25 July 2011

Solidarity and Drug Use in the Electronic Dance Music Scene.

The emergence of subgenres has resulted in the formation of cliques, and these cliques often became close, tight-knit, somewhat exclusive communities. Drug use was unimportant in maintaining solidarity here, as participants already had an established commitment to their scene and to one another. 

Philip R. Kavanaugh and Tammy L. Anderson discuss the importance of solidarity in the electronic dance music (EDM) scene. 

Raves are grass-roots organized, anti-establishment and unlicensed all night dance parties, featuring various genres of electronically-produced dance music, populated by large numbers of youth and young adults. In the late 1980s - early 1990s, the word “rave” was used to describe the distinctive youth culture that grew out of the Detroit techno and Chicago house music scenes, and flourished in both the U.S. and U.K. throughout the 1990s.

Since its emergence, one of the key characteristics of rave culture has been the use of illicit drugs, notably LSD, ketamine, and ecstasy. The widespread availability of these drugs - particularly ecstasy - caused raves to be targeted for control by law enforcement and government officials in the late 1990s. Raves subsequently experienced a venue shift, moving indoors to licensed nightclubs due to law enforcement crackdowns - or a chill effect associated with the threat of them - as well as club owners interests in securing a piece of rave profits. Presently, rave and electronic dance music (EDM) events are located on a rave - club culture continuum, anchored between underground venues and commercial nightclubs.1    

The continued attention to rave culture and drug use has prompted a body of academic literature detailing the nature of illicit drug use among rave attendees, and its influence on the culture of the scene. Generally speaking, scholars have studied raves and the EDM scene2 from two broad perspectives. One culturally-oriented viewpoint maintains that rave culture was rooted in a sense of community and empathy for others and espoused sentiments of peace, love, unity, and respect (PLUR).3 Much of this work contends that while rave and EDM participants do engage in drug use, it is by no means the exclusive source of solidarity. Rather, the use of drugs such as ecstasy, with its empathy-inducing properties, has functioned to enhance participants’ sense of PLUR at EDM events, not singularly create it.

Conversely, empirical research in public health portrays this culture as a site of extensive drug consumption wrought with numerous interpersonal and health risks, devoid of collective meaning for its participants. Here, the solidarity experienced at EDM events is thought to be nothing more than a function of excessive drug use. In the U.S. the public health perspective dominates, due in large part to legal policies defining raves as a war on drugs matter, rather than a bona-fide cultural entity. Similar concerns in the 1930s (jazz and marijuana) and 1960s - 1970s (psychedelic rock and LSD) also motivated government controls on drugs and the music scenes associated with them.  

One of the key challenges in reconciling these diverse perspectives on rave culture centers on the connection between drug use and solidarity. While prior research and theory indicates that drug use plays a key role in establishing solidarity in the rave and EDM scene, the precise nature of this relationship remains unclear. This study is intended to 1) examine the relationship between drug use and solidarity in the past rave and current EDM scene, and 2) assist in further understanding the role and content of solidarity in peripheral cultural collectives.


Raves as a Cultural Phenomenon.  The study of music in rituals has a long history in sociology, beginning with Durkheim’s classic study of religious ceremonies in tribal societies. Such rituals, he maintained, fostered group solidarity by producing feelings of ecstasy and euphoria through spellbinding drumming and frenzied dancing. Recent work in cultural anthropology further discusses the importance of participation in music rituals, particularly at rave and EDM events. Here, the act of ritual dancing “synchronizes” the emotional and mental states of collective members, as they are exposed to the same “driving stimuli”. The resulting exhilaration is theorized as reinforcing solidarity at EDM events, and further highlights the emotionally loaded experiences of rave and EDM participants. The corresponding feelings of connectedness and spirituality are the result of collective participation in these rituals, not simply drug use.

Similarly, cultural studies scholars have portrayed raves as an authentic youth cultural phenomenon, defined by a lifestyle associated with intense experiences of camaraderie and sense of belonging for participants. Other work in this tradition posits that the solidarity experienced at raves functions as a therapeutic release for alienated youth in modern society. Much of this scholarship de-prioritizes the role of drugs, focusing instead on other aspects of the scene such as gender relations and emergent subgenres.

However, more recent ethnographic work has examined this connection and found that drug use in the rave and EDM scenes often has a positive, stabilizing function for participants. Drug use in this scene can also serve as an important part of both personal and social identity formation in youth, as well as into adulthood. Other scholars contend that the PLUR ethos and the sense of solidarity it fostered was the key impetus behind rave cultures’ contested status as a kind of youth social movement. In the U.S. scene particularly, the PLUR ethos acted as a guiding principle for rave organization and as a source of functional style for participants.4

Other culturally oriented work has focused more on raves as sites of escape from the trappings of contemporary capitalist culture, where drug use functions as an important part of this rebellion. Such work contends that rave culture was characterized by a kind of “hedonism in hard times,” where self-expression was largely achieved through drug consumption. Here, one’s appreciation of electronic dance music is heightened through the use of ecstasy, to the point that it induces a form of trance. While this work notes that clubbers do attain a kind of spirituality at dance events, the role of ecstasy in enhancing these feelings is given greater priority. The thrust of this perspective is best articulated by Reynolds’ (1999) claim that rave and EDM culture “has gradually evolved into a self-conscious science of intensifying [ecstasy’s] sensation” and is “geared toward… sensation rather than sensibility… creating an appetite for impossible states of “hyperstimulation”.  

Raves as a Public Health Risk.  Research conducted in the field of public health has portrayed the rave and EDM scenes as dangerous drug subcultures with the drug ecstasy as the premier substance of concern. Unfortunately, official data on youth drug use trends indicate that such consternation may be warranted. Ecstasy use in the U.S. increased substantially between 1998 and 2001 during the height of the U.S. rave scene, and demographic research confirms that use is far more prevalent among rave and EDM participants relative to other populations. Other research maintains that ecstasy is used to enhance feelings of emotional closeness and bonding with others and has been cited as the primary factor in eliciting feelings of solidarity at rave and EDM events.

Drug-related consequences have also been documented. Between 1995 and 2002 there was an 856% increase in the number of emergency department visits associated with ecstasy in the U.S.. Other risks include driving while intoxicated, poly-substance abuse, sexual promiscuity and HIV risk, as well as life management and interpersonal problems. There are also numerous psychological and physiological problems that can result from ecstasy use at rave and EDM events, including acute depression, memory impairment, nausea, and dehydration. While the effects of long-term ecstasy use have not been conclusively established,5 some research indicates the effects are similar to that of amphetamines such as cocaine, and include memory loss and severe, chronic depression.  

The bulk of public health research on raves and drug use addresses issues of consequence and risk among rave attendees. This portrayal is antithetical to the positive experience of peer bonding, solidarity, and identity construction articulated by more culturally focused work. It is possible that the public health emphasis on negative consequences and harm reduction disallows serious consideration of positive experiences occurring in the rave scene.6 When such research has considered the question of solidarity, its social significance is generally downplayed and dismissed as a synthetic byproduct resulting from the pharmacological properties of ecstasy. Our aim is to reconcile these different interpretations through an ethnographic investigation of the drug use-solidarity relationship in a local EDM scene. Before doing so, however, we believe it is important to situate the concept of solidarity in a broader theoretical sense.


Solidarity generally refers to the degree or type of integration in a society or within a social group. Initially discussed by Durkheim, solidarity is defined by personal attachments within one’s primary group (such as the family), as well as emotionally strong bonds to larger, more complex social groups. Over the past century, the notion of solidarity has undergone somewhat of a conceptual transformation. While Durkheim discussed it in terms of its functional utility in maintaining moral and social order, more recent theoretical work has better accounted for “the autonomous role of culture” in maintaining solidarity. In modern society, solidarity has also become more fragmented - defined by independent and differentiated social segments connecting here and there with others, not necessarily out of true dependence or need, but instead on the basis of individual choice or preference. As such, recent scholarship notes that solidarity has more fleeting, ephemeral and non-committal properties, and occasionally, negative and exclusive aspects.

The concept of solidarity is also ubiquitous in discussions of collective identity and its relation to music. Although these two concepts are often indistinguishable and are sometimes used interchangeably, important distinctions should be noted. While a shared sense of solidarity or community is necessary for collective identity to occur, it alone is not sufficient. With collective identity, solidarity emerges from the delineation of an established political goal, and collective action with regard to the realization of that goal. The concept of solidarity is much more general. It can occur in diffuse contexts, without an expressed political agenda, impetus toward collective agency, or clear connection to broader socio-political movements. As such, we distinguish the solidarity associated with the rave and EDM scenes from the more theoretically specific notion of collective identity.7

Solidarity and the Rave Scene.  Despite a clear anti-government stance, the political statement of rave culture is not geared toward social change, and the rave and EDM scenes cannot be considered social movements in their own right. Rather, it is more appropriate to conceptualize the rave and EDM scenes as pseudo-societies with hybrid cultures, more closely resembling the hippies of the 1960s, or other contemporary countercultures. Maffesoli’s (1996) notion of the tribe elaborates on this understanding. According to Maffesoli, contemporary society is characterized by the presence of “tribes” that resist the social norms imposed by the rationality of late capitalism. In these tribes, prior frames of reference and identification such as social class, occupation, locality, and religion have been abandoned. Instead, forces of emotional renewal - signified by the trivialization of work, increased focus on sensual pleasure, political apathy, consumption, peer networks, and the importance of appearance - are the newly emergent bases for solidarity that reinvigorate social life with vitality and effervescence. More recent work has posited that the rave and EDM scenes exemplify the tribal forms of solidarity that Maffesoli suggests characterize modern society.

