EDM and Ecstasy: The Popular Rise of a Genre and its Implications

By Casey C.

Electronic dance music (EDM) is a supergenre of music that includes club music, dance music, electro house, and other similar subgenres. The shorthanded, simplified summary of such music is synthesized music, normally played and created by DJs in clubs and at live shows, designed to stimulate the senses. The acronym “EDM” is relatively new, essentially coined in 2010 by marketers who wanted to a) draw a distinction between 1990s raves and “new” raves to appeal to the younger generation, and b) avoid the drug use stigmas that had been associated with raves since their inception – “EDM” was a new, fresh word, devoid of any connotations that might spook local police, parents, or club owners[1]. Unsurprisingly, the drug use – particularly that of ecstasy – is still hugely prevalent – and now much more noticeable due to the huge rising popularity of EDM. A poststructuralist and a structural-functionalist anthropologist might explain EDM culture in very different ways.

A poststructuralist like Michel Foucault, on one hand, believes that power is integral to the discussion of culture and anthropological study. Attendees at EDM concerts dress counter to what is considered “normal” in everyday society, often wearing little clothes and neon, glow-in-the-dark colors. The use of ecstasy is hugely prevalent, in more volume than any other drug and arguably in more volume that at shows for other music genres. These behaviors – the discourse of the EDM club – might be displays of resistance to the hegemony (in many attendees’ cases, the hegemon is likely just the set of values imposed on them by their parents). The poststructuralist would argue perhaps that in some way, the older generation’s rules and expectations are oppressive to the younger, and that EDM is one outlet for the younger to express their individuality, their “youngness,” et cetera. A corollary to this might be that in fact EDM is not resistance to the older generation’s hegemonic views at all; but rather an enactment of the hegemonic ideology among young people that drugs are normal and expected as a part of youth, that music and partying are integral parts of growing up, et cetera.

Contrarily, a structural-functionalist anthropologist like A.R. Radcliffe-Brown would argue that EDM culture was an integral cog in the Western societal machine. In this view, the rave would be a social institution with certain social norms (e.g., “at raves, we do ‘molly’”), which attendees must enact and uphold in order to maintain their social status and perform their roles. The motives for both a) attending the rave, and b) doing ecstasy while there, are nearly irrelevant to this model. An anthropologist like Radcliffe-Brown or Evans-Pritchard would simply say that it is one of young people’s functions in society to attend raves, and within the society of the rave, it is one of their functions to do drugs of some sort. While it is possible to analyze EDM culture and ecstasy use through the structural-functionalist lens, I would argue that the poststructuralist model offers a more enlightening perspective.

[1] http://www.factmag.com/2013/07/10/the-fact-dictionary-how-dubstep-juke-cloud-rap-and-many-more-got-their-names/6/. Accessed 12 November 2014.

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28 Responses to EDM and Ecstasy: The Popular Rise of a Genre and its Implications

  1. Juliana says:

    I agree that breaking norms is a way of rebelling against hegemonic systems, but even more so that there is a hegemonic system within the EDM culture. On a larger scale, yes, EDM is against the norms and counters what America’s hegemonic structure promotes. Neon colors and partial nudity are not usually practices of those who are in charge. However, there are layers of power within the EDM scene. For example, those who do ecstasy are maybe be more dedicated to the counterculture and therefore have more power over those who have not done serious drugs and do not commit themselves to always wearing tiny bikinis with big fuzzy, colorful boots.

    • Larkin says:

      I think Juliana brings up a good point, although there are many people who participate in the EDM culture, there are many more who don’t. I think it would be interesting to talk about how this EDM/rave culture impacts the age range that’s just getting introduced to these kind of ‘rebellious’ cultures. For example reggae is notoriously associated with the use of marijuana, at the time when reggae was becoming more popular was it put on the same “youth rebellion” pedestal that EDM is seen on today?

      • Angela Gianficaro says:

        I agree with both Juliana and Larkin. Although each generation is set within a different cultural milieu, they act similarly when it comes to rebellion from parents, expressing themselves, and partying. This goes along with the structural anthropological point of view stating that this particular culture is a “cog” in the Western societal machine. Each generation recreates this specific role they are expected to play while adding a unique twist on how they do so.

  2. Logan Arlen says:

    People going to music festivals and doing drugs is nothing new especially for the older generation. Looking at the certain kinds of drugs that people do at different concerts and the effects of these drugs gives more insight into what people want to get out of both the counter culture and the music .

