Dose, Syrous, Liquid Adrenaline, Effective, AWOL, Destiny, Hullabaloo — in 1998, at the high point of Toronto’s rave culture, these promotion crews were running parties almost every weekend, bringing top name DJ’s in to the city and, more importantly, providing suitable venues for all-night recreational drug consumption.
The front (or back?) of a 1999 flyer for MDMA’s Communication Breakdown Party
Dose, Syrous, Liquid Adrenaline, Effective, AWOL, Destiny, Hullabaloo — in 1998, at the high point of Toronto’s rave culture, these promotion crews were running parties almost every weekend, bringing top name DJ’s in to the city and, more importantly, providing suitable venues for all-night recreational drug consumption. It was a winning formula that couldn’t be fucked with and the youth of the city were turning out in numbers to show their approval.
’98 was also the year that politicians realized it was popular to campaign against the city’s rave culture, which had gone relatively unnoticed up until that point. After the local media ran several stories emphasizing how dangerous raves were, the mayor of Toronto, a former furniture salesman named Mel Lastman, made it a political priority to crack down on the party culture. He was upset about the proliferation of drug use among teens and, like many others, was also disturbed by the “electronic” influence on U2’s Pop album. It was all getting way out of hand.
One of the last great parties I went to in Toronto was the Emerald City.
Things came to a head later that year; I remember being at a party promoted by the Effective crew called “The Emerald City.” It was pretty much like any other Toronto rave I had ever been to with the exception of one significant moment.
Before the headlining DJ’s could start into their sets, an MC at the party –- a guy named Flip Side -– had stopped the music to address the crowd about the political pressure rave promoters were facing. He was going to remind us all that what we needed more than ever was solidarity in the scene.
I didn’t need to hear him speak. I already knew, like everyone else wearing pants with a 24-inch leg opening, that WE were right and THEY were wrong. But thank God we had an articulate spokesman like Flip Side to really break it down for us. Paraphrasing, here’s what he said that night:
“The Government is trying to say that our culture is wrong. That we’re part of a scene that promotes drug use. They want to shut us down because they don’t understand what rave culture is about. If you know about Toronto rave culture like I do, then you know this scene isn’t about drugs, that no one here is promoting drug use or using drugs… it’s all about MUSIC and COMMUNITY.”
Now, at the time I was hearing this, I was stoned harder than an Islamic housewife who got caught cheating on her husband, so I could be wrong about 90% of what I just quoted, but I remember with absolute certainty the two foundational principles mentioned in Flip Side’s speech: MUSIC and COMMUNITY.
Even with my own bias and a searing ecstasy high working against my better logic, I couldn’t buy into such oblivious bullshit.
I looked around at everyone else at the party, all of whom were cheering, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t music or community that was causing their jaws to grind. The entire crowd, including my friends and I, were so collectively wasted any one of us could’ve made Charlie Sheen look like Kirk Cameron on wheatgrass. By my unscientific calculation I estimated that maybe five people were there for music/community and the other 2,000 were trying to see how many pills they could fit into their mouth at once.
I was completely disillusioned. Of course music and friends were an important part of what was going on, but so were the drugs. We had been accused of being drug users, which we were, and instead of owning up to the fact that drugs were an intrinsic part of the culture, the official response from the statesmen of the party scene was to dismiss all criticism as a bad, misinformed trip –- this from a scene where the standard opener for approaching strangers was “So, what are you on?”
That’s what denial looked like in 1998.
Today it looks a little different, but remains retarded nonetheless, like the teenagers I teach who say shit to me such as:
“Well, you know I don’t really do drugs… just M’s,” or, “I don’t do drugs that are really bad for you, I only do MDMA.”
Since when is MDMA not that bad for you?
A friend of mine graduated from the rave scene to become a scientist. She now studies the effects of drugs in the brain. Her running joke is that she’s trying to figure out exactly what she did to herself back in those party days. According to her expert opinion, the research on MDMA is inconclusive, inadequate and the few studies that are being funded are heavily biased by financiers who have an agenda they want validated by the research. So I don’t know why people are of the opinion that MDMA is significantly less harmful than any other drug that affects the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain.
In 1998 we were liars for pretending our scene wasn’t about drugs. We should have just defended our position honestly instead of trying to imagine the rave culture as being something it wasn’t.
In 2011 you’re a liar if you’re promoting the idea that MDMA isn’t really bad for you in the same way other drugs are.
The truth is: No one knows for sure. Just because you don’t feel as stepped on the next day doesn’t mean your brain is any less affected. Convincing yourself that what you’re doing isn’t very bad for you won’t change the reality of the fact that it actually might be.
I’m not saying don’t do drugs. It would be hypocritical of me. All I’m saying is: be honest about it. If you are going to do drugs, don’t do them and pretend you’re taking happiness vitamins. Be real about the risks you’re assuming and the price you’re willing to pay for a high. If you ignore the fact that there’s no conclusive evidence about what MDMA does to your brain and you ignore the fact that I’ve personally seen some of my friends cripple themselves by taking too much ecstasy, you should still be able to know at an instinctual level that nothing that feels as good as an MDMA high comes without a price. Life is never so gracious, and contrary to the great hippie myth, not even love is free.