The rave scene focused on defining and shaping an alternative lifestyle, in opposition to mainstream society, without focusing on changing that society. Similar organizing principles have been found in other more “contemporary” peripheral cultural groups or subcultures.8 Association with drugs reinforced rave’s group solidarity and oppositional identity, as drug use often relieves the feeling of being immobilized by mainstream institutions. Raves were places where marginalized youth could conglomerate, take drugs, dance, and experience a sense of belonging. While the notion of collective identity has been invoked in discussions of the rave scene,9 such scholarship has not connected it to larger socio-political movements or specified that it had or has a clear impetus toward social change.

Today the contemporary EDM scene is spread onto a rave-club culture continuum that contains no singular or unified sense of solidarity. Although forms of solidarity are still present in the current scene, they occur less consistently, and the degree to which these forms are experienced is contingent on a larger number of factors, including commercialization and fragmentation.10 The current scene has a compromised ethos (PLUR is no longer dominant), increasingly specialized and commercial organizational aspects, and both underground and mainstream identity markers and cultural components. Thus, newcomers to the scene are likely to have different motives and needs for participation and exude new (both increasingly novel and increasingly mainstream) styles and behaviors.


The Research Site.  In 2003, the second author launched a multi-method ethnographic study of the EDM scene in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, using interview and direct observation techniques.11 This project was approved by the University’s Institutional Review Board. Before discussing our specific methods of data collection, we provide a brief socio-historical context of our research site.

Philadelphia’s early raves were often held in abandoned warehouses or in parks and open fields in the surrounding area. As raves gained popularity and moved indoors, they relocated into large nightclubs located on or near Summerfield Boulevard, which dissects the city’s industrial center and ends at its riverfront. At least two of these venues - Epic and The Lighthouse - catered specifically to raves and the burgeoning EDM scene. The Philadelphia EDM scene is similar to that of other major U.S. cities in two major ways. First, Philadelphia was home to several rave DJ pioneers, who are now superstars on the global EDM scene. A few are still based in Philadelphia, and host monthly events that keep the local scene viable. Second, like nightclubs in New York and New Orleans, two of Philadelphia’s major rave nightclubs were closed down for drug-related and other violations. While these closings happened before passage of the 2003 Illicit Drug and Anti-Proliferation Act (Rave Act) at the federal level, they were part of local law enforcement operations designed to control raves. Another obstacle for rave culture in Philadelphia has been the dominance of hip hop in the city’s club-based leisure industry. Philadelphia’s smaller size, in comparison to New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles (which all have more prominent EDM scenes) and demographic profile (working class and more African-American) may privilege hip hop over EDM as the music of choice among other local residents. 

Interviews.  A total of 49 participants12 in the EDM scene in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania were interviewed. These interviews were face-to-face and the majority lasted between 1.5 and 2 hours. Interviews were semi-structured, conducted in a private but informal environment, tape-recorded by mutual consent, and transcribed verbatim. The interviews were documented in a field journal as they took place and elaborated upon the following day on computer, prior to transcription. Other participants were interviewed in a less formal manner (and on multiple occasions) throughout the course of the study. These discussions were also documented in a field journal as they took place and elaborated upon afterward.

All of the people we talked to were over age 18 and active in the local Philadelphia EDM scene. They were recruited during direct observation at EDM events or were referred by other scene contacts. The participants were all young adults, with a mean age of 26.5 (range 22 - 40). Ravers in the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s were generally far younger than this. The upward age-shift is largely a result of rave and EDM parties moving into licensed bars, lounges, and nightclubs, where they had to abide by the 21 year old minimum age requirement stipulated by liquor laws. This phenomenon has also, to a large degree, shifted clientele away from younger, financially dependent or poorer teens toward young, employed adults (21+, as stipulated by most nightclub policies) with more money to spend.     

Prior work has noted that early raves in the U.K. attracted racially diverse groups from primarily working class backgrounds. Acceptance of all forms of diversity was considered a core value in the past rave era, and one that those in this study continued to endorse. However, the Philadelphia EDM scene was far less diverse than that of the earlier rave era. Heterosexual white males from middle-class to privileged backgrounds dominated, with white females comprising the second most prevalent group. Asians (especially Koreans and Chinese) and African Americans from comparable socioeconomic backgrounds were the most prevalent minority groups, and were comprised mostly of males.

Most had high levels of educational attainment. Ninety-five percent had graduated high school and 63% had some education at the college level. Level of employment spanned from blue collar (ex: electrician, auto repair) and service positions (ex: waitress, bartender, retail clerk), to white collar and middle class positions (ex: computer systems administration, interior design, market research). Level of employment or educational attainment did not vary by race or sex. Income levels ranged from modest (roughly $15,000 annually) to comfortable (a high of $60,000 annually). Most of those in the study had yearly earnings in the $20,000 - $30,000 range. Most participants were single, with some exceptions. About half had significant others, but very few lived with them. Most were heterosexual, although some identified as bisexual. Five were openly gay.13, 14 

Direct Observation.  The authors also conducted direct observations of 33 EDM events in the city of Philadelphia. Information from the direct observations documented how the organizational structure of the venues and events influenced solidarity, and how solidarity differed across events. All direct observations were recorded in a field journal as they took place, and a more detailed iteration of these notes was typed on a personal computer the following day. Time spent engaged in direct observation ranged from 2.5 to 4.5 hours, with an average time of 3.6 hours. The selection of events for direct observation followed from participant referrals, promotional flyers posted at a record store or distributed at other events, and from the weekly “DJ Nights” section of Philadelphia’s City Paper. This produced an adequate range of EDM events in the area, including events held during weeknights and on weekends (lasting different amounts of time) in bars, lounges, nightclubs, warehouses, galleries, and festival grounds. Some were genre-specific events, while others had a multi-genre presence.

The ethnography produced 600 pages of hand-written notes from in-depth interviews, 100 electronic pages of notes from direct observation of EDM events and participant interviews, and 750 pages of interview transcripts. All of the transcribed interviews and field notes were analyzed with the qualitative software program ATLAS.ti. The names of all participants, club names, street names, and other identifying information have been changed to ensure anonymity and confidentiality. Our examination revealed that solidarity in both the past rave and current EDM scenes was complicated and multifaceted. When solidarity was present, the form that it took, and the degree to which it occurred, was contingent on a number of factors, only one of which was drug use. The following sections elaborate on our discoveries.


Our research uncovered two broad dimensions of solidarity: 1) social-affective and 2) behavioral-organizational. In articulating these two distinct yet interrelated dimensions of solidarity, we are able to shed light on the drugs solidarity relationship, as well as advance the concept of solidarity and its utility in sociology.

Social-Affective Solidarity.  The people we talked to discussed solidarity in terms of the affective meaning their participation or involvement in the scene gave them. Their accounts focused on powerful interpersonal feelings and experiences. Here the PLUR ethos was addressed, referring to the rave era as well as the current EDM scene. The purely social aspect of this dimension of solidarity pertained to peer-based interaction, primarily in the form of friendships people made through the EDM scene, as well as through the socialization that occurred in varied contexts of the scene. A related factor here was one’s “stake” in the scene, or their level of involvement. Those who were more personally and professionally involved (DJs, promoters) reported higher levels of social-affective solidarity.

Consistent with other studies, those in the Philadelphia scene did report using illegal drugs at EDM events. However, they also equated their experiences with being part of something more affectively meaningful. Colleen - a 29 year-old DJ - described the drug / rave relationship as enabling an intensely spiritual occurrence: “I’m telling you man, it’s a completely different world. Like the whole vibe. I mean, kids are doing drugs but they’re doing them in an atmosphere where it’s eliciting this crazy religious experience, a cosmic unifying with nature.” This testimony provides evidence of an affective component to solidarity similar to Durkheim’s discussion of the solidarity emerging from tribal religious ceremonies, as well as other discussions of the role of music ritual and spirituality.

Additionally, there were myriad instances where drug use was portrayed as serving mainly to enhance one’s connection, not singularly define it. Carter, a 24 year-old fan explained: “I was doing drugs, but if you weren’t on drugs you could still have a good time. It wasn’t about the drugs. The drugs enhanced the experience.”

