By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Soon after that, at the Electric Daisy Carnival, in the publicly run L.A. Coliseum, all hell broke loose. Footage of dozens of young people rushing barriers, some getting bloodied and badly hurt, emerged on YouTube. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wanted to know why the event was allowed by political leaders who oversee the Coliseum.
Some medical professionals said the casualties were like those seen in war. The city of Los Angeles got cold feet after that, canceling a big Halloween event scheduled at the city-owned Convention Center.
The Coliseum Commission then began grappling with new regulations and security strategies. But that's been tricky, because the same pols are avidly pushing to maintain their long reign over the government-backed megarave scene.
Electric Daisy promoter Pasquale Rotella ultimately hired government relations and strategic communications firm Englander Knabe & Allen to help his event survive a grilling by the commission. Commission member Don Knabe's son, Matt Knabe, is a principal at Englander. The commission essentially decided Rotella's raves could go forward, but his Electric Daisy event must be approved beforehand.
"I'm opposed to an outright ban," Supervisor Knabe told fellow commissioners. Young people were dying, but money was being made, too.
The Coliseum Commission won't disclose how much it reaped from rave fees last year. But the money has turned straitlaced politicians into scolds who wave off the warnings of concerned medical professionals.
"We are under financial stress this year that we were not under last year," explains commission President Barry Sanders, who backs the raves, speaking at the board's December meeting. But Coliseum Commissioner Rick Caruso, developer of the Grove, warns, "I do think it's morally wrong to have these events. What amazes me is that with all the good intentions of trying to make them safe ... the likelihood of somebody getting hurt or dying is very, very high."
But Rotella scored a PR triumph at the hearing. The officials, who had never been to raves, began calling them "festivals." Then they voted unanimously to continue embracing them.
Los Angeles Coliseum Commission president Barry Sanders, a bow tie–wearing Wagner fan with cozy ties to City Hall (he heads the L.A. Recreation and Parks board), declares: "It's clear from attendance that hundreds of thousands of Angelenos enjoy these events."
Patrick Lynch, the Coliseum's general manager, says the events are "really starting to go very mainstream."
On one level, that's true. The mainstreaming of electronic dance-music culture through trance-infected hip-hop, television dance competitions and video games such as DJ Hero has served as a gateway to rave culture and given it hundreds of thousands of young Los Angeles adherents.
But these massive events, using taxpayer-owned venues and city-paid police, are, in fact, going "very mainstream" almost nowhere but Los Angeles. Here, the market for them is huge. According to a recent Journal of the American Medical Association report on Ecstasy, "The number of [Los Angeles County] residents citing MDMA as their primary drug of choice at the time of entry into drug treatment increased by 650 percent ... during 2005-2009."
Eighteen-year-old Bianca (she didn't want her full name used), a rave regular who attended the Electric Daisy Carnival, says, "Being surrounded by so many people who share the same ideas as you is a great feeling."
But some rave veterans are beginning to sound an alarm.
Marcus Gaede, 27, from the slightly older crowd that's outgrowing E, is an electronic dance-music aficionado. He became an anti-Ecstasy crusader after coming across a dying girl at the 2007 Halloween rave Monster Massive at the Coliseum Commission-controlled Sports Arena, near USC.
"For over 35 minutes we were waiting with a security guard for medical attention," he says. "Her mouth was, like, wired shut and she was, like, choking on the water. She was going to drown. ... As the drugs kept taking more effect, she started having seizures."
Gaede describes what appeared to be a gross mishandling of the gravely ill young woman, with screwups by responders that added at least one hour to saving her. Lee died of drug intoxication, including MDMA, five days later.
"It took them forever to get her from the lemonade [stand] outside to an ambulance," Gaede says, "because they didn't want to parade her through a bunch of people. So they took her through some back ways."
Many rave veterans doubt that the outsized parties that have outgrown the scene's underground, anti-establishment roots, can be made safer. "A party like that is definitely all about, 'What can we score here,' " says DJ Jeff Black, who has performed at the smaller, underground events, such as Moontribe parties, that the graying politicians on the Coliseum Commission view as the real problem.
Jason Bentley, music director at KCRW and a 20-year proponent of electronic music, disagrees, saying, "I don't believe the rave scene is especially unsafe compared to other large-scale events."