A couple of months back, the internet collectively freaked out over a report claiming that traces of illegal drugs in water supplies increased a thousand-fold after music festivals. Those judging from the sidelines gravely nodded their heads and proclaimed self-righteous “I told you so”s during dinner conversations. Wannabes trying to seem rebellious brandished the information as a perverse badge of pride. Parents panicked and banned kids from ever going to one of those bastions of debauchery and unchecked hedonism.
But it’s festival season now, and the information is still being used to condemn dance music concerts. Those who might be interested in the scene steer clear, afraid of the drug connotations that have seemingly been proved. Unfortunately, as is all-too common in this digital age, the issue has been entirely blown out of proportion.
The first problem with these stories? While most takes on the topic imply there were numerous festivals involved in the study, the actual report only involved one—the South Korean Spring Scream festival. Misinformation of this sort is a huge problem, primarily because it implies that excessive drug use is rampant and widespread without actually having sources to back up that claim. While there can be no denying the negative impact of this one particular festival, writing as if all of them were damaging to the environment without even a modicum of data is absurd.
Second, the issue is being attributed as a problem unique to EDM shows. Spring Scream is primarily an indie-alternative concert; hardly the demographic associated with substance abuse and unchecked revelry. Granted, there are a few electronic acts, but there are a handful of live acts at most EDM shows as well.
Ultimately, the predominant genre at a festival tends to create the theme of the event. In essence, if the evidence used to prove extreme drug use at electronic shows comes from an indie show in South Korea, the argument could use a little more relevant information. Spring Scream is also notorious for massive parties and irresponsible concert behavior. However, there are many who say the same about EDM, so take that information with a grain of salt.
Finally, the show is MASSIVE, with over 600,000 attending the show each year. For some context, The Gorge hosts around 27,000 people at maximum capacity. According to a National Institute of Drug Abuse survey, around 4.6 of all high school seniors had used MDMA, and that’s within regular American society. Even if just a fraction of that percentage used ecstasy at the show, when you consider that over 600,000 people are present, that’s still a substantial amount of drugs being consumed—making it more likely to have a significant environmental impact. Because of the scope, more research would have to be done at smaller festivals to get a handle on the actual scope of drug use and subsequent effects upon the surrounding area.
Does drug substance abuse happen at dance music festivals? Of course, but that was never really in question. The question lies in whether or not the use is as excessive and environmentally damaging as it’s made out to be. More research needs to be conducted, but in the end, it seems possible that it’s not so much a problem of excessive drug use as a problem of irresponsible journalism. Spread truth, not headlines.