Although many of the participants reconstructed their rave and EDM experiences as being connected with drug use, these experiences were also equated with a greater sense of belonging and of being part of something larger and affectively meaningful. Jim, a 32 year-old fan and former DJ, related the following about rave events: “People were generally friendly, and maybe it was the drugs they were on and I was on, but it was just a very sociable, very fraternal environment. People were hugging each other, and they were dancing all night.” Suzanne, a 24 year-old female fan added:

“It was kind of like, openness. You knew you were never going to get to do this again      and you felt you were a part of some movement. But everybody knew that they      [government agencies] were not going to let this go on forever because it was just   debauchery.”

This speaks to how solidarity was initially built - in the moment, via participation, and “in action” (Fantasia 1988), through partaking in dance events and associated drug use. Many of these accounts referred to the “rave-era” - or genesis - of the scene. The role of drug use in the contemporary scene was less pronounced, serving instead to “enhance the experience” of social-affective solidarity, not define it. In general, drug use at rave and EDM events was not an end in itself. Rather, drugs were used to assist one in attaining a more affectively meaningful experience. In other words, participating in a novel and subversive youth cultural group was of equal if not greater importance than drug use in establishing affective meaning. The fact that scene participation featured a disruption of routine and order ensured that such involvement was, by its very nature, more poignant than ordinary day-to-day life experiences, serving to reinvigorate social life with newfound vitality.

There were also reports describing how the rave scene and its associated drug use operated as a part of a resistant or deviant identity defined against the mainstream, middle-class values. For example, Brian - a 28 year-old fan - discussed his values of connection and its role in facilitating social-affective solidarity in the scene. “Before I found EDM, I felt out of balance and pressured to live up to my parent’s standards, which were really high. At raves or at Epic [a large EDM club operating during the late 1990s], I felt nurtured, connected with others, and more balanced.” Aaron - a 23 year-old fan - further describes how his personal background triggered his interest, and subsequent involvement in, the rave and EDM scenes:

“After my parents got      divorced, I started to question everything - drugs, education, fashion - rethinking life and religion - like an awakening. The music interest triggered        from growing up in a not-so perfect environment, getting picked on, not being good at    sports, like any other strange        kid. My sister and her friends were ravers and would tell        me crazy stories of going to parties, dressing real wild, taking all these drugs. I didn’t go    to a rave until like 4 years later. Seeing LSD in front of me for the first time was just like        WOW! It was exciting. Whenever I went to a party, I was like “This is really cool, this is what I want to do. I want to be a part of this.” 

This is further indicative of how drug use in the rave and EDM scenes helps establish social-affective solidarity. It is also consistent with prior research noting how drug use can relieve social pressures and allow new forms of personal and social identity to emerge . As Eyerman notes, “music and other forms of cultural expression can articulate as well as fuse a group - offering a sense of group belonging and collectivity as well as strength in trying situations.” This testimony also indicates that although solidarity was formed “in the moment” it was not merely an ephemeral, fleeting occurrence experienced momentarily at EDM events. Rather, it was a sustained part of one’s identity that was reinforced through social interaction at these events. Here drug use played an important role, as it allowed participants to develop a personal and social identity defined against their mainstream parent culture, and participate in an affectively meaningful social group that was uniquely “their own.”15 In this way, drug use also defined scene values and norms, as well as establishing clear boundaries articulating who is “in” and who is “out.” As prior research has shown, this sort of boundary delineation is of key importance in creating and sustaining social groups in music scenes. It also speaks to the exclusive aspects of solidarity in contemporary social groups. 

There were also influences on the social-affective dimension of solidarity that emerged in varied contexts of the scene (or outside of the scene altogether) that were unrelated to drug use. The internet was important in this regard. In addition to being a local phenomenon, the EDM scene also has a virtual dimension, and members interact in cyberspace outside of events during the course of the work week. This additional interaction and socialization functioned to reinforce participants’ sense of community outside of EDM events, and without the use of drugs. Many of the people we talked to noted that their involvement with the local Philadelphia scene either began in cyberspace, or that the internet functioned to keep them connected to the local scene. Reports of connecting with established friends as well as meeting new people through EDM-related internet chat rooms and message boards were numerous. Regina, a 23-year-old fan, noted the following about her association in one of these groups:

“It was like pulling teeth to get anyone to go to clubs to listen to dance music. A lot of it changed when I joined Mimir [a web-based EDM chat-room]. And I met a ton of people   that are into the music and started hanging out with them. I’ve made some really good       friends.”

This supports recent work detailing the overlapping of different dimensions of music scenes. It also strengthens our previous assertion that solidarity is a sustained part of one’s identity, reinforced through social interaction. The virtual dimension is unique here in that it allows for networking “outside of face-to-face contexts, providing a continuity of scene experiences that would otherwise be difficult to produce”. Furthermore, the extensive use of cyberspace in the creation and maintenance of social networks indicates “not only that the internet offers new social spaces where identity can be (re)negotiated but that a significant reason many go online is to experience new forms of social life… Internet users are not withdrawing from social action but are rather seeking it”. This sentiment exemplifies the dynamic of Mimir and other EDM - based chat sites. Mimir operated as a vehicle for social bonding for the Philadelphia scene participants. Also, it is in such chat rooms where people at the local level engaged in grassroots cultural participation. Those who interacted in Mimir were reinforcing social-affective solidarity in the EDM scene, in addition to “doing” scene culture and creating a sense of authenticity.

There were also reports of other forms of social-affective solidarity that were unrelated to drugs. We also learned that people maintained friendships outside of both the local and virtual scene, and engaged in other conventional activities together (such as dining out, spending time together, etc.), and even organized benefits for the public. Amy, a 24 year-old fan noted: “They all hang out together a lot like outside of the club scene, which I think is totally cool. This group, they threw an event called Live and it was an outdoor concert... and they were taking donations for a children’s hospital. They do things like that.”  Such social interaction, occurring outside of the local scene, functioned to further strengthen members’ feelings of connectedness and affective ties.

As other ethnographic work has found, drug use is only one of many other factors shaping solidarity in the EDM scene. This section illustrates that while drug use is indeed a component in establishing social-affective solidarity here, other factors that are unrelated to drug taking are also important in maintaining scene ties. These factors occurred in varied dimensions of the scene, and sometimes outside the scene altogether. Most prominent in this regard was how social-affective solidarity occurred in cyberspace - as well as attending local events - and how these dimensions overlapped and reinforced one another.

Behavioral-Organizational Solidarity.  A behavioral-organizational dimension of solidarity was also discovered. This had to do with tangible activities and behaviors that scene participants engaged in, including dancing, staying awake for late-night events, and engaging in other participatory norms common at rave and EDM events. This dimension also encompassed the organizing principles and norms at diverse types of EDM events.

With regard to the behavioral component of this dimension, prior research suggests that the psychedelic effect of ecstasy was partially responsible for influencing solidarity at raves, primarily in an affective manner. While our fieldwork did provide evidence of this, we also found that ecstasy use enabled solidarity to occur in a practical, more functional sense. This is because ecstasy has both psychedelic and stimulant properties. The utopian feelings are tied to the psychedelic properties. However, the ability to dance for extended periods, and remain awake through the night for the duration of a rave or late-night EDM event - are produced by the stimulant properties of ecstasy. Mario, a 34 year-old DJ and fan discussed the more functional aspects of drug use during one of his early rave experiences:

“Maybe it was the drugs they were on, and I was on, but people were dancing all night,     and they were jumping and screaming with glowsticks, and acting childish, and just being  children doing drugs at a party. If you were just into the music and into the culture, you       went there. Drugs helped, no doubt.”
Further evidence of the more functional aspects of ecstasy’s stimulant properties is apparent in the following exchange Aaron had with an interviewer:

Interviewer: So you take ecstasy more for the psychedelic effects or more speed?

Aaron: Well, I’ll take either but I hope for something that’s speedy.

Interviewer: Can you elaborate on why that is?

Aaron: Because if it’s speedy I can party longer and just dance all night.

This behavioral component of solidarity is not only related to the functional aspects of drug taking, however. It is also enabled by dancing, as an end in itself, without the use of drugs. Evan - a 30 year-old co-founder of an EDM dance group - described the sense of community he experienced in the Philadelphia EDM scene through dancing, without discussing drugs:

“There was a party on Sundays called Heart & Mind, which was the epitome of what house [music] was about - community - people - Black, White, Latino, gay, straight,    everybody. I could be dancing with her, turn around and there will be a guy behind me and I’m dancing with him. Then turn around and I will be dancing with a Latino, then   turn around and I will be dancing with another African-American girl. And the music was        all over the place too. But, everybody was there for the same reason. That is the spirit of     EDM - that community bond.”