    • Maddie Ohaus says:

      I agree with Logan that this counter-culture idea has been happening for a long time. But, though the music and the drugs may change overtime I think the overall message of being part of counter-culture has stayed the same. In the 60’s people were taking acid, wearing tie-dye and listening to the grateful dead, in the 80’s people were wearing leather and studs, doing heroin and listening to The Sex Pistols. The counter-culture has given kids of practically every generation a way to escape and be someone they can’t be at home with their parents.

    • MelissaDanielle Lauro says:

      I think this is a very good point. Music festivals with large amounts of drugs are no new think, but the prevalence of social media may be what causes us to think that is. We read stories all over the internet about people we never would have even heard of before the internet.
      I think it could be a mixture of poststructuralism and structural-functionalism. People go to the shows to rebel against a hegemonic society and do drugs while there because that is what other people do.

    • Kaleigh C says:

      Yes I agree with this post. Countercultures will always exist, as youth will always rebel. I feel as if this trope of the “kids on drugs at music festivals” is not going to ever going to go away, it just simply evolves over time. I completely agree with your structural functionalist view. It seems that in our society it is almost bizarre if someone plans on going to a concert sober. And it is almost like EDM automatically equals molly.

  3. Stephanie Grossart says:

    I spent half of my life living in Miami and I was definitely a part of that “scene”. Not that I like to admit it. Going to these giant parties and being able to dress crazy was something I didn’t have before. The fact is these parties are exactly the same as 90’s raves but with instagram and Facebook. Young kids doing drugs and listening to music. Therefore I think a post structuralist would not be that interested. I completely agree with your structuralist functionalist view. I used to go to clubs just to take a picture to prove I was there. In order to keep my persona up and my life flowing I did these absurd things.

    • Charlie Travis says:

      I agree with you about your comment on the poststructuralist critique. I don’t think it is neccesarily the “older” generation.. I think it has to do more with how society will always universally be stratified by age difference. Younger people seek out these experiences, such as Woodstock-type music festivals that were prevalent for the older generations as well. If anything perhaps we could see this type of behavior being more so resistant to the structured-ness of young people’s lives ( as Foucault would repeatedly mention the similarities between schools and prisons) and see this dance, drug type setting as being a common reaction young people have to the structured repetitiveness of school, work, etc.

  4. Dec says:

    I feel that as one who has been apart of the EDM scene for the last 10 years i believe that most people go into the scene as a post structuralist but after enough time see themselves as a structural functionalist on the subject. We would like to see ourselves as counter culture but as it has been said in several responses music and drugs have been around forever. Gathering together for music and intoxicants have been part of society almost since societies started. In 10 years there will be new music and new drugs. And although some may say the EDM scene is for the youth they haven’t been to many festivals lately. i have personally seen the average age of the EDM concert goer go up almost by the show.

  5. Alexis says:

    I completely agree with the way that you applied the two theories in this essay. I believe, as the person above stated, that the EDM “experience” along with the drugs is seen as a post structuralist. They get swept up into that world, and then when you’re once a part of the EDM community when someone asks you if you going to THIS concert and THAT you have to say yes. Thereby, making it structural functionalism. But isn’t that how everything goes? Everything that was once a thing and has faded eventually comes full circle. What once was for your parents will be for you.

  6. Julia Marino says:

    I really think you chose a great hotly debated topic in regards to the music industry right now. I think you did a great job applying the two contrasting theories in relation to the current EDM craze. I think it would be interesting to look at more specifics in regards to the EDM movement at EDM only festivals and in comparison festivals with all genres of music. From attending a music festival that is not just EDM based, I have seen at Coachella that drug use is present at every stage even if it is not an EDM dj performing. I think that if you were to look at the rise of not just EDM but new multiple based genre music festivals in general, the age demographic that attends them, and statistics regarding drug and alcohol arrests you would be surprised by how common substance abuse is.

  7. Nayantara Nelson says:

    I agree with the idea that in some social structures, partying, going to raves, and doing drugs is in resistance to the hegemony, but I also and equally agree with your notion, that this is an enactment of what young people believe is a part of being young and growing up. I’m sure there are very few parents supporting and encouraging their children to go out and do drugs at these shows, but I have also noticed as I have grown older, that many parents aren’t dead set against it. From personal experience, I have been encouraged to try new things and have been taught to be safe and careful about it. When I was 5 or 6 years younger, for my age group contemporary music and drug use was very much about the resistance against the structure that our parents enforced but now as we are independent, this does seem more like an occasional past time or a way to have fun (relating this to what our idea of fun would be as 13 year olds and going to the mall). In your article there is little that specifies the age range of the group you are referring to which I think it is a key aspect to look at when you are discussing resistance verses a set social structure. Another thing to take into consideration, is our parents generation is one of the most differentiated in term of personality types. Our generation is parented by a mix of traditionalists and those included in one of the most infamous young rebel cultures of the 60’s and 70’s. I think these additional considerations can provide more insight into your post structural view.

