Inside America’s EDM community

9 Mins read

In the midst of a crowded festival, two ravers reach for each other’s hand and touch their fingertips together, forming what looks like a double peace sign: representing “Peace”. They then move their hands into the shape of a single love heart: expressing “Love”. Thirdly, they intertwine their fingers and affectionately hold each other, this part is known as representing “Unity”.

In a show of “Respect”, one of the ravers, with their hand still grasping firmly onto her fellow party goer, slides a multi-coloured beaded bracelet off of her arm and onto the wrist of her friend.

In return, her friend who has vivid coloured bracelets running up the length of his arm, takes a large hand-made cuff and glides it onto her wrist, she cries and hugs him for his grand gesture.

You’re probably thinking: Hang on a second, what is going on? Exchanging bracelets in a rave? Why is she crying? What does ‘peace’ and ‘respect’ mean?

No it’s not two school-kids at their school disco exchanging shag bands (remember those?); instead it’s two teenagers from California at an EDM (Electronic Dance Music) festival in a video that went viral on Twitter. @Matt_Teo16 tweeted “One of my favourite moments @DecadenceAZ was giving @sauer_patchhhhh her birthday cuff. Love you Hoya.”

As a British youngster, and occasional rave-goer, the act of two people hugging and crying in the middle of the dance floor isn’t startling: emotions are high, the florescent lights start to obscure your vision, you’ve had one-too-many drinks and the adrenaline of being in an up-tempo environment is kicking in. You turn to your best friend, who’s two-stepping next to you, and let them know that you love them. We’ve all been there.

But the emotions expressed at American raves are completely different to the rave culture British young people are exposed to today. American ravers hold tight to the sentimental values of belonging to an assemble of people and a style of genre. They openly identify themselves as being a member of the EDM Community.

Bracelets and cuffs, similar to those seen in the video, are exchanged between rave goers as token of appreciation and respect. The bracelets are referred to as ‘Kandi’ and the ravers who wear them are ‘Kandi Kids.’

Kandis are made up of plastic beads that often spell out a word or phrase, and the ritual of Kandi exchange is named P.L.U.R; an acronym for Peace, Love, Unity and Respect. American ravers use Kandi, that they’ve crafted themselves, as an item to share with valued friends and strangers in an attempt to create an eternal bond.

Close-up of a multi-coloured kandi bracelet made up of a phrase

A colourful hand-made Kandi bracelet with words attached on. American’s will exchange these and larger cuffs at EDM festival and events [Twitter:@inventmattt]

“So in the EDM community we make these things called Kandi, and each piece is made specifically for someone, so each one takes time,” 19-year old Hailey from the viral video told Artefact.

“Especially cuffs like the one I received, they take hours to make and it was made specifically for me so I got really emotional. About four months ago I moved away from California to New Mexico and I hadn’t seen one of my greatest friends for all those months, and when I saw him again he had made that for me, without me knowing. It was just a sentimental moment for me.”

PLUR was initially developed as a set of principles for fellow ravers to follow and abide by. The principles include: treating one another with respect, not instigating any physical fights, not giving each-other unsolicited drugs and ensuring one another’s safety at events.

[pullquote align=”right”]”We give a piece of ourselves to each-other whenever we trade.”
– Matt[/pullquote]Kandi, over the past two decades, has blossomed into a significant element in American raving culture. Originally, the concept of making and wearing vivid coloured Kandis was introduced by drug-dealers in the early 90s, in an attempt to be discreetly identifiable to club goers in a crowded space. The Kandis were also designed to conceal drugs like Ecstasy and LSD.

Today, Kandi bracelets have broken away from their past ties to drug culture and have since evolved into a symbol for ravers to display unity and appreciation with one another. The emergence and popularity of Kandi bracelets have spread rapidly throughout the rave scene; so much so, that events have accommodated this trend. Tables and tents are often prepared at festivals for ravers to custom make Kandis with one-another, to be traded later throughout the night.