This dimension of solidarity also had an organizational component, contingent on both event type and genre type. In addition to maintaining solidarity through dancing - both with and without the aid of drug use - there were also reports of connection based on a shared feeling of community with whichever subgenre of the scene one associated with. With the shift to commercial club venues, rave has also splintered into more genre-specific sub-scenes. That is, DJs began to “specialize” in certain genres of EDM, such as drum and bass, techno, progressive house, etc. Specialization of this kind is the primary example of the organizational shift of the scene. In the Philadelphia scene, the emergence of these various subgenres of EDM has resulted in the formation of cliques, and these cliques often became exclusive, tight-knit communities. Hamilton, a 28-year-old DJ who is involved in the drum and bass genre of the EDM scene noted: “It’s very family-like… It’s a cool night, when I go out to drum and bass nights. I know everyone and everyone knows everyone. It’s like Cheers.” 

Our observations confirmed this testimony. The smaller, grassroots organized, genre-specific EDM events typically displayed greater camaraderie than the heavily marketed and promoted events situated in larger, more commercially popular nightclubs. At the smaller genre-specific events, only dedicated fans attended. People were also loyal to the performers, and remained committed to the scene and one another outside of local events. Casual alcohol use, rather than drug use, was more common. This was largely because the professionals (DJs, promoters) had more to lose - in terms of reputation and prestige - by using drugs. However, even alcohol use was controlled. Aaron discussed his alcohol use at a genre-specific event, and how excessive use was viewed as promoting the wrong kind of image, and was sanctioned by a peer, on behalf of the EDM community: “It was funny; I was kind of drunk on Wednesday. I go to this event and Jake [a DJ and promoter] was like “dude, you know, reputation, come on” and I was like “oh, I didn’t think about that.” In this instance, the evidence of solidarity is the act of sanctioning this scene members’ excessive alcohol use. His peers are communicating their concern for his personal reputation, as well as the reputation of their scene.

Analytic parallels can be drawn to prior work on the commodification of the punk rock and alternative music scenes. This work notes that once a scene reaches the point where it is commercially marketable and appeals to the mainstream, it is no longer attractive for those initially involved. This is similar to how Simmel discussed fashion losing its initial appeal once adopted by a mass audience. However, the commercialization of the rave scene also has important distinctions from the ones described by Hebdige (1979) and Moore (2005). For example, while rave and EDM participants abandoned many of the initial subcultural markers of their scene when it became commodified in mainstream culture, the commercialization of rave has led to the establishment of a number of smaller grassroots organized club-based EDM scenes, organized by genre. In this instance, commercialization did not signal the end of this particular scene. Rather, it forced the scene to adapt, as participants used their agency to organize a number of new, more “progressive” EDM scenes with their own styles and norms.

As such, commercialization highlights the shifting and eclectic nature of continually emerging sub-scenes, and - due to being situated in mainstream nightclubs - their unique relation to the commercially popular aspects of the club-based rave scene. This illustrates how solidarity was influenced by event type, with smaller genre-specific scenes establishing their own norms with respect to substance use, thereby delineating clear boundaries that define who belongs and who does not. 


Detachment and Drug Use.  In addition to finding evidence for two different but interrelated types of solidarity in the EDM scene, our fieldwork also revealed an unanticipated discovery in the drug use-solidarity relationship. That is, extensive drug use over time frequently resulted in the antithesis of solidarity: a phenomenon we defined as detachment. Prior research on drug use in the rave scene has not documented this effect. In the current scene, drug use had the unique effect of eroding social-affective solidarity and facilitating detachment from the scene. Mathias, a 25 year-old DJ, noted: “Nowadays, people are more about going out and getting fucked up, and trying to hook up with guys or girls or whatever, you know, and it’s like the music is more of a background thing.” This testimony indicates that excessive drug use and other hedonistic behavior are viewed as incompatible achieving social-affective solidarity by bonding and interacting with regard to the music.

In many instances, our participants’ views on the role of drug use changed throughout their trajectory in the scene. That is, as they grew older, many became cynical about the drug use associated with rave, and have retrospectively constructed their experiences in a way that trivializes the social-affective solidarity “of the past.”16 Allen, a 30 year-old fan, noted the following about solidarity with respect to the PLUR ethos: “They think, ok cool - peace, love, unity, and respect - let’s take some E pills and have a cuddle puddle. I just got over it.” Terrence, a 28 year-old fan and former DJ, did this by dismissing ravers as “living in a candy-coated fantasy world.”

Patterns of drug use among scene participants had also changed since the rave era, and this shift also impacted the behavioral variant solidarity. Although drug use is still present in the contemporary scene, participants indicated that alcohol and cocaine have largely replaced hallucinogens such as ecstasy as the drugs of choice. EDM participants instead reported using ecstasy more rarely, or only on “special occasions.” Suzanne confirmed the increased prevalence of alcohol and cocaine: “Mostly now everyone just drinks. There’s also a huge amount of cokeheads that just came out of nowhere.” The waning popularity of ecstasy ensured that the social-affective form of solidarity experienced in the earlier rave era was no longer as common. While the shift from the ecstasy-dominated rave era to the later mix of substances (dominated by cocaine and alcohol use) is in part the result of a continually evolving music scene, it is largely due to the displacement of rave culture into the commercial nightclub industry.      

With respect to cocaine use, our fieldwork revealed that the increased prevalence of cocaine in the EDM scene actually had a dualistic impact on solidarity. In one sense it enabled solidarity, while in another sense it dismantled it. Cocaine use can be viewed as enabling behavioral solidarity because, as a stimulant, it enabled scene participants to party longer. Furthermore, cocaine was commonly used at “after-parties”, which are gatherings - usually at private residences - that people attended in the early hours of the morning after leaving EDM events. This allowed participants to continue their social interaction in a more interpersonal context, providing continuity of the scene experience across social space. However, cocaine use also caused scene participants to detach. That was because while cocaine use in the EDM scene was accepted, its acceptance was conditional - excessive use was stigmatized and condemned. Carla, a 28 year-old fan, discussed cocaine use among some of her club-going friends at an after-party:

“Nobody forces anyone but you can see that it’s very accepted. It kind scares me how it’s        accepted. Two weeks ago I was at my friend’s house at an after-hours gathering and they had a dinner plate full of cocaine. Like a whole dinner plate. I was like “I need to go.” It was bad.”

Other participants provided additional testimony regarding cocaine’s negative impact on social-affective solidarity. Many claimed that the re-emergence of cocaine in various genre-specific sub-scenes of EDM - such as the house scene - contributed to the elimination of the PLUR ethos. This was largely because the use of cocaine was viewed as having an egocentric focus congruent with status-seeking - a characteristic incompatible with PLUR. Other testimony indicated that cocaine enabled detachment due to the physiological effects of the drug, rather than social consequences of overuse. Whereas ecstasy is associated with feelings of euphoria, cocaine has been linked with feelings of irritability and anxiety. Mario noted the following regarding his cocaine use: “With coke it’s so vile and rotten. You don’t feel personal with people.”

The continued presence of drugs in the scene also inhibited participation among older, former users. These were people that experienced negative consequences from using drugs, such as becoming addicted and requiring clinical treatment. Many of those who had ceased abusing drugs or were not drug users initially, reported feeling annoyed or uncomfortable about the presence of drugs in the current scene, and as a result reconstructed their experiences to reflect such views. William, a 24-year-old former DJ, discussed his experience with, and subsequent addiction to, drugs:

“As I was DJing I started progressing from ecstasy to other drugs. Like ketamine, coke… I could definitely tell it was starting to affect me. Like out of all the drugs I had been on, Ecstasy affected my memory the worst. I could feel my brain like short-circuiting, you know what I mean? My whole club life was artificial, like that was my life. That was artificial to me. I’ve made amazing, lifelong friendships for one night with people that I never saw again. It just doesn’t match.” 

There were also reports describing how drug use facilitated scene detachment by functioning as a motivation for other forms of deviant behavior. Once participants perceived negativity and ulterior motivation surrounding the scene’s association with drug use, they also became jaded and skeptical. Much of this negativity corresponded with rave’s shift to nightclub venues, and can be linked to motivation for additional profit. Suzanne described instances of drug selling, robbery, and theft, often instigated by club owners:

“The thing with the rave scene is that it is very close knit, and the club managers and the      owners started messing up real bad, just messing with kids. They had people coming in  and selling drugs in there. Kids were getting robbed for drugs. They weren’t paying DJs   sometimes. It was nuts.”

The negative events and personal experiences such as those cited above are important in understanding how members of the EDM scene experienced detachment from it. Here the EDM scene was be contextualized as part of a stage in one’s individual life course, and level of participation subsequently influenced by those personal experiences and relationships.

Still others in the scene established new boundaries with respect to drug and alcohol use. These sentiments were most prominent among those with a greater professional stake in the scene, such as DJs and promoters. This occurred largely because media portrayal of EDM in the U.S. has emphasized drug use and its consequences to the extent that it has resulted in both legal and economic problems for those with a financial stake in the scene. This subsequently triggered a sharp negative reaction toward drug use by scene insiders and professionals. It is not the case that these individuals experienced detachment from the EDM scene itself. Rather, they attempted to use their agency to disentangle or detach the scene from drug use, thereby reorganizing it around newly established norms of responsibility, accountability, and self-control, while still maintaining high levels of involvement. This is also something that prior literature has failed to address - that insiders would function as social control agents to police the presence of drugs in the scene.

