AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
One of the few bright spots for a music industry suffering from stagnant record and concert ticket sales has been the boom in popularity of electronic music festivals. Events featuring trance, dance and dub step, like Electric Zoo and the Electric Daisy Carnival, are now matching or besting their rock counterparts, Coachella and Bonnaroo in attendance. But NPR's Sami Yenigun reports that they're also drawing scrutiny from the media.
SAMI YENIGUN, BYLINE: A bustling sea of music fans in their late teens and early twenties are stuffed onto a grassy, open field in New York. One stands out; dancing in a sweat-drenched black T-shirt that reads, sex, drugs, and...dub step?
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YENIGUN: This obviously isn't Woodstock, but in between the neon sunglasses and pink pills, remnants of hippie culture can be seen in tie-dye and plumes of weed smoke. Electric Zoo is a three-day electronic music festival held annually on Randall's Island. This year, 80,000 people walked through the gates. On the other side of the country, The Electric Daisy Carnival drew 230,000 people. Ryan Raddon, also known as DJ Kaskade, was one of the DJs.
RYAN RADDON: You know, people are like, this is the biggest thing happening in California. I'm like, dude, this is the biggest thing happening in the world. I've got news for you. Like, I've played cream fields, I've played all these festivals all over the world. There's not 250,000 people hanging out in the college scene every day. I mean, U2 doesn't do this. That's why it's like, well, you can't ignore it much anymore.
YENIGUN: The thing is, electronic music festivals haven't exactly been ignored. Instead much of the attention they've received has focused on drug use. This year's Electric Daisy was held in Las Vegas after it got kicked out of the L.A. Coliseum, following the death of a 15-year-old girl. Her parents are now suing the Coliseum commission and the event promoter, Insomniac. This past summer, a documentary about the festival caused a furor of its own, when riot police were ordered in to control larger-than-expected crowds, after Raddon tweeted that he would DJ a free party outside of the event.
RADDON: Nobody wanted that outcome - that's not what was supposed to happen - but definitely the media, from what actually happened to what, when I went back to the hotel and was watching the television, there was a huge difference.
YENIGUN: After the premier, Dan Turner of the Los Angeles Times published an editorial titled Electric Daisy Events Not Worth It for Los Angeles, writing: If any city is equipped to handle an unruly crowd of young people high on drugs, it's Las Vegas.
DAN TURNER: We're really not editorializing against raves or against young people going to concerts; were editorializing against Insomniac, because we've had a really bad history with them in L.A. and we're happy that they've gone to Las Vegas.
YENIGUN: The CEO of Insomniac countered with an editorial of his own, where he took issue with the term rave. Betty Kang, a publicist for the Electric Zoo festival in New York, says that word carries a history of negative connotations that don't apply to events like hers.
BETTY KANG: Dance music was not allowed or it wasn't in the clubs, so everybody had to go underground and there were these underground parties, quote-unquote, "raves." And there was no safety, no security. So, I think those kind of situations created this negativity around it 'cause they were illegal.
YENIGUN: Now, coverage that focuses on the downsides of major music events is nothing new. Just ask Barnard Collier, who reported on Woodstock for The New York Times in 1969. He says that at first his editors didn't want to cover the event at all, and then when he persuaded them, they wanted his story to fit a certain frame.
BARNARD COLLIER: That was that these were a bunch of drugged-out hippies who were causing great trouble and catastrophe, cost the county of Sullivan tons of money and should be closed down by the governor forthwith.
YENIGUN: Collier didn't see it that way.
COLLIER: It didn't look that way to me, and I was perfectly happy. I'd done what I wanted to. I was ready to quit if I had to. And so I said, look, I won't write it if you don't put it in like I said. And it caused alarm bells to go off all over The Times. It eventually got up to the editor, Scotty Reston, and Scotty Reston said what we have to do is we have to write it as he sees it.
YENIGUN: Nevertheless, the paper followed his report with an editorial titled "Nightmare in the Catskills," that opened with the line: The dreams of marijuana and rock music that drew 300,000 fans and hippies to the Catskills had little more sanity than the impulses that drive the lemmings to march to their deaths in the sea. Today, Betty Kang admits that there is drug use at Electric Zoo, but notes that the event has never had a drug-related death, because of the amount of hard work that goes into it.
KANG: We work with the NYPD. We work with the fire department. We work with the New York City Parks Department to put on this event on Randall's Island.
YENIGUN: For a lot of people, the music isn't about drugs, says Ryan Raddon, who insists that much of the way electronic music is covered has to do with the fact that it's still crossing over into the mainstream.
RADDON: Electronic music, mainly because its new, does get tagged as something bad, as rock did, and as hip-hop. I mean, dude, hip-hop still gets grief.
YENIGUN: If past history is any indication, mainstream media coverage of non-mainstream events is as likely to stoke the flames as it is to put out any fires. Sami Yenigun, NPR News.
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CORNISH: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.
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