Of all the young fans I talked to over the weekend at EDC Las Vegas — about Avicii, about the massacre at last year's Route 91 country music festival, and about the music they were here to see regardless — almost all of them had a similar feeling about the world right now.
It's all falling apart.
I haven't been a teenager in quite a while, but my peers' first generational tragedies — Columbine, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Iraq War and the economic meltdown — felt at least somewhat collective. Of course you remembered where you were when the second plane hit the towers.
And if nothing else, you could go raving and forget it all for a few nights. It's no accident that the meteoric rise of EDM occured in the long wake of that broad group trauma — if pain was collective, pleasure could be too. However you feel about corporate mega-raves, they provided something sincere and new to young people who needed it.
I'm sure that thousands of kids found much the same this weekend at EDC.No doubt the show's feelings of liberation were genuine and unsullied for them.
The production was still at a scale unmatched in U.S. festival life. There was so much music — good, bad, crazy, functional — that you could find whatever you were looking for.
But the deep-water sense I got from young fans in Las Vegas was that everything today is unraveling. It's not cynicism, it's more a low hum of certainty that frightening things — some known (whatever Trump tweets next, climate change) and unknown (the next school or or concert shooting, which favorite artist will soon die young) are always lying in wait.
Worse, no one is coming to help.
It's no accident that when the sites of communal bliss — concerts especially — so often double as targets, even escapism feels singed with fear or resignation.
Route 91 was a sui generis attack — a gunman in an offsite hotel perched high above an unsuspecting crowd. That plot would be much harder to attempt at EDC, where despite its own struggles with fan deaths, the show at least is absolutely swarmed with police, medical staff and a secure perimeter. No one seemed imminently concerned that something like Route 91 would happen there.
But the fact that we have to think about this at all is a slow-motion crime against joy. Even as the fireworks exploded over the Kinetic Field, even as couples got married in the EDC chapel, even as the leather-fetish dancers licked each other in the Neon Garden, I couldn't stop thinking about the Santa Fe, Texas, teen who survived her school's mass shooting and said she always imagined her school would be a target. The only question was when.
Even the social movements of our time, like #MeToo and the March For Our Lives (not to mention those opposing the current administration), are targeted at problems that seem to come as a thousand wounds from any and everywhere.
Imagine being a teenager and rightfully expecting all of that to come in your life. Now where do you go to try and forget it?
Las Vegas and EDC will be fine. There's already a scramble to figure out what sounds and audiences will come after EDM, and everyone in EDC and the surrounding ecosystem knows it. "We are uniquely situated to appeal to diverse interests," Tao Group partner Jason Strauss, which runs the pioneering EDM mega-club Marquee, told me. "We have never relied solely on one genre."
Give EDM all the grief you want as a cultural phenomenon co-opted by corporate cynics and some unforgivable music. But at least it gestured at the old rave ideals of creating a shared space for coming together that felt a little wild, a little careless and free. In this world,
Avicii's death felt like the definitive end of that era. There's not a lot of innocence left to lose in America, but if you had it during the EDM boom, it's gone now. There's no level of fame, of money, of acclaim that can insulate you from the fear.
I worry about everyone in this scene. I worry about the artists who, even those at the top of their game, feel like they can't take a few weeks off from relentless touring without being replaced by someone who will drag themselves, hungover and exhausted, to make that flight to their 300th gig of year, where another bottle of comped vodka is the only way to get to sleep.
I worry about the young fans who, perhaps experimenting with drugs for the first time, get a batch of MDMA with a scrap of fentanyl in it and can't be saved in time on the dance floor.
I worry about a man seeing thousands of young women dancing and having an unselfconscious moment of private happiness at a rave, only to later find comfort in the terrorist ideologies of an incel site and decide that an entire gender is to blame for his unhappiness.
Music used to be the place where you got away from all that. Now this is all I think about when I go to shows. Maybe that's the room in our minds where everyone comes together at concerts now — hoping against hope for a night of release, but always watching the exits.