'Where were you in '92?" asks hitmaker M.I.A. in her song "XR2."
The artist herself was in London, where her family lived in exile due to political turmoil in her native Sri Lanka. And her song reflects the rave culture in which M.I.A. came of age, complete with references to drum machines, energy drinks and, of course, Ecstasy.
For decades now, Ecstasy use has been the focus of media reports characterizing raves and contemporary dance music festivals as potentially dangerous. That theme found its way into plenty of headlines again following a recent wave of events that renewed old suspicions and stereotypes.
Currently, a number of California officials are calling for bans on raves in public facilities following Ecstasy-related deaths of a 15-year-old girl at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and a 23-year-old man at San Francisco's Cow Palace. But the biggest media-attention-getter took place in Germany on July 24, when 21 people were trampled to death outside a tunnel at the entrance to the massive Love Parade dance music festival in Duisburg.
By comparison, the Love Festival — an annual touring festival with no connection to Love Parade or the other aforementioned events — will be downright intimate here in Colorado Springs. The Coliseum's two-day Electric Daisy Carnival brought in 185,000 people, while Love Parade reportedly drew 1.4 million (although that figure has been disputed by some connected with the event). Here at the Phil Long Expo Center, Love Fest's Chris Lasoya says he's limiting the event to 5,000.
"I'm going to keep it controlled," says the L.A.-based promoter. "We're not here to get rich, we're just here to do a good event and make sure people are safe and everything gets done right. Plus, the city of Colorado Springs has had issues with promoters in the past just not doing it right, so we're going to make sure we make them happy."
Beating the rap
Lasoya says one obstacle in bringing the Love Festival here was the fallout from last October's DMX show at the Expo Center.
"That show caused me many problems," says Lasoya, who was not involved with the acrimonious hip-hop event. "The people that come to our shows are a totally different demographic. They're happy people, they don't like getting in arguments, they don't riot, you know? And my artists actually show up on time."
Actually, DMX fans didn't riot either, although the rapper himself scuffled with security guards while trying to reach the stage. (The show's promoter and the artist's management each blame the other for the performance not taking place.)
In any event, dance music fans do have a reputation for living up to Lasoya's characterization as "happy people." Of course, the number of revelers who take Ecstasy is anyone's guess, and those who do risk some pretty bad side effects, such as death, from either the drug itself or what it's cut with. But the more typical response is one of euphoria. There's also a somewhat indiscriminate sense of intimacy, as anyone who's stumbled upon a raver blissfully hugging a lamppost can attest.
All of which makes the Love Parade tragedy that much stranger. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "appalled" by the event and promised an "intensive" investigation. The city's mayor has had trash thrown at him, received death threats, and been called upon to resign by members of his own Christian Democrat party. And the event's promoter, who subsequently announced that the 20-year-old festival will not be held again, may face criminal charges for negligent manslaughter.
German DJ and remix artist Klaas, who will be performing at the Love Festival here Saturday, was on tour when he first learned about the Love Parade fatalities.
"My sister told me via text-message about the tragedy when I was waking up in my hotel room after a show in France," he says. "I was shocked and remembered my experiences at this event in my early youth. Every year, more than one million people are celebrating this huge party, but it was never nearly as packed as this year. The new venue was by far too small."
According to the German magazine Spiegel, the festival was not authorized to host more than 250,000 attendees, while the head of the Duisburg police union says he was dismissed as a "security fanatic" when he cautioned the city a year ago against holding the festival.
"I still can't understand why they let many times more people enter the venue than it allowed so that 21 people died, caused by panic," says Klaas. "If Love Parade will ever happen again, it is probably not going to have the same spirit because of this catastrophe."
Even so, many within the dance music world feel they're being singled out unfairly.
"If you look at regular concerts," says Lasoya, "you have the same fatalities, you just never hear about it."
While overdoses at rock concerts may not make as many headlines, stampedes do. In Cincinnati, 11 fans were crushed to death due to crowd management failings at a 1979 Who concert. During a Pearl Jam performance 10 years ago, nine concertgoers met the same fate.
Of course, music doesn't even have to be involved in these sort of incidents, as demonstrated by a 2008 holiday stampede of Wal-Mart shoppers that killed one employee.
Lasoya, who's expecting to make the Love Festival an annual event in Colorado, is hopeful that the tragedies in Germany and California won't have a lasting negative impact on other dance music festivals.
"I don't know if they're just picking on this kind of music or this kind of event," he says, "but it might change the way things go."