With my pass swiped and security behind me, nothing stands between me and my first rave: EDC Las Vegas 2012. My friends and I enter the speedway. Kandi kids are holding hands and running past; it’s clear they know something I don’t know - yet. Entering the tunnels to the grandstands I get my first taste of a dirty bass line. My vision is limited. Lights flicker and flash ahead of me, illuminating the low lingering moisture of the atmosphere. As I near the egress of the tunnel, there’s an energy in the air. I’m dragging my feet across carpet, building a static charge, raises the hairs on the back of my neck - only there is no carpet. I arrive at the grandstands and take in the view. I’m under the electric sky. The only word I can muster is “wow.”
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been a heavy-set, socially awkward computer nerd. Growing up with that unfortunate combination of traits wasn’t easy. I was an easy target for ridicule. It was in these formative years (junior high and high school) that I quickly learned it was best to fly low and stay off people’s radar. Even classmates I regarded as friends would ridicule me for anything I did that was unique, or mock opinions I’d voice. Before long I did what anyone in my position would do to cope: I built up my walls.
For most of the years that followed, whither it was coworkers, classmates or friends of friends, no one I met ever met the real me. They got the vanilla version. I was a man of few words, and my guard was always up. This had made relationships next to impossible. I grew up in a culture of swift, oppressive judgement. My only options were to fit in, or go unnoticed. In the weeks leading up to EDC, every mention of the rave was always accompanied by narrowed eyes or furrowed brows - judging. These acquaintances regarded “rave” as a four-letter-word.
That all changed when I learned about four other letters: PLUR. While the culture of peace, love, inclusion and tolerance permeated the crowds at every stage, I was but an observer - documenting the curious and strange customs of a niche culture. I was not yet a member. It took one special person from this group to bring me into the fold. On the trek between Kinetic and Circuit Grounds, I randomly decided to text an acquaintance I barely knew. I had only met her a few times.
Her name is Emily, she’s a server at a restaurant, she’s engaged, and she is going to be at EDC - that was all I knew about her. Apart from your standard greetings, we may have only said two words to each other prior to this. To my surprise, she actually wrote back. Who is going to take time out of this wonderful experience surrounded by art installations, lights, music, performers… to text back a virtual stranger? Her group and mine never met up, but more than 200 texts later it’s safe to say we raged there together.
Over the coming months, we would go to every massive in our area: HARD Summer, Day of the Dead, Nocturnal, White, Masquerade Motel, EDC again… We quickly became best friends. Not only did I get invited to her wedding after knowing her for only a few months, but she insisted on a co-ed bridal shower so no member of our rave family would be left out.
It was gradual and difficult to notice, but it dawned on me somewhere around our third festival that my walls had crumbled. She was the first person since middle school to meet the real me - unfiltered and unapologetic for who I am. Her genuine spirit, her enthusiasm for all things nerdy, and our mutual admiration for music was a lighthouse in a tormenting sea of judgement. She was my safe harbor - someone with whom I could finally be myself and take off the mask. Somewhere in the mix, I learned exactly what it means to live by PLUR. Emily was my chaperone into this beautiful culture. She was my teacher, my accomplice, my rave sibling, and I wouldn’t be the same person were it not for her, or this scene. I wouldn’t have made such wonderful connections with so many awesome people, or learned all the emotional and spiritual lessons needed to truly understand and embrace the way the EDM culture thinks.
EDM, and the culture have shifted my whole perspective of life - of people - of art - of the connections we all share. Now, I’m a card-carrying member. Now everyone I meet going forward has the good fortune of meeting the real me. I’ve even reconnected with old friends and they are seeing a Dave they haven’t been accustomed to seeing. Living this way has been like having a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Now, I’m the biggest advocate for shunning judgement, embracing unity, and nurturing a climate of good vibes and love. Living this way comes at a cost: it leaves me vulnerable and susceptible to being hurt. Despite that unpleasant truth, I don’t miss having those walls.