“Kandi and PLUR is all over the US, and even in Canada, as I’ve met hundreds of people from all over the country. For us we all understand PLUR, and we all have a common understanding and full sense of unity whether we be at a rave in California or all the way in New York. We give a piece of ourselves to each-other whenever we trade, and so far I’ve gotten well over 200 Kandis,” 19-year old Matt from California told Artefact. 

A raver has taken a selfie before attending his rave in his raving attire. He is wearing a bandana, t-shirt and has colourful kandis up his arm.

Matt in his rave attire ready to attend a Californian EDM festival [Twitter:@inventmattt]

“For me EDM is the most beautiful form of music. I resonate with PLUR so much because of how accepted it makes me feel as a person, and it allows for a greater sense of community everywhere. I could be anywhere and still feel loved, and for me that’s something I lacked for a long time.”

EDM can be recognised as a broad range of percussive electric music fused with various sub-genres such as techno, dubstep, trap, drum and bass, house and trance; which originated in the mid-80s and continues to be played globally at events and underground raves, as well as mainstream music festivals such as EDC (Eastern Daisy Carnival). EDM artists like Skrillex and Kaskade have shaped the landscape of contemporary EDM music, making it a renowned genre appreciated internationally. To amplify the ravers experience, raves are accompanied by laser lights, projected coloured images and visual effects.

EDM Festivals and events are favoured throughout the year in California and its neighbouring states, rather than in one season, due to its enviably high-climate and spacious landscape. This means for demanding ravers like Hailey and Matt, that like to attend at least one rave a month, they are never short of a rave near-by to make an appearance at.

Additionally, America’s EDM Community has progressively become so widespread and prominent across the country, that members have now established themselves online and have created  ‘EDM Twitter’ to actively make new friends and keep each other informed with upcoming events.

American’s aren’t timid about vocalising their hard-core raving antics, and they definitely aren’t shy about their ardent admiration for festivals, EDM music and the culture they’ve submitted themselves into on a public platform.

It can seem a little excessive from a stand-offish, British, point of view, but for 20-year-old American raver Alyssa, the EDM Community coming together has proven pivotal for the mental wellbeing of several ravers.

Black and white image of man with P.L.U.R tattoo which is identified as part of EDM raving culture.

Matt from California got PLUR tattooed on himself to signify its importance to himself, and the EDM community [Twitter:@inventmattt]

“Last April one of my friends that I met online through EDM Twitter was planning to commit suicide shortly after the rave, and no one knew about it. I met her that night finally after talking to her for months on Twitter, and because of meeting me and seriously showing her love, as well as everyone at the rave using PLUR and showing her positivity and good vibes, it pulled her out the darkness around her. It literally saved her life. Things like that non-ravers will never understand,” Alyssa told Artefact.

In the US, there has been a significant rise in the number of young people suffering from mental health issues in recent years. Suicide is the second largest cause of death for 10 to 24 year-olds in the US, and according to the CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention), shows the proportion of young people being admitted to children’s hospital for suicide attempts has doubled between 2008 and 2015.

The culture present in the American raving scene: multi-coloured Kandis, provocative and ostentatious outfits, hardcore head-banging and open displays of affection was derived from the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s illicit rave scene, which has its origins in the UK. As well as taking influence from the pulsating beats of the Spanish Island Ibiza’s unique DJ sound known as Balearic.

Before raves became heavily commercialised by profitable music festivals and events, the only location for ravers to express themselves to electric music with no limitations, was at underground raves secluded in the woods or at empty warehouses. A portion of the rave community experimented with illegal substances as such LSD and MDMA, to make their clubbing experience more heightened, more spirited and more hallucinatory.

In the history that followed rave forefathers taking their first hit of ecstasy, rave culture became synonymous with drug culture and have remained fused together ever since.

Tasha from London, now 35, spent much of her youth sneaking off to unknown raves, in hidden locations deep in the woods; she was drawn to a culture where freedom could be found in euphoria and the ideas of boundless, endless nights were embraced.

