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When I was a teenager I did everything in my power to convince my mom to let me go to raving. This was at a time when the term EDM didn’t exist and festivals were for rock bands. After begging her and explaining to her that I actually do really love dance music, she realized that she would rather know where I am than have me sneaking out of my window at 4AM, and she made a deal with me. The deal was that I had to write a 10-to-15-page research paper on MDMA and what it does to the brain; I had to call her when I got to a rave and call her when I left; and every once in a while she might make me take a drug test at random. At the time I thought my mom was overbearing, but now I realize the she is in fact the best mom ever.
Did I still pop pills at parties? Yes, of course I did. I was a teenager, and teenagers are going to do whatever they want whenever they want, whether you let them or not. We can close down festivals or try and “ban EDM” and blame people as much as we want, but the truth is this is normal and kids will do these things whether it’s at a rave, a punk show or in their friend’s backyard.
After the Electric Zoo incident, I remembered an organization called DanceSafe that I used to see around at club nights and raves when I first moved to New York. They would set up a table and give out information packets on drugs, condoms, and advice. A lot of the times they had drug testing kits where they would test kids’ pills and let them know what their drugs did or did not contain, with no judgement.
Turns out they are still around and active and they have just partnered with TomorrowWorld, one of the country's largest electronic music festivals, taking place this year in the hills of Chattahoochee, Georgia. While they won't be testing your drugs on site—as the organization was known to do prior to the early '00s rave crackdown—they will be offering plenty of information about how to stay safe while using, which is a step in the right direction. I was able to get a hold of Carissa DanceSafe, one of the group's organizers, who had a lot to say about dirty drugs, common misnomers, and harm reduction.
THUMP: What do you do for DanceSafe exactly?
Carissa: I'm the National Outreach Director. I do all the trainings and help our various chapters along with coordination for all large events and conferences.
Why did you start doing this?
I started a chapter in 1999 in Madison, Wisconsin after having a friend almost die from what we thought was Ecstacy. It scared the shit out of me.
Do you still do it at raves often?
Yes. But "raves" is somewhat of a dirty word.
DanceSafe sets up at electronic music events.
While everyone thinks it's just about testing drugs, there are more things done at the set up.
Yes! DanceSafe is really about building community and taking care of ourselves and each other.
So if I came to the Dance Safe table what would be there?
You can find free cold drinking water—just remember to bring you own bottle as we do not provide cups. You can find free condoms, earplugs, info packets, and some super awesome DanceSafe volunteers to chat with.
The testing is done by taking a very small amount of powder or sample and dropping a reagent, or test kit, onto the sample. DanceSafe has four reagents—marquis, mecke, mandolin, simons—and each reagent tests for a different range of substances. After you drop the reagent on the sample, you will then look for a color reaction.
What kind of substances are you testing for?
Mostly for Molly or MDMA. But Molly does not mean MDMA.
What does it mean?
Today Molly is questionable—it can be any number of different drugs, because anyone can put anything into a capsule and tell you it's Molly. You never really know what it is till you test it! Most of the time when we test Molly it is not MDMA.
Is Molly like "E pills" (Ecstacy in pill form_ was back in the day or do you think it's different now?
It's way different nowadays.
And the Molly you have tested—what has it been?
WTF is that?
MDVP, BK-MDMA, methylone, butylone, mephedrone are all cathinones. They are also called "bath salts" by the media but I am not a fan of slang terms for drugs.
So basically there's a bunch of kids "raging" to EDM on "bath salts."
Yes. And I don’t even think they are aware of it. It doesn’t help that all of the slang terms are very confusing. I dislike them.
So if something comes up weird do you say “This isn’t what it’s supposed to be. I wouldn’t take it if I were you?"
No. We don't ever tell anyone to do something or to not do something. We provide them with the test results and answer any questions they may have.
How do you usually get involved with a club or festival?
For larger events and multi-day festivals we typically have to fill out a vendor application and submit it to the event, usually several months before it happens. A lot of times there is a vendor fee but sometimes they will give us a discount because we are a non-profit.
Do they ever give you shit about giving out free water?
Sometimes, but we have Nalgene water bottles available for a donation and if you get one we offer free cold water for the entire event.
I think that not drinking enough water is a huge problem at these things. What do you think?
That is a huge problem. If they just provided free water and made it easy to get to they would have half as many issues! To me it should be a given.
I used to see DanceSafe tables out all the time and then it seemed like you disappeared. Why is that?
In the beginning we had chapters everywhere. But after all of theRAVE Actstuff went down, promoters were scared to have us at their events because they thought by having us there it meant there was drug use going on.
Super lame. So chapters had a hard time sustaining, not to mention there weren’t as many dance music-based events happening at that time. The whole industry seemed to die down after the Rave Act but now it’s back and bigger than ever.
How is it different now than in 1999?
The market was very different. It was more of a pressed pill market. Back then it was very rare for me to do a test and have it not come up as a positive for MDMA. At one point I remember thinking that my testing kit wasn't working correctly! All the MDMA capsules we tested were always sketchy. And now its capsules everywhere and hardly any positive tests for MDMA. Bath salts all day! Scary. Almost half of people we surveyed last summer said that they had taken something that they had no idea what it was.
So if you were to send someone out to a festival, how would you tell them to party realistically, without telling them "Don't do drugs"? Like a DanceSafe party guide.
Drink water, wear sunblock, bring good shoes, eat something, take care of your friends. And test it before you ingest it. Always! Educate yourself and look out for others.