The RAVE Act, Don't Believe The Hype

Words by: Sean-Michael Yoder
Posted: 11/1/10 10:58

The RAVE Act, Don't Believe The HypeMany in the international dance music community have called the controversial RAVE Act one of the major contributors to the death of the electronic dance music scene in the US. However, upon closer inspection this narrative appears to be only a series of Orwellian half-truths and fabrications spurred on by a public policy that has, at best, been inconsistent in dealing with rave and ecstasy culture since the act's passage in 2003. This opinion appears to be shared by Dr. Charles Grob, a foremost authority on the psychiatry of ecstasy in a 2003 Los Angeles CityBeat article where he states, "If there's a dip right now in ecstasy use it has nothing to do with the government's dubious anti-ecstasy campaigns," Growing scientific evidence now shows that ecstasy usage revolves in a cyclical manner and that a major decline in usage corresponds directly with the dwindling of rave culture in 2003.

The reality is that the RAVE Act has only been a bit player in a complex theater of events that led to the downfall of what could easily be termed Rave 1.0. Interestingly enough, 2009 marked what some could call a major resurrection of rave as a viable mainstream brand here in the US. Ironically, ecstasy usage has not risen in correlation to the new popularity.

The RAVE Act itself is basically a modified 1986 statue regarding a landlord's legal responsibility in relation to a crack house property. In many ways the bill was a reactionary response to the brazen attitude being displayed by the infamous New Orleans rave promoter Disco Donnie as documented in Julie Drazen's 2003 exploitational documentary Rise.

RiseThe rave community was duped into believing that Donnie (AKA James Estopinal) was a free speech folk hero when he was indicted on federal charges in 2001 for running allegedly a crack house. The stark reality was that the guy was a raging egomaniac throwing parties that were indeed drug dens; allowing children in the morally conservative South to be exposed to things way beyond any community standards-an all-important but nebulous factor in determining who feels the full wrath of the law and who doesn't in America. Worse yet, it was all caught on film for anyone's prying eyes to see - artists, attendees, and promoters all high on ecstasy. Looking back, especially factoring in the post 9/11 trauma/paranoia, it's amazing the government didn't come down much harder on something mainstream society instantly perceived as an entire community of hardcore drug addicts.

The act in its original form was a gargantuan piece of legislation that classified bottled water, glow sticks, and repetitive beats in a party setting as off limits in language that echoed much of the UK's Criminal Justice Act's wide-sweeping authority. However, key senators such as Vermont's Patrick S. Leahy quickly dropped what was initially enthusiastic support when civil rights advocacy groups rose to challenge the constitutionality of the act. Sadly, this would not be the end of the bill. In 2003, without ever passing out of a single Senate committee, the most egregious language was stripped out and then tacked onto a sureshot domestic security bill involving abducted children. The effects of the passage were instantaneous, police and federal judges strip searching patrons in Michigan, introducing evidence of drug usage in trial that included video of men massaging other men at a party in Florida, and threatening club owners from coast to coast with real trouble should they decide to have a rave for two solid years. But as quickly as the rave/ecstasy witch hunt entered into public consciousness it also dissipated. Ask most public officials what happened to raves in America and they generally all would say the same thing, "The fad fizzled and the ecstasy craze disappeared almost as quickly".

Nowadays, the music has become legitimate- finding its way into clubs, onto television, and at fully permitted raves such as the Los Angeles area massive Electric Daisy Carnival - which drew over 90,000 attendees this year. The craze for the music is definitely back in a big way but when looking at the police blotter in regards to the amount of drug related arrests for ecstasy at these events they just haven't increased at a corresponding rate. The simple explanations seem to be boil down to a change in drug preferences amongst attendees but also that many fans of electronic music in 2009 are new and far too young to remember what the scene used to be like. This new generation of enthusiasts seems to be able to separate the music from the ecstasy experience much easier than veteran scenesters, paving the way for what could be dubbed Rave 2.0 in the US.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things in this ongoing debate about raves in America is the cyclical nature of ecstasy usage. If this research proves to be correct in the long term then there should be a growing increase in usage in the coming years that will correspond more closely with the reemergence of rave culture. With strict laws now in place, who can say whether law enforcement's power and privilege will be abused as has been the case in San Francisco this year with a string of random raids involving the long term seizure of equipment at a small handful of dance music events? The scary fact is that the bill's author, Joe Biden, is now the second most powerful man in the US and has shown an unusually zealous passion for stricter drug laws at a time when the winds of change have universally called for detent. With President Obama currently in the midst of breaking nearly all the campaign promises that got him elected, only time will tell what the lasting effects of the RAVE Act will be here in America.

Related news: CAN WE (party) OBAMA? What next for Clubland America...


Roberto Capuano
Politics Of Dancing
Ralph Lawson