Paul - a 30 year-old DJ - discussed having seen people laid out on the dance floor from drugs. He claimed “they are not hearing the music.” This suggests that those who use drugs to a problematic degree and do not identify with the music are viewed as cultural aliens. Other participants talked about how people at EDM parties in the past were able to control their ecstasy use and that it wasn’t a problem, but that today’s generation cannot. There is a strong message here about personal responsibility and for people to stop or control their drug use. The implication is that a certain class of people can use drugs without problems and a certain class cannot. Here, this sentiment of exclusivity is in regard to a cohort.

In this section we reported that drug use had the unanticipated effect of eroding solidarity in the EDM scene, and facilitating detachment from it. This occurred in three ways. First, as scene members grew older, they reported becoming cynical about the place of drug use in their scene, and viewed excessive use as incompatible with establishing social-affective solidarity and a sense of community revolving around music. Second, association with drugs gave way to other forms of deviant and criminal behavior, spurned in part by the scene entering the milieu of mainstream promotion (i.e. the clubbing industry). Third, those who developed serious drug problems voluntarily detached themselves from the scene in an effort to clean up, viewing participation in the EDM scene as a “phase” of sorts. It had purpose, it had consequences, and eventually, it was time to move on. This newly emerging disdain for excessive scene drug use and related issues of detachment also had implications for the development of behavioral-organizational solidarity. This was because as insiders and professionals functioned to police drug use, they subsequently re-organized the scene by creating new cultural norms of personal responsibility and restraint.

Detachment, Commercialization and Fragmentation. 

While issues surrounding drug use have largely contributed to the erosion of solidarity in the EDM scene, other factors have influenced this outcome as well. A second facilitator of detachment had to do with raves’ merger with the contemporary clubbing industry, and the ensuing commercialization of rave culture. Various aspects of the scene (clothing style, EDM featured in television ad campaigns, etc.) are now marketed to mainstream society. Many of those whose personal and social identities were formed around the EDM scene reported feeling an increasing disconnection and alienation from it, due in part to its increased commercial appeal, as well as the eclectic social groups who now affiliate themselves with the scene. Prior work on the commodification of other music scenes has reported similar occurrences. Jim’s testimony reflects this sentiment of disconnection and alienation: “The commercialization of the scene kind of takes away from why people are really there. You can flip it around, like, it’s really helping the scene by introducing it to a lot more people, but basically there’s no intimacy.” Hamilton also elaborated on this point:

“I think that the scene just allowed itself to be packaged and sold by Mtv and Gap, and all these corporate institutions. I don’t want to buy my clothes at Gap. I don’t want to       look at Mtv and see an EDM video. I like going to grimy warehouses with a shitty       sound      system and to just be free. Now, there are people filming movies about it. It’s lost    something.”    

In addition to the commodification of rave and EDM culture more generally, our fieldwork revealed that certain groups that attended dance events were not there to connect with others through music. Locating rave events in commercial nightclub spaces had led to the development of a more diffused scene, allowing for different levels of commitment and fluid involvement by new groups of participants. Essentially, commercialization has led to a kind of hybrid scene, fusing elements of rave culture with elements of routine nightclub and bar culture. As Irwin (1977) notes, scenes are “available.” By virtue of its merger with the nightclub industry, the EDM scene has become “available” to disparate groups with highly varied levels of interest. Participants now range from those highly committed to the music and rave-era ethos, to the non-committed and merely curious.

In the city of Philadelphia, commercial nightclubs often have licenses where alcohol can be served until 3 or 4 AM. As such, the demographic makeup of EDM events would often shift when conventional bars and nightclubs stopped serving alcohol - just before 2 AM in Philadelphia. Those who were not ready to cease drinking gravitated to EDM venues so that they could party longer. Drug and alcohol use at these kinds of events was far more substantial than at smaller, more intimate ones, and there was often a clash between those who were there for the music vs. those who were there primarily to abuse alcohol and drugs and meet potential sex partners. Evidence of this phenomenon was well documented, as was the deleterious effect on solidarity. Carla explained:

“In beginning of the night I love the people, it’s a great time, I’m having a really good time, and 1:30 rolls around and the bar crowd starts coming in just because they serve drinks until 3 or 4 o‘clock. Everything changes. We get pushed out of the way, we get hit on, and it just gets more annoying. I usually like to get out of there when those people start coming.”    

These kinds of problems were often exacerbated based on the particular nightclub in which the event was hosted. Venues with genre-specific rooms under the same roof often featured a kind of tension, which was amplified if the genres were substantively different. The most common manifestation of this phenomenon was nightclubs featuring several genre-specific EDM rooms and one or more hip-hop rooms in the same venue. While used as a marketing tactic by club owners to increase profits, it also had the effect of creating antagonism among club attendees. Here, the organizational style of the event worked to diffuse social-affective solidarity, and there was no universal ethos at such events. Jason elaborated on the effect of venue sharing:

“Once raves moved into clubs, you started seeing a slow trickle of hip-hoppers  hanging over in the corner. And then it slowly started to get a little bit bigger and then  problems started arising. I love [hip hop]. But I don’t like the emotions or whatever it is   that people are feeding off of.”

Again, these tensions are largely the result of the controlled displacement of one scene (rave) into another (commercial clubbing industry).   

This brings us to the second and related factor facilitating detachment: the fragmentation of the larger rave scene into smaller, genre-specific sub-scenes. As discussed earlier, cliques, or groups who voluntarily associate with one style of EDM now predominate, hosting their own dance parties and message boards. Theodora, a 26-year-old fan cited this type of fragmentation as a key reason for the lack of social-affective solidarity in the contemporary EDM scene:

You don’t really see that type of unity anymore between people. Especially here, when you go out to a club, it’s not like how things used to be where everybody kind of knew each other, and wanted to know each other. It’s not like that anymore.” While this scene-based re-organization has been positive in terms of creating a plethora of newly emerging neo-communities it also had the unique effect of creating tensions between marginally different genre-based groups. This in turn has created fan factions, who demonstrate disdain or aloofness toward other factions. In some cases, sub-scene participants believed their taste in music was better, and condescend toward those with dissimilar tastes. Steven, a 26 year-old fan, noted the following:

“The younger generation that wants to hear like DJ Silver [a local DJ] and shit like that, you know what I mean? There’s nothing spiritual about that crap as far as I’m concerned. I won’t go and listen to that.”   

Fragmentation of the scene by genre has also manifested itself in a more competitive nature among those professionally associated with a genre (DJs, promoters). Hamilton noted: “There are certain crews that overshadow a certain kind of music just because they don’t  like it and they want to promote a different style. That’s where the separation is.” Regina further described the elements of fragmentation that characterize the larger Philadelphia EDM scene:

“There are some people that don’t really support this scene, like they will only go see drum and bass. They will not go to see other events. They say that they love the music,    but they only love what they do. I know some DJs, they’ll spin their own brand of   music       and then they’ll leave.”   

The absence of a more inclusive organizational solidarity in this instance can be viewed as a question of “authenticity” in terms of “real members” vs. “pretenders”, and the “in - out” dynamic that characterizes most scenes. In the case of the EDM scene, however, we found a new wrinkle: that is, subgenre participants viewed one another as cultural aliens, regardless of other scene members’ affiliation with mainstream “pretenders.” Our research shows how in one sense, the re-organization of the EDM scene into smaller, genre specific sub-scenes has enabled solidarity to be re-negotiated, as described previously. However, it has also had the unique effect of insulating sub-scene members from one another. While social-affective solidarity was prominent within these defined groups, it was rarely maintained across groups. Ultimately, the splintering of EDM into various smaller scenes has compromised the greater sense of community prevalent in the rave era of the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s. Instead, smaller “neo-communities” or “neo-tribes” predominate. This finding also supports the perspective that in contemporary society, solidarity is defined more in terms of exclusivity, and has a more clearly apparent negative dimension.


Past research has not addressed the various ways that drug use impacts solidarity in peripheral cultural groups, and how this relationship may have changed over time. We have used data from a multi-method ethnography on a local rave-EDM scene in an attempt to fill this gap. Broadly speaking, our research supports the contention that drug use contributes to solidarity at EDM events, and in the scene more generally. However, we found the relationship to be multi-dimensional. First, drug use influenced solidarity in a social-affective manner. This kind of solidarity was typically formed “in the moment” as scene members described deeply powerful and meaningful experiences at dance events. Even then, such experiences were equated with a sense of being part of a larger kind of community or youth movement. We also found that social-affective solidarity had a sort of enduring, permanent quality that was often unrelated to drug use. In this regard, social interaction, friendships, the internet, as well as personal or professional involvement in the scene functioned to locate social-affective solidarity as a more sustained part of one’s personal and social identity. Moreover, the importance of drug use appeared to diminish over time, as social networks became cemented.