  8. Cody says:

    I think that no matter what type of concert you go to that there will be a certain type of drug that is considered to be the choice of drug. Just like Logan said it depends on what people want to get out of it. I agree with your article that it is more of a younger generation thing to do etc. but no matter what generation or style of concert for the most part there will always be different type of drugs

  9. Carly Morrison says:

    Its interesting that we associate phases such as drug use and partying with growing up and becoming an adult in this society. I think that certain drugs and parties in connection not with age differences, but wealth and social stratifications is an interesting aspect of drug use and culture in the United States. Its easy to say that partying is only for the young and placing an expectation of drug use on that demographic. But it is also very common to see drug busts on the news targeting certain minorities and poorer populations. These stereotypes are all too common and detrimental. Drugs are used across classes, ages, and different demographics within our society. Attributing drug use to those who have less power, young people, minorities, and poorer populations, is a way to create power hierarchies. No one wants to look at drug use with in politicians, high up executives, or other powerful people in our society, because it might give them less credibility and power. However, taking that credibility from those who are already at the bottom of power hierarchies in this country maintains the status quo. Not to mention, one of the only differences between white collar crime and blue collar crime is simply the ability to resist punishment. I argue that even though a higher percent of young people might use drugs such as ecstasy and be a part of the party scene, this stereotype helps to take away their agency in a society that connects drug use with a lapse in judgement. Connecting drug use to people with less power in American society is a very easy way to also take away their voice.

  10. Ian McClain says:

    I related your essay to Ian Condry’s “Japanese Hip Hop and Globalization of Popular Culture.” Like the Japanese with hip hop, it seems like the people involved in “EDM culture” are trying to be recognized as a distinct and unique from others. Specifically, Condry contrasts the early bird business people on the 4 o clock train with the Japanese club goers reeking of alcohol who are just traveling home from a late night of partying. The Japanese club goers seem to be proud that they are distinct and have a laid back attitude towards life. I imagine individuals who are part of the EDM culture have a similar perspective regarding dance music.

  11. Taylor Thostenson says:

    Coming from someone who frequents raves and listens to mostly electronic & house music you’re article was very interesting to read. I would agree with your view on power and ultimately trying to make a claim of our generation’s take on what I see as “modern day hippies”. I also agree that your theory on structural-functionalists is extremely prevalent at raves and their mindset on feeling obliged to take part in molly/ecstasy. I don’t necessarily agree with that statement that it’s resistance to our parents because I see it as a strive for making a statement to society instead. Overall really great read!

  12. James Cumming says:

    I agree that the post-structuralist approach holds more water than its counterpart structural-functionalism, within this critique. It seems as though the fact that drugs and EDM music are linked together means there is an expectation of public use when entering the scene, but this does not mean it will actually happen. The structural-functionalist approach saying that it is apart of the youths function to do drugs is a bit far fetched to me, only because each individual is different, even though it is likely that general sobriety is low. This does not mean that drugs are apart of the function of the rave itself but are apart of the general culture that particular drug-user is accustom to each day. In other words I think that drug use goes far beyond the EDM scene and enters into the culture of youth, even when its association with EDM music is strong. It’s just like the saying “Sex, drugs and Rock and Roll!”; the function of drugs reaches far beyond the localized rave scene.

  13. Jacqueline Joyal says:

    I completely agree with what you are saying in your article. EDM and drug use is synonymous. However this has exploded to other realms of music as well. As many other commentators have said, drugs are prevalent in most music genres. I’ve been to concerts in small enclosed spaces and seen people light up a joint. And I’ve also been to Red Rocks where people were offering molly. It’s interesting to look at the difference of drugs, and to an extent alcohol, being consumed and used at various concerts. Drugs/alcohol enhance the experience to many people. It’s a very widespread idea to get the most out of everything.

  14. Taylor Hill says:

    This was very interesting to read. I feel like the EDM culture is big in Boulder, so I have heard a lot about this. It is interesting to think about it in an anthropological way though. I agree that it is breaking the norms but I feel like every generation has its own “thing”. Like Jaqueline said, it is always interesting to see someone light a joint in the middle of a concert. I feel that every genre has its own drug of choice that those who like it seem to favor.

