The electronic music community has experienced some explosive growth in the past few years. At the tender age of 16, I recall attending my first all night dance party at an outdoor skate park in my hometown of Calgary, Alberta. Let me set the stage. This was the late 90s. Y2K was looming, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was boss, and local authorities seemed intent on quashing our city’s burgeoning party scene by way of restrictive bylaws that made hosting larger parties all but impossible for the average promoter. The music and vibe had me hooked immediately. My memories of this party are all good, despite the fact that police helicopters swooped in to shut the event down and send partiers packing only after about an hour after me and my crew had made it past the entry gate. This was fairly par for the course at the time. As a result, the scene shrunk drastically.
Fast forward to present day. Smaller intentional gatherings still exist, but have largely given way to huge concerts and massive festivals. Newcomers are flocking to the scene in droves, from all walks of life and a fairly wide age range. Bassnectar now draws crowds in the thousands. Skrillex has put dubstep on the map in North America and nabbed three Grammys in the process. Turn on the radio and even the likes of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga reek of electroclash. Ladies and gentleman, the dance revolution has begun. While exciting, this growth and the mainstreaming of electronic dance music, comes with an increasing need for community-driven initiatives to help keep each other safe and healthy while we party.
Enter PartySafe, a reboot of a local harm-reduction organization that was a fixture at Calgary parties from the late 90s to 2004. The president of PartySafe was a volunteer recruiter for the now disbanded RaveSafe. She’s looking to bring an updated version back to the scene, in an effort to ensure members of our dance community have access to relevant information and resources.
“It’s not about condoning or condemning drug use or pushing ideologies,” she says. “It’s about keeping people safe.”
Harm reduction is a public health philosophy that recognizes people will engage in risky behaviours and accepts that complete abolition of harm is not possible or realistic. It therefore works to limit the negative consequences of certain activities.
A rash of deaths this past year across Canada, linked to a toxic ecstasy adulterant known as PMMA (paramethoxymethamphetamine), served as a significant motivator to re-form the group. While chemically similar to MDMA, this compound exerts delayed effects, often causing users to increase dosages, eliciting harmful, sometimes fatal, side effects. The president of PartySafe says, that in addition to providing individuals with current information on drug and alcohol use, that PartySafe plans to educate people on other relevant issues, including the importance of proper hearing protection, avoiding heatstroke, and preventing sexually transmitted disease.
PartySafe are also hoping to re-establish a number of positive working relationships that once existed with the local paramedics and police. In the past, harm reduction volunteers would help patrol events and served as an important link between party-goers and medical personnel.
Pill testing kits are available online and indeed this service is offered on site at events from some harm reduction groups across the globe. However, this may not be the case with PartySafe due to local laws surrounding the issue. Critics suggest that while drug-testing kits can be useful tools, they are by no means infallible and can create a veneer of safety around drug use. MacDonald asserts that it is irresponsible to deny users access to this type of information and may result in more unnecessary harm. If PartySafe is not allowed to test pills on site, they will provide information to people on where to get test kits themselves.
Some things they do hope to have available at their booths – earplugs, condoms, gum, and electrolyte-replacing beverages- a virtual smorgasbord of goodies for safe partying.
Here are some tips and tricks to keep you and yours healthy and alive to dance another day:
Take care of your body:
Eat a good meal the day of the party and make sure you get a solid snooze the night before. Above all, stay hydrated, but don’t overdo it. While not as common as dehydration, water toxicity from too much H20 can cause an imbalance in your body’s electrolytes, leading to sometimes fatal disturbances in brain function. And let’s be honest, how embarrassing would it be too die from a water overdose? A good rule of thumb – drink one bottle of water per DJ set.
Save the mixing for the DJs:
If you chose to partake in party favours, avoid mixing. Alcohol + Drugs = Bad News. Taking stimulants and depressants together sends drastically conflicting messages to the body and the results can be both unpredictable and devastating. Think acute heart failure, or at the very least sticking the lit end of a cigarette in your mouth. Boooooooo. Also, ecstasy use in individuals undergoing anti-depressant therapy is ill advised as this puts the individual at increased risk for serotonin-syndrome. I’ll spare you the details, suffice to say it is probably no fun and is potentially life threatening.
A note for you hippie-types:
Before you go play in the stars and discover all the secrets of the universe, which of course you will either forget entirely or realize you don’t have the language to articulate the following day, please make sure you are in a positive headspace and safe physical realm before blast-off. Engage the buddy system or designate a sober facilitator to make sure no interdimensional explorer gets lost in the process. This is especially important at large festivals where getting trapped in a tent or porta potty can be easily avoided by having someone there you can rely on to fish you out of these complex hippie black holes.
Earplugs, earplugs, earplugs!
This one is self-explanatory. Protect your ears. Apart from your legs they are the most important partying assets you have. DJ’s and producers are amping up their tours, and the sound that goes with them is getting bigger and bigger. We all want to feel the music and the rumble of that amazing bass line. Wearing proper hearing protection will ensure you can still hear your favorite music for many years to come!
The success of PartySafe is entirely dependent on how much community support they receive. If you live in or are going to be in the Calgary area on September 15, RebelSoundSystem is hosting a fundraiser to help kick-start this organization. For more info and to RSVP to the event check it out on facebook.
Want to get involved? Have something to donate? Check out the Calgary PartySafe Facebook page.
Interested in finding a harm reduction group in your area or starting your own chapter? Check out DanceSafe.org