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May 2, 2012
[Featured image is Marco V at Elements Music Festival (shown below) photo credit Desmond Chong]
This week the Wet Coast moves a little bit east, and takes a look at the controversial Elements Music Festival in Edmonton, Alta. Billed as Western Canada’s biggest dance music festival, promoters Boodang Music Canada and Connected Entertainment faced numerous policy hurdles and even a last-minute challenge to their liquor license, which was later re-instated by court’s order.
Edmonton has always had a strong dance music community, complete with numerous venues, packed after hours clubs and top-notch resident DJs. But there hasn’t been such vocal opposition to a dance music event in that city ever, until now. So what exactly does that mean for the dance music community and for society in general?
Below, the Wet Coast gives some background information with comments from various politicians and officials, including mayor Stephen Mandel. Later, the Wet Coast makes a few observations that help clear up what is an otherwise distorted picture.
Only days after Edmonton’s seemingly successful Elements Music Festival, controversies surrounding the event persist, leading to conflicting reports from authorities and casting doubt on the viability of future ‘raves’ in the city.The weekend-long extravaganza was held April 27 and 28 at the Northlands Fairground’s 500,000+ sq ft Expo Centre, in an area regularly used for Oilers games (regular season only, of course), the annual exhibition and large concerts.
“It didn’t seem like anybody was looking for trouble,” said Kerry Diotte, a long-time Edmonton city councilor who attended the event. “I’ve seen worse situations on Whyte Avenue to be honest,” Diotte explained.
Karen Smith, the executive director of Edmonton’s Sexual Assault Centre agreed, saying staff experienced a low call volume—even lower than on a typical weekend.
With approximately 10,000 revelers filtering in through security-controlled entrances, community stakeholders and, indeed, raw statistics, seem to portray a safe and enjoyable environment where dance music fans embraced the music of over 30 DJs—and each other.
But not so fast. Edmonton police are quick to point out the numerous arrests, overdoses and pressures directly related to the event, and that “we put so many resources into dealing with it and we still had issues.”
Police set up “amnesty” drug bins, performed thorough searches at entry points, and had numerous drug-sniffing canines at the ready. Despite all this—at a profit-crippling cost covered by promoters Boodang and Connected Entertainment—there were 27 overdoses, which placed added pressure on local health and police services.
Here is CTV’s report which states that 4 of the transports were due to drug use out of 27 transports due to “alcohol and drugs”. Can someone else please show me an event with over 8,000 attendees and only FOUR drug incidents? In our opinion, this number is indicative of a very successful safety and security plan in place by the event organizers, who have no control over what patrons do at home beforehand.
“In my three years of doing this job, I have never seen an event with these sorts of numbers,” lamented Sgt. Nicole Chapedelaine of the Edmonton Police Service.
Going on to label the drug Ecstacy as “a part of electronic dance culture”, Chapedelaine’s assessment of Elements Music Festival differs from that of Edmonton mayor, Stephen Mandel. Describing security as “fantastic”, Mandel’s accumulated wisdom prompted him to say, “some kids just don’t understand the importance of not taking drugs.”
“There’s only so much we can do,” said Sgt. Nicole Chapdelaine. There is only so much that anyone can do to influence the decisions of others, including parents, peers and event promoters. At the end of the day, adults make their own decisions. In 2012, the decision of choice is dance music. Instead of trying to pull a footloose, the city of Edmonton should be working WITH the event organizers and not AGAINST them, to support the safety of the citizens. Either way, people are going to dance, party, and make their own decisions. What if those four drug-related incidents had happened at a house party instead of a controlled environment? Boodang and Connected have simply recognized that our citizens palette for entertainment has changed, so they have provided a safe forum for adults to enjoy their favourite music, a feat they should be congratulated for.
Edmonton sun’s story here.
Alas, the controversy really has no answer, but instead births a simple question. Sgt. Chapdelaine—despite the rhetorical nature of her statement—sums the issue up best, “is this something the City wants to do knowing 27 transports to hospital and three critical people coming from these events? That’s the question.”
An Edmonton Journal writer nailed it here: “It might well be possible to prevent a 2013 edition of the Elements festival, but it is impossible to prevent all gatherings at which drugs and alcohol are consumed by young partiers, or to prevent such gatherings from having far less safety infrastructure than this well organized affair.”
Health and safety will always be priority number one: our modern, litigious society demands it. That’s not to say, however, that economic, social and perspective issues are not major factors in this debate—after all, balancing regulation and freedom is the very reason you can eat a Big Mac but not your neighbor’s Dalmatian.
First, there’s the important issue of economics. It’s pretty simple: Elements Festival and similar events bring in much-needed visitors who spend their money at hotels and restaurants. In fact, people living outside Edmonton accounted for 40 per cent of ticket sales. These 6,000 or so people travelled from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, rural Alberta and other places, eventually choosing to spend their bucks at Edmonton businesses. Unwittingly, they also contributed rather significantly to the more than $2 million plus that Elements Festival injected into the regional economy, not to mention the government coffers through taxes.
Metro news story here.
Of course there will be countless naysayers that will present the associated—and inflated—costs as cancelling out any benefit seen from throwing such an event. And that’s fair, but only to a degree; police are trained to handle otherwise extreme situations, and to see them out in force, doing drug enforcement and looking after property at this event probably makes the average tax payer feel better than when cops are seen idling their cruisers at the local Tim Horton’s, or tasering hand-cuffed institution-dwellers.
Plus, there’s a social aspect. Dance music has a 25-year history of bringing diverse, open-minded and creative young people together to share experience, emotion and music. Society benefits from it, and the growth of dance music will do nothing but positive things, much like rock ‘n’ roll’s emergence. Sure, a small minority of people do some drugs and an even smaller minority suffer damaging consequences, but millions consider dance music to be so instrumental in their lives that it has shaped them, positively, as a person.
When it comes to civic politics and dance music, perspective is routinely distorted. Vancouver’s PNE Forum recently banned ‘electronica’ events due to noise complaints. Thrash metal and hip-hop, though, continue. To ban an entire genre, as poorly defined as it is, is insane. Banning genres presents such a litany of problems the least of which are determining what is a banned sound and what isn’t. A banned sound, wow, that elicits images of North Korea, not East Vancouver.
With respect to drugs, Edmonton police claim they confiscated numerous drugs at Elements, and made arrests. They had sniffer dogs, thorough searches and officers trained in drug detection. Of course they found drugs; if they did the same thing at a high school or at a downtown office tower, they’d find drugs there too.
Calgary sun story here.
The music of festivals like Elements is the sound of collaboration, growth and progressive thinking. It’s taken the beloved Grammys by storm, given rock music a run for it’s money, and that favorite radio tune you’ve been humming for the past month … David Guetta produced it (the world’s number one DJ according to the DJ Mag Top 100 poll).
So, while there are negative aspects to these events—people taking drugs and pressuring the health and policing system are two of them—society needs to look at the positives, and realize that banning such an event in order to avoid a few drug overdoses shortchanges thousands of responsible fans and hurts the regional economy. Most importantly, though, is that as a culture, for us to avoid fixing the problems, to not improve our processes, and to deny veteran and new fans top-quality modern music amongst neighbors and friends, is completely regressive and just plain wrong.
Next week the Wet Coast will bring you less politics and more killer music! In the meantime, make sure you check out Vancouver’s recent party forecast to keep up-to-date on what’s happening this May.
Lastly, a massive congratulations and thank you to Boodang and Connected for their continued efforts in accommodating the rapidly developing dance music scene in western Canada. This event was an obvious success and we look forward to many more Elements Music Festivals.
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