The behavioral-organizational dimension of solidarity indicates that drug use also has a more mundane and functional importance, allowing participants to engage in the basic scene norms (extended periods of dancing, staying out all night, etc.) and thereby facilitate meaningful social experiences. However, these kinds of behavioral norms were also referenced without invoking drugs as a necessary precursor. The organizational component of this dimension was contingent on both event and genre type. In addition to maintaining solidarity through dancing - both with and without the aid of drug use - there were also reports of connection based on a shared feeling of community with whichever subgenre one affiliated with. The emergence of subgenres has resulted in the formation of cliques, and these cliques often became close, tight-knit, somewhat exclusive communities. Drug use was unimportant in maintaining solidarity here, as participants already had an established commitment to their scene and to one another.

Our fieldwork also indicated that drug use contributed to the erosion of solidarity in, and detachment from, the EDM scene. This finding is particularly important because it demonstrates that drug use had an effect that has not been discovered in prior work. In many cases participant views on drug use changed over time for a number of reasons. Some reported feeling no connection to the scene because of prolonged, excessive involvement with drugs that resulted in negative experiences such as addiction, manipulation, or victimization. Others reported feeling no connection to the scene because excessive drug consumption was not viewed as compatible with bonding through music. Finally, we found that scene professionals and insiders had begun enforcing new behavioral norms de-emphasizing drug use thereby re-negotiating solidarity through a grassroots re-organization of the scene. Although this kind of fragmentation is indicative of how solidarity in the larger EDM scene has been compromised, these smaller sub-scenes have emerged in a grassroots effort to re-establish social-affective solidarity. This illustrates the shifting, fluid nature of solidarity in the EDM scene over time, and highlights its organizational components. It also provides support for more recent theoretical conceptualizations of solidarity that stress elements of differentiation and exclusivity more prominently than prior work has.

In sum, this work extends prior theory on solidarity, music scenes, and collective identity by clearly defining the concept of solidarity to capture both its social-affective and behavioral-organizational properties, as well as distinguishing it from that of collective identity. Our study illustrates that considering the complex nature of solidarity in the context of the current EDM scene (and how that scene has changed) is important not only in understanding the role of drugs in this culture, but also how this culture has changed, adjusted, and re-organized in light of a number of other interrelated factors. As such, the concepts of solidarity (and detachment) should be useful for examining issues of change and adaptation in other music scenes, as well as other peripheral cultural groups. To be clear, our intent is not to dismiss the relevance of collective identity in articulating the role of music scenes in social movements. Rather, defining solidarity as we have and distinguishing it from that of collective identity helps to produce a clearer, more nuanced understanding of music scenes with no expressed political ties or connection to broader social movements. 


1.  The concise history of dance music is not meant to be all encompassing or excessively detailed. Even in detailed and localized historical accounts such as that offered by Reynolds (1999), the portrayal is often contested by scene insiders. Our abbreviated history is offered merely as a historical map of sorts, to provide a general context to better understand the issues we address in this paper. While there are differences in the trajectories of various rave and EDM scenes in different geographic locations (U.K., U.S., Europe, Australia, etc.), there are also important similarities that transcend locality and even nationality, as scholars such as Bennett (2001) and Thornton (1996) have noted. Therefore, we sometimes cite international scholarship to elucidate trends prevalent in the Philadelphia/U.S. scene(s).

2.  In this paper, we use both raves and EDM parties, or the rave and EDM scenes to discuss connections between drugs and solidarity. Currently, the second author is distinguishing between raves and modern EDM events in a book on the cultural transformation of raves. There it is argued that the U.S. is currently in a post-rave era where “authentic” raves are largely a thing of the past and the modern day EDM scene has merged to varying degrees with contemporary club culture. Thus, we use “raves” and “the rave era” to discuss recollections of drugs and solidarity in the past and “the EDM scene” to discuss the same in the present.

3.  “PLUR” is a native term (i.e., used by scene participants) of the rave scene and contemporary EDM communities in the U.S. Its use is well documented in previous literature on the rave and EDM scenes, as well as in our interviews. Although the acronymn is unique to the U.S. scene, the general sentiments of PLUR have been described as prominent in the U.K. scene as well.

4.  It should be noted that those who view rave as a social movement are a minority (Hutson 2000). Scholars have noted that it is problematic to equate youth subcultures of the 1980s with the “counterculture” label applied to those that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s (mods, rockers, hippies, punks), and further problematic to equate them with social movements. The commercialization of youth cultures in the 1980s discredits attempts to classify ravers as countercultural agents (Redhead 1990). Thornton (1996) further contends that the dichotomy between mainstream and counterculture disappears upon close examination.

5.  Some scholars have argued that much of the research on the negative effects of ecstasy is sensationalized and methodologically suspect. Various concerns - including sampling problems, lifestyle factors, psychopathology, and polydrug use - suggest that establishing a definitive causal relationship between ecstasy use and long-term mental and physical problems is questionable (Cole, Sumnall, and Grob 2002). Other work highlights the therapeutic benefits of ecstasy use (Pentney 2001). Furthermore, it is important to note that the work we cite addressing the psychological and physiological effects of ecstasy are not social science analyses. They are, however, nonetheless an important part of the conversation regarding the experience of raves.

6.  Other work has made a similar point with regard to marijuana. For example, while hippies of the 1960s and other segments of the population identify using marijuana with “mellowing out”, gang members will often get high before committing drive-bys (Sanders 1994). The point is that while the pharmacological effects of drugs do play a role in behavior, to attribute any behavior entirely to drug use, or assume that drugs have the same effects across different individuals and situations without regard for extraneous factors, is naive.

7.  Collective identity has been defined as a groups’ shared sense of solidarity or “one-ness,” and a corresponding sense of collective agency on behalf of that group (Snow 2001), as shaped by political opportunities, availability of resources, and organizational strength (Taylor and Whittier 1995). A group’s feelings of a common cause make up the shared sense of solidarity that motivates people to act together in the interests of the group - in short, generating the groups’ sense of collective agency. The concept of collective identity has been used to examine issues of race, ethnicity, religion, and sexuality in social movements. Such group-level identity markers have firm boundaries for membership (Taylor and Whittier 1992), and clearly established political goals (Gamson 1991; Snow and McAdam 2001; Taylor and Whittier 1995). Scholars have historically addressed youth-based music scenes under the rubric of “deviant subcultures” (Cohen 1972; Hebdige 1979) rather than as social movements, due to the relative absence of the clear political ambitions.

8.  Although the term “scene” is sometimes used interchangeably with that of “subculture,” we find it important to highlight an analytical distinction. As Bennett (1999) notes, “the concept of subculture is unworkable as an objective analytical tool in sociological work on youth, music and style - that the musical tastes and stylistic preferences of youth, rather than being tied to issues of social class, as subculture maintains, are in fact examples of the late modern lifestyles in which notions of identity are constructed rather than given, and fluid rather than fixed” (Bennett 1999:599). The notion of “scene” better captures the diffuse, temporal, and continually shifting dynamics of these cultural groups.

9.  Bennett’s (2001) mention of rave culture and collective identity was not a rigorous application of fieldwork on rave and EDM to elucidate how collective identity is useful in conceptualizing this scene. Rather, he mentions the connection in brief, in a review piece, in an effort to situate his prior work on tribal identity in the dance scene (see Bennett 1999). It is worth noting that the concept of “tribal identity” as conceptualized by Maffesoli (1996) and applied by Bennett (1999) differs markedly from that of “collective identity” and its connection to social movement music scenes (see Futrell, Simi, and Gottschalk 2006).

10.             The shift from raves to club culture has received attention in other works of theory and research (Bennett 1999, 2001; Thornton 1996), and the social forces contributing to this shift are worthy of discussion in their own right. However, a detailed examination of this shift is beyond our more modest aims in this paper, and is the subject of a forthcoming book-length manuscript by the second author. As such, we conceive of commodification and fragmentation as factors that have impacted the change in the relationship between solidarity and drug use, and elaborate on this dynamic in the analysis sections.

11. A key limitation of this study is with the potential difficulty in generalizing our findings. As is typical of ethnographic work, this study utilized a small sample from a localized area. Furthermore, although many of the interviewees were recruited live at direct observation of EDM events, some were drawn from the friendship networks of other participants. In this sense, participant recruitment mirrored, to some degree, a snowball sampling technique. Consequently our findings are limited in generalizability, but not necessarily to the extent that one might assume. As mentioned earlier, while there are differences in the trajectories of various rave and EDM scenes in different geographic locations, there are also similarities that transcend locality and nationality (Bennett 2001; Malbon 1999; Thornton 1996). Additional fieldwork performed by the second author in Ibiza and London in 2004 and 2005 further confirms such similarities. Accordingly, some of the broader trends and phenomena described in this study may be found - in varying degrees, and with their own unique distinctions - in other EDM scenes across the U.S. or abroad.