“The American Kandi kids reminds me of some of the hardcore nights I went to in the late 90s when I wouldn’t have to show my fake ID, and I would be surrounded by people of all ages. Everyone would be skanking out together and be happy, and the smoking area was a place for everyone to chat over the bass for hours,” Tasha told Artefact. “You’d miss your favourite set talking shit to someone you don’t know like you were long lost, friends.”

“Back in the late 90’s you’d have rave horns on and whistles blowing in your ear, lads with their tops off and girls with sweaty fringes with their heads banging. There was literally no room for people wanting to be on a chilled, sexy vibe like in the house events today, the tempo wouldn’t allow it!”

Tasha noted that the raving culture today doesn’t exert the same sentimental atmosphere she encountered in her adolescent years. Although the UK rave scene continues to reign and capture the latest generation into its gripping ambiance, throbbing beats, strobe lights and misuse of illicit drugs, the attitude of young British ravers is much more guarded in comparison to American’s raving youth.

We definitely don’t exchange Kandis whilst trying to master a hand-shake in an intoxicated state. We like to keep our raving lifestyle on the down-low online, and we like to mind our business. The concept of showering affection to a complete stranger can be hard to grasp.

Whilst travelling around Europe last year, Matt didn’t want to pass on the opportunity to experience raves in the UK, as the culture has been so widely present to Americans. Although Matt had a relatively positive experience, as EDM music is mainstream and familiar, he felt it lacked the same vitality and affiliation the American rave society hold to so strongly.

“There was less a sense of community and more so a sense of just having a huge party. There’s certainly similarities in drug usage and of course gloves and bright lights and all of that, but on a person-to-person basis it’s quite different,” Matt commented.

In a similar fashion, some British ravers acknowledge that the relationship between their raving culture and self-identity has dissipated through the years. There’s less recognition of the ‘raver,’ now, people who club are just seen as ‘someone that enjoys raves’, especially at mainstream events.

DJ and drum and bass enthusiast, DJ Double L, became heavily involved in the UK rave scene as a pre-teen, when his dad became a marketer for drum and bass events in 2009. “British ravers grow up in a society that doesn’t have room for them. In the US, with room to roam and a cultural idea of freedom, raves are staged events,” says DJ Double L.

“In the UK, raving culture is bounded together as outcasts, the DIY sound systems revel in the anti-establishment and disorder of underground squatted locations and drug experimentation. What Americans call rave could also be considered festivals in the UK. Their glitzy parties of glitter and lights stark contrast to the three days in a field in Somerset we do, surrounded by drum and bass loving ket-heads.”

Although drugs may add another dimension to the experience of raves, whether they’re gauged ethical or not, they have never been a requirement for individuals to consume. Nobody will question why you’re there if you haven’t sniffed a line of ketamine, or tell you to leave if you’re not as in inebriated as them. But drug culture is rave culture.

[pullquote align=”right”]”You’d miss your favourite set talking shit to someone you don’t know like you were long lost friends.” [/pullquote]

While drugs have been heavily present in the rave culture of both the UK and US, a minority of American ravers, who nurture the unity and quintessence of what the EDM Community brings them, refrain from regular drug-use and try to find joy in the music and one another, rather than the substance.

“There are the small groups that chill in back corners of the crowd with blankets over their heads and unable to function. That’s not what the scene should be, and not what it is,” Jared, 23 from Los Angeles tell us.

“Over the last year or so I’ve seen an increase of the amount of Brads, Ashley’s etc going to these events. Basically, people that don’t know jack about the scene and are there to just get fucked up and party. There’s more than that at these events.”

The UK rave scene may have changed since it’s formative years, but that doesn’t mean that raving has let go of its groundbreaking spirit and sentiment that was forged in the 1980s. In most underground raves that are hidden from society, the passion is still there, but just not heavily publicised; and without the Kandi bracelets of course.

Having said that, America’s EDM Community could teach the upcoming generation of Brits that will soon be infatuated with late-nights in a dingy warehouses, the essence of raving culture.

“Raving, EDM and the people in the community has so far brought me amazing beautiful people and peace and comfort within my own everyday life. I will always do everything I can to radiate positive energy to others,” Jared concludes.






Feature Image by ELEVATE via Pexels CC

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