Rave culture in the United States is currently stereotyped with images of young adults wearing skin tight outfits and glow in the dark accessories. The individuals in the subculture are seen from the dominant culture as partygoers who are heavily drugged and high during the raves. That said, the rave culture originally came to the United States in the 1980s after becoming more known in the UK first. During the 1980s, “Ravers” differentiated themselves from other music based parties at the time by participating in a new sense of community not previously made before.
Ravers made their subculture stand apart from other subcultures by forming a community around what actually happens at the rave. Peace, Love, Unity, Respect (PLUR) was an ideology in the rave culture that promoted a “safe” sense to the community during the raves (Marsh 2006). Essentially, PLUR acted as the set of principles ravers were expected to follow. These principles include treating fellow ravers with respect by not giving them drugs they did not want, showing love to fellow ravers and abstaining from fighting during the raves, and overall ensuring the safety of ravers.
Additionally, raves have colorful aspects to them in spite of the warehouses they were usually placed in. Raves included light shows with strobe lights that enabled ravers doing drugs to experience different highs and more “trips” on the drugs. Fog machines, visual effects, and heavy bass sounds are also large parts of the raves that make dancing with fellow ravers different than dancing at a typical concert or party. Additionally, raves have the presence of multiple DJs playing music in different areas of where the rave is held, as opposed to other concerts having only one musician at a time.
Rave culture originated out of young individuals who liked atypical music– heavy beats and bass made electronically as opposed to from instruments like guitars. While the working class definitely was a big part in raves originally, the introduction of various drugs at raves also brought in higher class youth being deviant from their parents and lower class youth coming to have fun. This aspect of the rave culture also brought in more of the deviant stereotype from the dominant culture.
Today, rave culture can be argued as being an extinct culture in the United States (Anderson 2009). That said, today we see that mainly young adults and teens still attend EDM concerts together with either local DJs for smaller events or more popular DJs for larger raves. Festivals such as Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) and Electric Forest have even brought in a larger group of ravers in most recent times. While EDC started in a warehouse in the 1990s, as time went on and rave culture began to adopt more colorful and flashy components to it that ultimately drew in enough people to warrant an even larger space to throw massive concerts over the span of two to three days. Electric Forest, on the other hand, is a much more intense festival where ravers spend two weekends with one another hearing different DJs play music throughout the weekend.
Originally, ravers could be categorized by their flowy pants and shirts that made dancing in crowded warehouses more comfortable, however over time ravers have showcased their individuality through colorful or sequined outfits that light up and are mostly made of spandex or other skin tight fabrics (Mccaughan 2005). For young men the attire is usually shorts with a tank top with a type of pop-culture reference done in an ironic way and sunglasses. For young women, on the other hand, handmade or decorated bikini tops with spandex shorts is the common outfit in the subculture. Young women showcase their individuality by how they choose to do their makeup or paint their skin with glow in the dark paint or paint that glows under the blacklights at most raves. The one common feature in both men and women, though, is arms being covered in handmade bracelets made out of plastic string and beads called “Kandi.” The use of “Kandi” at raves is to trade with other ravers and gain new types of “Kandi” while also spreading a sense of community at the rave, a major part of the raving culture. What is important to note is that ravers do not generally wear their outfits worn to raves in their everyday lives.
So far, we can see how raves have somewhat evolved as a subculture to relate to changing times. Individuals still dress at the raves in a stereotypically deviant way, however the attire has changed. The use of drugs has also heavily influenced the way raves and ravers are seen by the dominant culture, even though not all ravers use drugs while raving.
Use of drugs in raves and current EDM concerts
As previously noted, PLUR is a theoretical system put in place to protect all individuals at raves. Ravers feel a solidarity with one another, and that solidarity extends to drug use. As PLUR instructs, ravers are meant to protect other ravers and show respect at all times, which in turn would provide a type of community that allowed for drug use without the worry of any consequences. While not every raver uses drugs, those that do fall back on this PLUR ethos in order to do so. Ravers using ecstasy say it helps them participate in raves longer and engage with other ravers in a more positive light (Kavanaugh and Anderson 2008). Additionally, these same ravers note the psychedelic and stimulant effects of ecstasy. Thus, ecstasy itself seems to promote a solidarity aspect of rave culture with individuals experiencing the same effects as those around them.
Although drug usage in raves encouraged a type of solidarity within the rave subculture, moral panic followed. While there is not one comprehensive list of all of different types of drugs, ecstasy has been the most commonly used drug at raves. Between 1995 and 2002 the U.S. experienced a surge in documented drug-related emergency room visits along with an overall increase in ecstasy usage (Kavanaugh and Anderson 2008). These findings were also supported by demographic research that confirmed ecstasy and overall drug use was most common in the rave subculture (Kavanaugh and Anderson 2008). Because the use of drugs as a whole leads to major psychological problems, many forms of media vilified rave culture as a whole. Thus, moral panic against rave culture targets mostly the drug use of some ravers as opposed to what raving meant for all ravers.
Switch from classic 90s raves to current EDM concerts
In current times, rave culture in the United States have been categorized as festivals such as Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) and Electric Forest. At these music festivals that are predominantly filled with electronic music similar to the original rave culture individuals share the same ideals of PLUR and sense of community once found in warehouses. Thus, the rave culture has brought in a larger group of ravers due to space expanding. While EDC started in a warehouse in the 1990s, as time went on and rave culture began to adopt more colorful and flashy components, ultimately enough people were drawn in to warrant larger spaces to throw massive concerts over the span of two to three days. Electric Forest, on the other hand, is a much more intense festival where ravers spend two weekends with one another hearing different DJs play music throughout the weekend. Kandi bracelets are still used at the current concert-type raves, with ravers using different PLUR sayings during the exchange.
By: Alexis Acosta
Generation of Sound
Documentary shot in 1992-1993 on American rave culture and the techno music dance scene. The documentary features individuals explaining why they rave and what makes it better than typical concerts.
1990s Techno Rave Culture (Parts 1-4)
This documentary shot in the late 1990s highlights the types of light shows and identifiers of rave culture. What is important to watch, though, is how the young adults rationalize using drugs at raves by saying drugs exist everywhere else in life.
Kandi Ravers Are Sweet
This video gives more of a background on “Kandi Ravers” and how they trade “Kandi”.
This short video shows the current wave of Kandi kids attending EDM concerts and music festivals. The individuals discuss PLUR, the respect found in the current rave culture, and the importance of the kandi bracelets.
EDC Las Vegas 2016 Official Trailer
This trailer shows viewers what is to be expected at the most recent Electric Daisy Carnival. The video shows glimpses of carnival rides, people dancing to the electronic music, and costumes and “Kandi” that attendees wear.
Once Upon The Forest: Discovery
This short video acts as a trailer for Electric Forest’s 2016 festival. The video shows how there are less flashing lights and attention drawing outfits as the Electric Daisy Carnival, and highlights a few attendees’ thoughts on Electric Forest.
Mccaughan, Jill A., Robert G. Carlson, Russel S. Falck, and Harvey A. Siegal. 2005. “From ‘Candy Kids’ to ‘Chemi-Kids’: A Typology of Young Adults Who Attend Raves in the Midwestern United States.” Substance Use & Misuse 40(9-10):1503–23.