12.             The participants of this ethnography fall into two different categories - respondents and key informants. Respondents refer to the 27 people who completed biographical, in-depth interviews. The primary purpose was to secure information about their personal involvement in the EDM scene over time. The 22 key informants are people with a long trajectory in EDM who provided expert testimony on dynamics of the past and present EDM scenes. Interviews were informal, occurred on multiple occasions, and varied greatly in length and content, depending on informant expertise. Some longer discussions were tape-recorded, shorter ones were not. Because there were no notable differences between respondents and key informants regarding demographic background, and in order to simplify discussion, these categories were collapsed. 

13.             Respondent drug use ranged from non-existent to moderate: 90% reported drug use at some time in their life. 68% of the respondents addressed the onset of their drug use. Among these, the average age of onset was 18 (range of 13-25). Marijuana and ecstasy were commonly the first drugs used. Marijuana had a younger onset (mean = 16.5 yrs.) and often corresponded with underage alcohol use. Ecstasy had an older onset (mean = 21 yrs.). Regarding current drug use, respondents reported using marijuana, alcohol, ecstasy, cocaine, mushroom, ketamine, and crystal methamphetamine (meth). Levels of use were varied. 27% reported having quit all substance use, or reported casual alcohol use only. Current use of cocaine, ecstasy, mushrooms, ketamine and meth was reported among 59% of respondents, and was reported as occasional or infrequent (yearly, semi-yearly), or not elaborated on. Cocaine use, however, was reported as monthly or semi-monthly. Regular (daily, semi-weekly) marijuana use was reported among 22% of the respondents, all males.  

14.             Information on personal drug use for key informants was not as detailed as among the respondents due to the fact that key informants functioned as a resource to document how the rave scene has changed, not address the specifics of their personal drug use. Among some, the subject of drug use was not addressed. Others addressed scene drug use in general, but not personal use.

15.             To be clear, we do not agree with the view that participation in the EDM scene constitutes a form of “hedonism in hard times” as prior work has suggested (Melechi 1993; Redhead 1990; Reynolds 1999). Given the decrease in substance use as a key part of EDM participation among most in our sample, it is difficult to argue for “hedonism” in terms of excessive, uncontrolled drug use, as earlier work has. With respect to their socio-demographic profile, especially in terms of education and employment, it is also difficult to make an objective case for “hard times.” In referring to “hard times,” however, this work was not referring to economic and class-based forms of hardship, but to the difficulties contemporary youth encounter with respect to personal and social identity development in the late modern era. That is, not necessarily in terms of lower class v. middle/upper class, but more in terms of youth culture v. adult (mainstream) culture. Thus, when “hard times” are viewed in this broader sense - and in terms of life-course issues - we believe it is apparent that initial involvement in the EDM scene was in response to the “hard times” of self-identity development in mid-late adolescence that was reconciled through participation in a unique and meaningful social group of like-minded peers. While drug use may have been an important part of the initial attraction, the positive function of the EDM scene in satisfying deeper social-affective needs is also apparent. Sustained participation in the scene over time speaks to its continued importance in providing effective solutions to issues of role-identity and the self-concept.

16.             The diminished sense of solidarity reported by respondents may also have to do with aging out or burning out of rave culture.  Anderson (2007) discusses how a “generational schism” helped change rave culture via population loss stemming from the aging out of Generation X and the failure to sufficiently recruit Generation Y.


