When pop icon Madonna introduced one of electronic music’s top performers, Swedish DJ, AVICII, to a crowd of 150,000 at the Ultra Music Festival, saying, “How many people in the crowd have seen molly?”, she unearthed a debate that has been rampant in electronic dance music since its start.  Concert attendees as well as listeners streaming from all over the world interpreted Madonna’s comment in different ways, but many recognized it as an explicit drug reference.  Molly is the street name for ecstasy, a drug commonly used at EDM (electronic dance music) festivals.

Even though the majority of the audience roared with excitement at Madonna’s apparent drug reference, some artist including revolutionary electronic DJ, Deadmau5, were not pleased at Madonna’s cavalier assumption.  Apart from sparking an epic twitter battle between two musical giants born from different generations, Madonna’s controversial statement does raise questions about the state of EDM.  According to a report by Australian newspaper, “Courier Mail”, from the year 2000-2008, ecstasy claimed the lives of 100 Australians.  Although drugs have always played a role in the production and enjoyment of music, the rise in ecstasy related deaths and the drug’s link to EDM concerts naturally raises the question of whether Molly is taking over electronic music.
After Madonna’s controversial comment at the Ultra Music Festival, Deadmau5 delivered a verbal thrashing, chastising Madonna for diminishing EDM as being simply a platform for youth drug use.  Writing on his facebook page, Deadmau5 lashed out, saying,

“Seriously, i giveth not a fucking single FUCK for slating on Madonna for reaching an entirely NEW level of idiocy… i can appriciate her meteoric career, and all good deeds done, but WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT? That’s your big contribution to EDM? Thats your big message to ultra attendies? hipsterspeak for looking for drugs? fuck off you fucking IDIOT. fuck.”

Clearly fired up about Madonna’s assumption that electronic dance music has become dominated by drug use, Deadmau5 lashed out to protect the true and sober art form that is his music.  Madonna responded to Deadmau5’s harsh attack claiming that ‘molly’ had been a reference to a song she had intended on recording: “I was referring to the song called ‘Have you Seen Molly’ written by my friend Cedric Gervais who I almost worked with on my own album.”  In a statement steeped with sarcasm, Deadmau5 sent a tweet to Madonna dismissing her blunder.  Although the feud may have ended, Madonna’s explanation seems absolutely ludicrous.  To randomly blurt out the name of a Cedric Gervais track just before introducing Avicii just goes against any common sense.  Although Madonna most likely hoped that her statement would fall by the wayside along with Snooki’s pregnancy announcement, Deadmau5 would not let the issue rest.
After berating Madonna, Deadmau5 wrote a lengthy piece on the burden of responsibility and the misconception of categorizing EDM as a genre dominated by sweaty teenagers, their bodies convulsing with synthetic stimulants.  In the piece he expresses his philosophy of withholding judgment on drug users, but he refuses to accept that the EDM genre can be defined by some psychedelic experience outside of the music:

“So, if you can be pandered with MDMA references, then at least pander your own ass with a good sense of responsibility which will enable you to make the personal choices that are right for YOU… then I won’t have to feel like a fucking moron on a stage because you paid money to listen to some warm humming sounds high as fuck.”

Despite the crude language, Zimmerman’s makes a coherent and enlightening argument.  To assume that every audience member is sweltering in a pill induced high, takes away from the power of music.  Surely some concert goers may rely on drugs to enhance their experience, but there are also those fans who feel the waves of euphoria coming straight through the speakers.  Although tno data exists that can tell us how many people were using ecstasy at the Ultra Music Festival, the idea of musical integrity set forward by Deadmau5 should be enough to convince the public domain that ecstasy is not an inherent part of an electronic music festival.
Although Deadmau5’s sentiments towards the purity of electronic music are heartfelt, government projects such as the DAWN report (Drug Abuse Warning Network) warn the public about the increase in ecstasy use within the United States and around the world.  The number of emergency room visits related to ecstasy use rose from 10,220 visits in 2004 to 17,865 in 2008, showing a 74.8 percent increase in just four years.  The report also warns that atmospheres such as raves and concerts increase the chance of concert goers mixing the effects of several drugs.  Obviously, the synthesis of several stimulants puts the users health in great danger.  Although no artist explicitly advocates for the use of ecstasy at their concerts, some artists such as, ‘Designer Drugs’, make an obvious connection.  Even many song lyrics of popular EDM songs make subtle references to the  powerful effects of the stimulant.  With the media hype about the danger of raves it is easy to forget the historical past of drug use in creating and listening to music.  Each generation or appearance of a new genre of music seems to be linked to a type of drug.  The 60‘s-70’s were filled with hallucinogens such as LSD, lifted up by the screaming notes off of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar.  The music of the 80‘s reflected the spread of cocaine, and the 90‘s showcased the advent of the counter culture movement with drugs such as ecstasy and other stimulants.

However, the idea of using drugs to effect the senses has been around since the beginning of rock and roll.  Vocalist, Jim Morrison, of the doors once said, “I believe in a long, prolonged, derangement of the senses in order to obtain the unknown.”  Therefore, the idea of drugs playing a role in the experience of music is not new.  However, the question remains whether the nature of EDM encourages drug use more then any other genre before it.  Deadmau5’s aggressive and violent response to Madonna’s casual reference to ecstasy use seems to be a direct reaction to this assumption.  Electronic music is supposed to make you think, react to the thumping beats and soaring synthesizers.  It’s supposed to awake a primal feeling of excitement that can only be expressed through dance moves and massive smiles.  According to Deadmau5 it can do all this without any synthetic substance entering your bloodstream.  All it takes is the music.  In fact, Jim Morrison also said, “I like any reaction I can get with my music.  Just anything to get people to think.  I mean if you can get a whole room full of drunk, stoned people to actually wake up and think, you’re doing something.”  Certainly, there are artist like Deadmua5, who are doing something.

By Duncan Lowe

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