Does the EDM scene have a drug problem?
The question, which has followed the increasingly mainstream electronic dance music genre for years, is being raised again in the wake of the deaths of two males, ages 20 and 17, who attended an all-day EDM show last weekend in Columbia.
Nineteen other people were sent to hospitals from Friday’s Mad Decent Block Party at Merriweather Post Pavilion, which featured artists such as Diplo, Flux Pavilion and Dillon Francis. The concerns come as Baltimore prepares for the first-ever Moonrise Festival, which will take place Saturday and Sunday at Pimlico Race Course and feature genre heavyweights Kaskade and Bassnectar.
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“Most of the people, I don't think they would go if they didn't have [drugs], to be honest, because I don't think they would enjoy the music as much as everyone else,” said Andrew Guiliani, 21, of Ellicott City, who attended the all-ages Mad Decent show.
Drug use at live concerts is not new, but the use of MDMA — also known as Ecstasy or “Molly” — has been closely associated with EDM culture, according to Dr. Matthew Johnson, associate professor of psychiatry and behavior sciences at the Johns Hopkins University.
In a statement Monday, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman drew a link as well.
“Substances that are becoming increasingly prevalent at certain concerts are incredibly dangerous,” he said, “and as a parent I am concerned that our children may be taking unnecessary risks.”
Baltimore County former drug czar Mike Gimbel warned Towson University freshman football players on Monday about the dangers of MDMA and its prevalence at EDM concerts.
“You might not even know what you’re getting,” Gimbel said. “This is the worst I’ve seen in 30 years. ... You are the vulnerable customers.”
Investigators said they suspected that MDMA was the most commonly used drug at Friday's Block Party and Howard County officials said they were investigating security and screening procedures at Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Family members of one of the two concertgoers who died said they believe he had a toxic reaction to a drink handed to him by another concertgoer.
The family of Tyler Fox Viscardi, 20, of Raleigh, N.C., said they do not know exactly what caused Viscardi to suffer a medical emergency.
“He was the victim of a terrible mishap,” Viscardi's family said in a statement to WJZ-TV. “… According to his close college friend who was with him, the afternoon was hot and he drank water that was given to him by others who were in the area. We believe that this contained a substance, unbeknownst to him, to which he had a toxic reaction.”
Autopsy results are pending for Viscardi and the 17-year-old, whose identity police did not reveal. Police are awaiting test results to determine what substances they and other concertgoers who fell ill might may have ingested, said Howard County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.
Guiliani said he was surprised by how “drunk” and “immature” the young crowd seemed. He said that he did not see drugs openly sold at Merriweather but it was obvious some attendees had used substances beyond alcohol.
“Kids were acting strange. Kids were shaking,” Guiliani said, describing the scene by the portable toilets. “They were definitely acting different. You could just tell from the way they acted, like their body language.”
Doug Williams, 29, of Columbia said that it seemed as if more younger attendees were under the influence of drugs or alcohol than at past concerts he attended, including last year's Mad Decent festival.
“There was quite a few kids laying in grass, their pupils dilated,” he said. “They really can't stand still. You can tell. If you were there, you would've looked at the crowd and, 'Oh yeah, a lot of kids that shouldn't be here. They are wasted out of their minds ...’”
He said he saw EMTs carry a concertgoer out on a stretcher and wished Merriweather security had been more focused on young people who appeared drug-impaired rather than looking to stop people from smoking marijuana.