At first glance, it’s just loud music and colorful lights. There’s no real beat to speak of — not like in traditional music — so any crowd member can commit to any sequence of moves and call it dancing. The clubs are usually too dark and deafening to hold a conversation with anyone. Festivals burst with costumed festivalgoers loaded on booze, pills and anything else that’ll do the trick.
Everyone dances, and when they get tired of dancing and jumping, they bounce, sway their bodies and bob their heads.
That pretty much describes the EDM scene to outsiders, and that’s how I viewed the scene myself for a long time — noise, lights, drugs.
Being Latino too, I considered electronic dance music a white people thing, like country and street luge. Good Latino boys, I thought, should stick to gangsta rap.
My earliest awareness of EDM came during the raving ’90s. I was in middle school and barely grasped the concept. From what I could tell at the time, raves were secret dance parties out in the desert or in a barn, semi-Satanic, where white 20-somethings went ape shit til sunrise.
Later I learned a drug called “ecstasy” was what made everybody go crazy and that some people were even dropping dead from overdosing on it, which was apparently an easy thing to do.
And so I stayed away from the EDM scene for many of the same reasons which kept me away from heavy metal music: I didn’t want to be around people who were raving or raging.
Unbeknownst to me, however, a rhythmic seed had been planted deep within my brain that would later blossom into a fever for EDM. That seed was house music.
I’m not the only Latino who can trace their EDM roots back to DJs like Chicago’s own Cajmere.
“My love for the EDM scene stemmed from my passion for house music,” says Manuel, 27, who would only tell me he was from the Midway area. “House music was something that I grew up with, and to this day most house tracks trigger some kind of great memory.”
Not only does Manuel cite house music as his introduction to EDM, his first EDM experience was at house music show. He points to a set by Chicago legend Julian “Jumpin'” Perez at the History of House Music concert at the Congress Theater in October 2008 as his EDM baptism.
“It was pretty much halfway through when I was pretty sweaty from the continuous dancing that I looked up and realized just about everyone else looked the same. And the weird part was that no one seemed to care.”
Like me, Manuel was both weirded out and pleasantly surprised by how unified the audience was.
“No one was fighting,” he recalls. “No one was giving dirty looks.”
“In fact most people had this look of amazement on there face as the music and the lights mesmerized them.”
After sharing my first Molly experience with him, he tells me about the first time he tried X. (Ecstasy is usually MDMA, Molly’s scientific acroynym, cut with something else like coke, meth or Adderall.) He admits that when a friend offered him a “little blue pill” at his the third History of House show, he was “extremely hesitant.” In the end he figured the drug’s terrible reputation was probably based on rumors and he decided to take the pill.
“Suddenly everything made sense!”
Manuel says EDMers’ sweating and obsession with lights went from being creepy to being completely understandable.
“These events fill you with a sense of belonging as thousands of people gather to jam to the same music all night. It wasn’t until the night I tried that pill that it really seemed like a dream that you never wanted to end because of how truly amazing the energy feels.”
While I was breaking to “It’s Time for the Percolator” in 1992, another fellow Latino member of the EDM community was rocking out to eurodance hit of the year.
“Ever since I heard ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’ by Snap! I was hooked,” says Amanda.
Amanda’s first EDM experience, though more recent than Manuel’s, is more conventional. It was when she traveled to Indio, California in 2010 to attend Coachella. There she saw DeadMau5 and Tiesto, the second of whom, Amanda says, “put on a spectacular performance that I will always remember as my first EDM show.”
The first time she popped Molly was for Bassnecter’s set during last year’s Spring Awakening Music Festival at Soldier Field. “Jaw dropping visuals and lights” is how she describes that night.
Despite the pleasure of her first experience, Amanda says she doesn’t pop Molly as often as people think EDMers do. “I would say I’ve done it about 7 times.”
And she doesn’t roll as hard as outsiders might expect.
“Don’t get me wrong,” she says, “there are more than a handful of festivalgoers that do roll all day at these events.”
“But in my opinion, and from what I’ve seen, they’re the ones who usually pass out early on in the event and miss the headliners, along with the experience of being unified with the crowd once the artists perform.”
Now she only pops Molly whenever she catches a DJ’s show during the off-season.
“It puts you right back into that state of being free.”
Manuel agrees with Amanda that you shouldn’t “overdo it.”
“MDMA is definitely not a substance that anyone would want to abuse, because of how dangerous it can be in excess,” he explains.
“However, when taken on a rare occasion, like a music festival or something, it can definitely act as an experience enhancer.”
Molly may be ubiquitous in the EDM scene, but it’s not what EDM is about, not even mostly. Those tiny capsules merely act as a lubricant, both on the social and internal levels, making you more simpatico with yourself and others. (And that freshly tapped congeniality can last for days or even weeks afterward.)
But, again, this isn’t about some drug. Molly, X, whatever — they’re just catalysts that put you more in tuned with the inner and outer environments, which allows you to realize what EDM is really about: rhythm, movement, and a little thing called “PLUR.”
This is part of a three-part series looking at Latinos in the EDM scene. Join us next week for Part Two.
[Photo: Tony Nungaray via Wikimedia Commons]