electronic music, and pretty much associated it with the crappy gino beats that I heard on the radio. I liked drugs though, and a friend of mine convinced me I’d like E (Ecstasy). And I loved it! After a few parties though, I started to really enjoy the music. E, on the other hand, is not nearly as interesting to me as it once was. I still do the drugs, but not nearly as much as I used to. I’m definitely more concerned with who the DJ spinning is and than about the pills.”
Another raver, Steven, had a very similar response to the same question. Steven, 23, replied, “I was introduced to Ecstasy by a friend and was annoyed by the music at first. But it didn’t take long for me to connect to the music and to fall in love with it. I found myself listening to house music all of the time even when I wasn’t rolling and that’s still the same today. I still roll every now and then, but I never got into that part too much anyway. Sure I loved the feeling and still do, but I always have done it all in moderation, never doing it that often and never taking more than two pills in one night. I also fell in love with people and the scene too. Everyone is so friendly and happy. Yes, a lot of that has to do with the drugs, but my attitude has changed just in the year and a half I have been in the scene. So I’d like to think that most of the other people might have changed the same way or in a similar way as I have. I will always remember the great times I’ve had, the great people I’ve met, and definitely the music that always keeps me higher than the drugs ever could.”
After hearing these responses and others like them, I came to the conclusion that there is no one answer to the question of whether raving is about the drugs or the music. However, the two are connected in some way most of the time. For a few people, the feeling of the drugs is what people strive to have. For others, it is the love of the music and the dancing.
However for most people, it is the drugs definitely are a part of raving and whole rave culture, but the major emphasis is on the music. The drugs simply become something to enhance the music or to party to at certain times while the music is the real drive to rave.
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Rushkoff, Douglas. The Ecstasy Club. 1998.
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