Ask about the music, and there’s a definite consensus-it’s loud and popular.
Mention the illicit drugs, and no one seems to agree-it’s either a serious issue or no big deal.
But say the word rave, and you’re fighting a stigma too readily associated with rebel teenagers, obnoxious music and an out-of-control drug scene, said CSU speech instructor Bill Herman.
While some, like freshman biology major Kaylin Keller, say the rave scene in Fort Collins has dwindled to a dull roar, others, like Herman, argue the pop-culture venue is secretly in full swing, relegated to low-profile abandoned buildings or secret parties.
“There is a thriving underground dance scene in Fort Collins,” Herman said. “Whether you can call those “raves” is really sketchy. To call anything a rave is such a huge liability anyway.”
Recently proposed national legislation aims to reduce the prominence of raves across the country, thereby reducing the availability to teens of illegal drugs such as ecstasy. Ecstasy is a hallucinogen and neurotoxin that can cause increases in body temperature, leading to muscle breakdown and kidney and cardiovascular system failure, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The Reducing Americans Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act (RAVE Act), or Senate Bill 2633, was introduced in the Senate this summer and later passed to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sponsored by Se. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the bill is an expansion of the so-called “crack house statute,” which makes maintaining a building or facility for the purpose of drug consumption illegal, according to the Drug Policy Alliance Action Center.
The RAVE Act would hold promoters responsible for illegal activity inside their venue, reasoning that sponsors of raves are aware of drug use and are therefore knowingly providing a setting in which drugs may be bought and sold.
“Most raves are havens for illicit drugs,” said Biden in a Fox News article in July. Violators of the law could face up to $250,000 in fines or up to two times the gross receipts derived from each violation attributed to the person. Violators could also be liable for civil penalty.
The fine print
Marv Johnson, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an interview with The Washington Post that the law would violate the First Amendment, arguing music and dance are protected forms of expression, and the law would discourage promoters from sponsoring these kinds of activities.
Herman, who wrote a senior thesis on the electronic music culture in Fort Collins and has also written a letter to Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard protesting the bill, said the act is blatantly biased against a specific pop-culture sector.
“I think it’s clearly targeted at a specific culture, but not because the rave culture is in any way a danger to society,” he said.
“Very few people have died as a result of raves,” Herman said, adding he found during his research that more people purchase handguns than buy illegal drugs. He is also an electronic music DJ and said he is familiar with the music scene in Fort Collins.
“There is drug use going on in every legal music venue in this town,” he said, “no matter what style music they play there.” He said it is illogical to hold one person responsible for others’ actions.
“The fact that the electronic music scene is targeted is cultural bigotry. If you need proof, look at the title of the act.”
However, Eric Davis, representative of the Starlight dance club, said drugs have no place in the club.
“There’s no drugs allowed inside the Starlight,” he said. “That’s the policy. We are hardcore about it. No drugs allowed. Period. If you’re doing something illegal, we will throw you out.”
Because of this policy, Davis said, the proposed RAVE Act would not affect the club’s business, and he said he would not be concerned if the act passes into legislation.
Keller, who went to her first rave in Detroit as a high school student, said people who go to raves know drug use is rampant, and many go solely for that reason.
“I would say the majority go for the drugs,” she said. “I wouldn’t recommend (raves) if you are not comfortable being around illegal actions. Don’t go because it’s everywhere.”
Aside from its legal implications, some like Keller fear the RAVE act would push rave activity further underground, thereby limiting safety measures that could be utilized if raves were more widely accepted. In Detroit, Keller said she and her companions stopped at two checkpoints to get directions to the rave, located in a warehouse “in the middle of nowhere.”
Bailey, also a CSU freshman who would only give her first name, said she used to enjoy raves for the music and the social aspect but no longer goes to them because of the shifted focus from art to drugs and big-business promoters.
“Now it’s become this weird corporate thing, and a lot of people are there to get drugs,” she said. “That’s not why I go.”
Bailey said she understands the need to curb teenage drug use, but the proposed legislation is “ridiculous.” She suggests making age restrictions for raves so those who do choose to engage in illegal activity will be old enough to take full responsibility for their actions.
Still, Biden said in The Washington Post that Ecstasy abuse by teenagers has risen 71 percent since 1999, and promoters of raves knowingly distribute fliers with pictures of pills resembling ecstasy, sometimes referred to as “E,” “X” and “XTC.” According to Biden, only promoters who stage events for the purpose of providing a forum for selling and buying drugs would be prosecuted.
Challengers of the bill contend it is too broad and practically unenforceable. To punish promoters who “knowingly open, lease, rent, use any place either permanently or temporarily for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance,” as the bill states, is next to impossible because there is no distinct line to distinguish between people who knowingly and unknowingly engage is such an activity, say civil liberties groups such as the ACLU.
On the contrary, cosponsor Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa called it an appropriate extension of the crack house law in a statement about the act.
“We’ve seen raves advertised as safe, alcohol-free and drug-free places for kids to socialize and dance,” he said. “If that is what the promoter actually intends, then they don’t have anything to worry about.”
Behind the scenes
In a generation where trends are as short-lived as the Colorado rain and youths strive to be accepted, Bailey said politicians should stop focusing on a small facet of culture and strive to grasp the greater problems facing teenagers today.
“The real problem is the social implications behind (raves and drugs),” she said. “It’s about why people are doing this-why are they turning to drugs?”
Bailey questions a society more concerned with public acceptance than individuality and a growing norm of uninvolved parents and free-roaming youth. From her experience, she said raves are often an outlet of expression for people who remain on the fringe of “fitting in.”
“(At raves) we’re defying social definition,” Bailey said. “I wish I could tell those people who don’t understand…that it’s not about the drugs-it’s about what moves you.”