  15. Larkin’s point was very interesting to me. One thing I had not really thought of as I read the essay was how it would affect the people who are not part of the EDM scene. I think its interesting to think of the consequences of this culture. The point larkin brought up was how it would affect drug use among younger people. But for me I’d be interested in seeing how it affects drug use of the people involved. In societies where drugs are less risqué, there is usually a lot less problems associated with drugs. Maybe the freedom of the EDM people actually reduces drug use among them. The people who are into this sort of thing are usually already doing drugs, so I wouldn’t say EDM is the reason they are doing drugs.

  16. Kayla McClelland says:

    I thought the analysis of EDM culture through poststructuralism was spot on and thorough. It is easy to think of these “counter” cultures and their attempts to break free of traditional hegemonic norms, but we do not pay as much attention to the growth of these cultures into hegemonies themselves. I wonder what a political economist might say about the EDM culture and drug use – the EDM experience is very expensive considering concert fees and also drug prices. Would the expenses of participating in this culture exclude a particular demographic of youth? If so, who?

  17. Stephanie Scattergood says:

    This was super awesome to read and extremely relevant for CU. It would have been interesting to include a point or a view that discusses about that while ecstasy may be prevalent in the EDM, cultural views on recreational drug use overall are changing (ie the legalization of marijuana) because this is significant and does have impact on how an anthropologist analyzes this.

  18. Frank Minor says:

    I really liked how you summed it up. I would agree that the post-structuralist would argue that its a way to “express youngness”, and it seems that every generation seems to do this in some way, shape, or form- take hippies, and beatnicks for example, they did it, and this is just one way that millennial’s express their rebelliousness. Taking a look at the structural-functionalist view of it, it seems as though its almost a rite of passage, and that I would agree with, although it is certainly not unique to EDM. Instead, I would look at the social scene it offers as one aspect of, similar to that of, let’s say college kids. College is a place where people find out alot about themselves and open up to a lot of new experiences, hence the term, “theres a time and place for everything and thats college”. I would still say that the post-structuralist way of looking at it is more important, but both views definitely come into play here in one way or another.

  19. I think this was a really interesting thing to talk about. I think your ideas about hegemony are interesting, especially that contrasted with raves that were about rebellion, EDM shows are in a way granted to us and allow us a space to go crazy because we’re “supposed” to because we’re just kids. However, I think your use of ecstasy in your analysis was a bit strange. In my experience, people do molly now way more than people do ecstasy, in part because ecstasy is usually cut with other drugs like meth (I have a friend who could personally testify to this, believe it or not). That’s not all that important for your overall discussion, but still, it threw me off a bit. I would agree that at certain shows and venues music allows us a space to just be weird. I went to Bonnaroo this past summer and on the walls “Where weird is normal” was spraypainted everywhere. And I think it’s true. However, I don’t think this is true for just EDM shows. I think another area where you could look at this kind of thing is with music festivals as a culture, and also a counterculture with its own hegemonic principles within larger society as well.

  20. maddysimonds says:

    This essay is very good at addressing the positive and negative perspectives of EDM and drugs involved. The two analysis you chose addresses two completely different generations which is also important. I like that even though the results of mass drug use is bad, we can look past that and see it as just another youth outlet. Similarly, practically every generation has possessed an outlet like this that their parent did not understand at the time, but not rock and roll, skirts above the knee, and smoking pot are usual things. I would disagree more with the structural-functionalism approach because the fact that EDM and raves and drugs is looked down upon by so many, attending a concert would not help uphold a reputation- however, it is important to address because it is so prevalent in young people’s lives. (that their image is extremely important.)
    Madison Simonds

  21. AYURU KONDO says:

    I’m not so familiar with this topic, but can understand idea. I think this place and culture is concern to society. These are structural functionalism to young people, and also, when the country economy is glow, these culture is also glow. I think these are circulate phenomenon. Economy became good, these culture is also glow. Then young people enjoy these music, it became spread to society. And other young (they don’t go club) can feel restless feeling from these music. And I think social atmosphere became good.

  22. Howard says:

    I really like the application of the poststructuralist perspective here. I think it is very relevant but I also think a lot of the comments are relevant saying that there has always been a “counter culture” for every generation pretty much since the ’60s. Also, it was good to see how a structural-functionalist would interpret these actions, but I do agree that the poststructuralist perspective offers the more accurate portrayal.

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