The Rave Subculture

I walked into the dark room after paying the ten-dollar cover charge. The music was what I noticed first. It was very loud and made a ring linger in my ears. The music was house music, also known as techno or electronic music. The next thing I noticed was the people. The majority of them were young adults, anywhere from their late teens to early 20’s. It wasn’t the people I noticed so much, but how they were behaving. Most of them were dancing, but not just your typical dancing that you would see in most dance clubs. People were very close together and there was a lot of physical, euphoric interaction between them. They were dancing to the beat, almost together as one. Also moving the groove of the music were many lights of all different colors. Most people were dancing with glowsticks as well as other various kinds of lights. It was clear to me right away that the majority of the people inside the room were not sober but were under some kind of influence. I had walked into the world of the rave.
It was a Saturday night in Jacksonville, Florida. I was at a club in the Downtown area called 618. It opens at 10 p.m., a time when most other places are getting ready to close. The patrons there however, were just getting their night started.
I walked around the club, observing as I walked. I saw people hugging a lot, giving each other massages or giving each other light shows. I asked a girl what the light show was for. Her name was Sara and she replied, “The lights look really cool when you’re rolling.” Rolling is term most ravers use when are on the popular club drug ecstasy. Sara was 19 and dressed like a lot of the ravers I saw there. Loose shirts and baggy pants. She had jewelry on that looked almost like children’s jewelry. She said kids there who wore that kind of apparel were called “candie ravers” or “candie kids”.
Ecstasy pills are made of a compound called methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA. It’s an old drug: Germany issued the patent for it in 1914 to the German company, E. Merck. It’s chemists thought it could be a promising intermediary substance that might be used to help develop more advanced therapeutic drugs.
It was not successful however and disappeared until 1953. That’s when the U.S. Army funded an animal study of eight drugs, including MDMA. They were trying to find a lethal drug for use on soldiers during the cold war. They did not find it to be as toxic as they had hoped however and MDMA was forgotten once again.
It wasn’t until 1985 that it was outlawed and made a Class I substance, in the same category as heroin or LSD. By then, college-age people in Europe and India were taking the drug to enhance rave parties, where thousands of people danced to loud techno music. As years went by, MDMA got more and more popular, especially among users in their late teens and early 20’s. The drug sells for $20 to $30 today in the United States.
People who have taken the drug say the experience is a several-hour intense journey. All five senses are heightened. It’s not uncommon for people to massage, touch and hug one another while “rolling” to increase the pleasure. Some say it makes them happy and energetic. Others say MDMA releases their “true selves”.
I asked Sara how long she had been rolling and why she did it. “I dropped my first pill around the middle of 1998. That first time was so awesome. It was like a whole new world that I’d never seen. Everything around you is just a hundred times better than when you are sober. The air you breathe feels good, just to breathe it. Your skin is really sensitive to touch. And it feels so good just to hug people because you just feel like you have to. It’s like everyone here is a family and we are unified.” Then Sara reached over to me, grabbed me and gave me a very embracing hug. It caught me off guard and surprised me. She looked at me and said, “I just had to hug you,