This weekend’s Electric Zoo tragedy, in which two untimely drug-related deaths and an underage assault led to the shut-down of the entire festival, displayed the dark underbelly of the old beast that is “sex, drugs, and rock and roll”.
While it’s true that drug usage and other indulgences exist across several cultural settings, there is an undeniable connection between controlled substances and the arts, particularly the music industry. Whether it’s speculation about the Beatles classic, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, or Trinidad James’ casual “popped a molly” reference in “All Gold Everything”, one has to wonder what it is about the music lover that craves the altered state.
This Summer, we explored music’s drug-like effect on the human brain, wondering at the biochemical phenomena that render sounds so sweet to the ear. In a way, one can see the logic: if the sound of music can elevate the human experience, it seems natural that an added “enhancement” would only compound the pleasant stimulation. After all, with all of music’s trippy sounds, mind-bending music videos, and other-worldly celebrity (see: Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj), aren’t contemporary music and recreational drug usage kind of peddling the same promise, a sonic and visual escape so vivid and exotic that real life will never look as good again?
The events of this year’s Electric Zoo festival were horrible, as are the countless other drug-related tragedies that so regularly pop up in our industry, often in more modest surroundings. We wonder if the correlation will ever wane, with new obsessions like social media offering a distraction (and documentary-style watchful eye) that deters would-be pill-poppers. Maybe that’s too much to hope for. But it’s nice to fantasize about a day when a crowd of excited festival-goers are less concerned about coordinating a high, and ready instead to just let the music take them there.