Anderson, Tammy L. 1998. “A Cultural Identity Theory of Drug Abuse.” The Sociology of Crime, Law, and Deviance 1:233-62.
-----. 2007. Rave-olution: The Cultural Transformation of the Electronic Dance Music Scene. Book manuscript under review, portions presented at the 2005 American Sociological        Association meetings, Philadelphia, PA.
Bennett, Andy. 1999. “Subcultures or Neo-Tribes? Rethinking the Relationship between Youth,     Style, and Musical Taste.” Sociology 33:599-617.
-----. 2001. “Contemporary Dance Music and Club Cultures.” Pp. 118-35 in Cultures of Popular    Music. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.
Bennett, Andy and Richard A Peterson. 2004. Music Scenes: Local, Translocal, and Virtual.  Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
Bielby, William T. 2004. “2003 Presidential Address - Rock in a Hard Place: Grassroots    Cultural Production in the Post-Elvis Era.” American Sociological Review 69:1-13.
Bolla, Karen I., Una D. McCann, and George A. Ricaurte. 1998. “Memory Impairment in   Abstinent MDMA (“Ecstasy”) Users.” Neurology 51:1532-37.
Cohen, Stanley. 1972. Folk Devils and Moral Panics. London: Routledge.
Cole, Jon, Harry R. Sumnall, and Charles S. Grob. 2002. “Sorted: Ecstasy Facts and Fiction.” The Psychologist 15:464-67.
Degenhardt, Louisa, Paul Dillon, Cameron Duff, and Joanne Ross. 2006. “Driving, Drug Use Behaviour and Risk Perceptions of Nightclub Attendees in Victoria, Australia.” International Journal of Drug Policy 17:41-6.
Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). 2003. Dawn Series D-24 ((SMA)03-3780).        Rockville, MD: Department of Health and Human Services.
Duff, Cameron and Bosco Rowland. 2006. “Rushing Behind the Wheel:” Investigating the Prevalence of “Drug Driving” Among Club and Rave Patrons in Melbourne, Australia.” Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy 13:299-312.
Durkheim, Emile. [1893] 1964. The Division of Labor in Society. New York: Free Press.
-----. [1912] 1976. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. London: George Allen and Unwin.
Eyerman, Ron. 2002. “Music and Movement: Cultural Politics in Old and New Social  Movements.” Qualitative Sociology 25:443-58.
Fantasia, Rick. 1988. Cultures of Solidarity: Consciousness, Action, and Contemporary       American Workers. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Fox, Kathryn J. 1987. “Real Punks and Pretenders: The Social Organization of Counterculture.”     Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 16:344-70.
Furr-Holden, Debra, Robert B. Voas, Tara Kelley-Baker, and Brenda Miller. 2006. “Drug and Alcohol-impaired Driving among Electronic Music Dance Event Attendees.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 85:83-6.
Futrell, Robert, Pete Simi, and Simon Gottschalk. 2006. “Understanding Music in Movements:      The White Power Music Scene.” The Sociological Quarterly 47:275-304.
Gamson, William A. 1991. “Commitment and Agency in Social Movements.” Sociological Forum 6:27-50.
Gottschalk, Simon. 1993. “Uncomfortably Numb: Countercultural Impulses in the Postmodern   Era.” Symbolic Interaction 16:351-78.
Green, A. Richard, Annis O. Mechan, J. Martin Elliott, Esther O'Shea, and M. Isabel Colado. 2003. “The Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology of Methylenedioxy-        methamphetamine (MDMA, “Ecstasy”).” Pharmacological Reviews 55:463-508.
Hammond, Michael. 2003. “The Enhancement Imperative: The Evolutionary Neurophysiology  of Durkheimian Solidarity.” Sociological Theory 21:359-74.
Hebdige, Dick. 1979. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. New York: Methuen.
Hill, Andrew. 2002. “Acid House and Thatcherism: Noise, the Mob, and the English       Countryside.” British Journal of Sociology 53:89-105.
Hitzler, Ronald. 2002. “Pill Kick: The Pursuit of “Ecstasy” at Techno Events.” Journal of Drug     Issues 32:459-66.
Hitzler, Ronald and Michaela Pfadenhauer. 2002. “Existential Strategies: The Making of        Community and Politics in the Techno / Rave Scene.” Pp. 87-101 in Postmodern   Existential Sociology edited by Joseph A. Kotarba and John M. Johnson. Walnut Creek,  CA: AltaMira Press.
Hunt, Geoffrey, Kristin Evans, Eileen Wu, and Alicia Reyes. 2005. “Asian American Youth, the   Dance Scene, and Club Drugs.” Journal of Drug Issues 35:695-731.
Hutson, Scott. 2000. “The Rave: Spiritual Healing in Modern Western Subcultures.”     Anthropological Quarterly 73:35-49.
Irwin, John. 1977. Scenes. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Jacobs, Ronald N. and Philip Smith. 1997. “Romance, Irony, and Solidarity.” Sociological           Theory 15:60-80.
Johnston, Lloyd D., O’ Malley, Patrick M., Bachman, Jerald G., and Schulenberg, John E. 2002.      Monitoring the Future National Results on Adolescent Drug Use: Overview of Key        Findings, 2001. (NIH Publication No. 06-5882). Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Kelly, Brian C. 2005. “Conceptions of Risk in the Lives of Club Drug Using Youth.” Substance Use and Misuse 40:1443-59.
Komter, Aafke E. 2004. Social Solidarity and the Gift. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University     Press.
Krebbs, Christopher P. and Steffey, Danielle M. 2005. “Club Drug Use among Delinquent    Youth.” Substance Use and Misuse 40:1363-79.
Levy, Kira B., Kevin E. O'Grady, Eric D. Wish, and Amelia M. Arria. 2005. “An In-Depth       Qualitative Examination of the Ecstasy Experience: Results of a Focus Group with  Ecstasy-Using College Students.” Substance Use and Misuse 40:1427-41.
Lynch, Gordon and Emily Badger. 2006. “The Mainstream Post-Rave Club Scene as a Secondary Institution: A British Perspective.” Culture and Religion 7:27-40.
Maffesoli, Michel. 1996. The Time of Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society. London: Sage.
Malbon, Ben. 1999. Clubbing: Dancing, Ecstasy and Vitality. New York: Routledge.
Maxwell, Jane C. 2005. “Party Drugs: Properties, Prevalence, Patterns, and Problems.” Substance Use and Misuse 40:1203-40.
McElrath, Karen. 2005. “MDMA and Sexual Behavior: Ecstasy Users’ Perceptions about  Sexuality and Sexual Risk.” Substance Use and Misuse 40:1399-1407.
McRobbie, Angela. 1994. Postmodernism and Popular Culture. New York: Routledge.
Measham, Fiona, Judith Aldridge, and Howard Parker. 2001. Dancing and Drugs: Risk, Health,    and Hedonism in the British Club Scene. London: Free Association.
Melechi, Antonio. 1993. “The Ecstasy of Disappearance.” Pp. 29-40 in Rave Off: Politics and Deviance in Contemporary Youth Culture, edited by Steve Redhead. Burlington, VT:  Avebury Press.
Miller, Brenda A., Debra Furr-Holden, Robert Voas, and Kristin Bright. 2005. “Emerging  Adults’     Substance Use and Risky Behaviors in Club Settings.” Journal of Drug Issues 35:357-78.
Moore, Ryan. 2005. “Alternative to What? Subcultural Capital and the Commercialization of a       Music Scene.” Deviant Behavior 26:229-52.
Moore, Karenza and Steven Miles. 2004. “Young People, Dance, and the Sub-Cultural       Consumption of Drugs.” Addiction Theory and Research 12:507-23.
Mosler, Damon. 2001. “Club Drugs.” Law Enforcement Quarterly 30:5-10.
Nethring, Neil. 2007. “Everyone's Given Up and Just Wants to Go Dancing:” From Punk to     Rave in the Thatcher Era.” Popular Music and Society 30:1-18.
Northcote, Jeremy. 2006. “Nightclubbing and the Search for Identity: Making the Transition        from Childhood to Adulthood in an Urban Milieu.” Journal of Youth Studies 9:1-16.
Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). 2006 a. “Club Drugs.”    Washington, DC,      Retrieved May 2, 2006        (http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/drugfact/club/index.html).
Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). 2006 b. “Cocaine.” Washington, DC,     Retrieved May 2, 2006        (http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/drugfact/cocaine/index.html).
Parrott, Andrew C. 2004. “MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) or Ecstasy: The Neuropsychobiological Implications of Taking it at Dances and Raves.” Neuropsychobiology 50:329-35.
Parrott, Andrew C., Jacqui Rodgers, Tom Buchanan, Jonathan Ling, Thomas M. Heffernan, and      Andrew B. Scholey. 2006. “Dancing Hot on Ecstasy: Physical Activity and Thermal        Comfort Ratings are Associated with the Memory and Other Psychobiological Problems      Reported by Recreational MDMA Users.” Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and        Experimental 21:285-98.
Partridge, Christopher. 2006. “The Spiritual and the Revolutionary: Alternative Spirituality,    British Free Festivals, and the Emergence of Rave Culture.” Culture and Religion 7:41        60.
Pentney, Alana R. 2001. “Exploration of the History and Controversies Surrounding MDMA and     MDA.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 33:213-21.
Pini, Maria. 1997. “Women in the Early British Rave Scene.” Pp. 152-69 in Back to Reality?      Social Experience and Cultural Studies, edited by Angela McRobbie. Manchester, UK.        Manchester University Press.
Redhead, Steve. 1990. The End-of-the-Century Party: Youth and Pop Towards 2000.   Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.
Reynolds, Simon. 1999. Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture.       New York: Routledge.
Salasuo, Mikko and Paulina Seppälä. 2004. “Drug use within the Finnish Club Culture as Marks of Distinction.” Contemporary Drug Problems 31:213-29.
Sanders, William B. 1994. Gang Bangs and Drive-Bys: Grounded Culture and Juvenile Gang      Violence. New York: Aldine De Gruyter Press.
Sarabia, Daniel and Thomas E. Schriver. 2004. “Maintaining Collective Identity in a Hostile  Environment: Confronting Negative Public Perception and Factional Divisions within the        Skinhead Subculture.” Sociological Spectrum 24:267-94.
Simmel, Georg. [1904, 1911] 1972. Georg Simmel on Individuality and Social Forms, edited by         Donald N. Levine. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Snow, David A. 2001. “Collective Identity and Expressive Forms.” Paper 01’07, Center for the Study of Democracy: University of California, Irvine.
Snow, David A. and Doug McAdam. 2001. “Identity Work Processes in the Context of Social   Movements: Clarifying Identity/Movement Nexus.” Pp. 41-67 in Self, Identity, and        Social Movements, edited by Sheldon Stryker, Timothy J. Owens, and Robert W. White.  Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Sterk, Claire E., Katherine P. Theall, and Kirk W. Elifson. 2006. “Young Adult Ecstasy Use Patterns: Quantities and Combinations.” Journal of Drug Issues 36:201-28.
St. John, Graham, 2006. “Electronic Dance Music Culture and Religion: An Overview.” Culture      and Religion 7:1-25.
Straw, Will. 1991. “Systems of Articulation, Logics of Change: Communities and Scenes in     Popular Music.” Cultural Studies 5:368-88.
Sylvan, Robin. 2002. Traces of the Spirit: The Religious Dimensions of Popular Music. New   York: New York University Press.
-----. 2005. Trance Formation: The Spiritual and Religious Dimensions of Global Rave Culture        New York: Routledge.
Takashi, Melanie and Tim Olaveson. 2003. “Music, Dance and Raving Bodies: Raving as Spirituality in the Central Canadian Rave Scene.” Journal of Ritual Studies 17:72- 96.
Taylor, Verta and Nancy E. Whittier. 1992. “Collective Identity in Social Movement  Communities: Lesbian Feminist Mobilization.” Pp. 104-29 in Frontiers in Social Movement Theory, edited by Aldon D. Morris and Carol McClurg Mueller. New Haven,     CT: Yale University Press.
-----. 1995. “Analytical Approaches to Social Movement Culture: The Culture of the Women’s    Movement.” Pp. 163-87 in Social Movements and Culture, edited by Hank Johnson and     Bert Klandermans. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Ter Bogt, Tom, Rutger Engels, Belinsa Hibbel, Fritz van Wel, and Stijn Verhagen. 2002.     “Dancestasy: Dance and MDMA Use in Dutch Youth Culture.” Contemporary Drug      Problems 29:157-81.
Theall, Katherine P., Kirk W. Elifson, Claire E. Sterk. 2006. “Sex, Touch, and HIV Risk among   Ecstasy Users.” AIDS and Behavior 10:169-78.
Thornton, Sarah. 1996. Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital. London:    Wesleyan University Press.
Tomlinson, Lori. 1998. “This Ain’t no Disco…or is It? Youth Culture and the Rave       Phenomenon.” Pp. 195-211 in Youth Culture: Identity in a Postmodern World, edited by Jonathan S. Epstein. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, Inc.
Topp, Libby, Julie Hando, Paul Dillon, Ann Roche, and Nadia Solowij. 1999. “Ecstasy Use in Australia: Patterns of Use, Associated Harm.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 55:105-15.
Verheyden, Suzanne L., Rachel Maidment, and H. Valerie Curran. 2003.Quitting Ecstasy: An       Investigation of Why People Stop Taking the Drug and Their Subsequent Mental        Health.” Journal of Psychopharmacology 17:371-78.
Wedenoja, William. 1990. “Ritual Trance and Catharsis: A Psychobiological and Evolutionary    Perspective.” Pp. 275-307 in Personality and the Cultural Construction of Society, edited by David K. Jordan and Marc J. Swartz. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press.
Williams, J. Patrick. 2006. “Authentic Identities: Straightedge Subculture, Music, and the      Internet.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35:173-200.
Williams, J. Patrick and Heath Copes. 2005. “How Edge Are You? Constructing Authentic    Identities and Subcultural Boundaries in a Straightedge Internet Forum.” Symbolic        Interaction 28:67-89.
Wolfinger, Nicholas H. 2002. “On Writing Fieldnotes: Collection Strategies and Background      Expectancies.” Qualitative Research 2:85-95.
Yacoubian, George S. Jr. and Eric D. Wish. 2006. “Exploring the Validity of Self-Reported  Ecstasy Use among Club Rave Attendees.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 38:31-4.
Yacoubian, George S. Jr., Sarah Miller, Selwyn Pianim, Michael Kunz, Erin Orrick, Tanja Link,  Wilson R. Palacios, and Ronald J. Peters. 2004. “Toward and Ecstasy and Other Club Drug (EOCD) Prevention Intervention for Rave Attendees.” Journal of Drug Education        34:41-59.

Total Pageviews