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A PLUR virgin experiences SCMF and the culture within it

File Photo
Photo Courtesy SCMF

This weekend I was positive that PLUR was a verb,  or at the very least had something to do with the word “plural”, nothing close to the Peace Love Unity and Respect, the mantra of EDM festivals. I prefer my music to come from instruments, on stage, with a real drummer thrashing at the kit, not a button-in-a-program produced through a loudspeaker, which made me the perfect candidate to write this story, someone who was still wearing K-Swiss sneakers when the rave scene got big.

The weekend began simple enough: two interviews with two DJs for  their input on their music and how they liked playing El Paso. A screw up from someone with a headset barred me from media access though, and I ended up smack in the middle of the 20,000 eager individuals lining up to get into Sun City Music Festival, a mistake that threw me down a neon rabbit hole and lead me to one genuine fact: that the lifeblood of electronic dance music doesn’t rely on DJs or killer bass lines; but rather, on the people that make up the crowd.

Admittedly, the EDM culture at Sun City can seem like a place right out of the Protestant imagination of the road to hell. A mob dressed in intricate bikinis and tails or glowing masks wait in line, while the other side of the fence throbs from the bass of three glittering stages. There’s hushed talk of timing your pills in time for Skrillex’s set and heated arguments about which stage to head to, when and how hard they are going to go hard—all the while medics escort over-partied attendees from the grounds before 9 p.m.

Inside, however, these same sex-cats and masked ravers meld into a crowd dressed like them that somehow normalizes it. Hunter Davie, better described as Guy-In-American-Booty-Shorts-And-Glowing-Shoes, says that the outfits, the music and even the choice to take drugs is a part of the freedom of an EDM festival.

“You’ll see some crazy outfits,” Davie said. “But it’s all just costumes, like another way to express the crazy side of yourself.”

Davie, who drove from Houston for Sun City, explains how the freedom to dress sets up the entire atmosphere of an EDM festival.

“No one has to pretend, and it’s like everyone agrees to let everyone be who they want to be if they don’t judge them,” Davie said.

Davie speaks of a communal tolerance, a sort of cease-fire on judgement or ridicule at Ascarate Park, if only for the weekend.

At times the sentiment went beyond tolerance and into community. Those in costume or decked out in fluorescent sunglasses did not hesitate to stop each other and talk about their costumes. A teddy bear high-fived two rainbow fairies. A gang of glowing bandits stopped in front of the port-a-potties to get down with dudes in tank tops and light-up robot helmets.

One of the stranger sights of these easily made friendships involved people who wore gloves tipped at the fingers with LED lights. Someone would tap them and ask for a “light show,” to which they would agree and start wiggling their fingers in patterns in front of their faces. The show would end, they shared a hug, and then they parted, a few minutes of giving and receiving.

This acceptance extends far beyond wardrobe. Unlike at other concerts, where dancing feels almost discouraged and attendees stand facing in the same direction, Sun City festival goers danced like it was their right. Shufflers kicked up dust, head bangers broke their necks after a build-up and heavy drop and general movers and squirmers grooved with anyone that came across their paths.

No one judges them for it­—there would be no point. The dancers care so little about who’s watching that it’d be a waste of time to try and pass judgement.

Does the presence of dancers equate with quality DJs and a great line up? Mindaugas Lapinskis, who played Sun City Saturday evening as Gardens of God, would disagree.

“Anybody can DJ,” Lapinskis said. “You play with sounds and give a good rhythm and people will dance.”

If everyone can DJ, then how is it that Skrillex and Kaskade are raking in big money to play these festivals? “It’s a business,” Lapinskis said. “People want to party and we are hired to play the music.”

Lapinskis has been a DJ for 12 years. He also scores television shows and movies and listens to jazz and rock during his off time. Of the different areas of music he is involved in, he finds DJing to be the easiest.

“It’s all about vibrations,” Lapinskis said. It’s a simple thought, but the truth of it reveals a lot about EDM. Volume and vibrations are what EDM boils down to: the build up coupled with an increased tempo, the rise in intensity and the pulsing hit of the bass is essential to the success of a DJ. Even upfront and close for a no-name DJ can prove to be a better show than watching the Chainsmokers or Skrillex from the butt end of the crowd. A shirt sold by Sun City merchandisers summed it up in one phrase: “Live for the drop.”

This was my problem before Sun City. EDM felt too flimsy—it didn’t feel like it had substance, nor insight into a human truth to teach me something. Certainly it did not have any clever lyrics.

It was not until halfway through watching Kaskade bobbing around on stage gearing up for another build up, and the crowd begging for the drop that I looked around. Even if the song didn’t have lyrics, these people in face paint and glow stick glasses, either shirtless or just about, were in a moment nonetheless. You could see it in their faces.

They forgot about their jobs, their impending deadlines and were listening only for the drop and Kaskade, on stage, was living only to give it to them.

It was then that I thought that maybe EDM doesn’t have to have meaning. And that meaningless is a kind of meaning—if only to serve as a distraction from the weight of the stress that waits for them when it’s time to go home.

If EDM is meaningless, shoot, if it’s all meaningless, and like the fireworks that popped over the stage to signal the end of Sun City our life is meant to just be burned up and used up then we might as well make a good show of it and make it pop, at the very least go crazy when the DJ hits the drop.

After the festival, the lights came on, the fairies became waitresses and students again, the neon ninjas changed back into cashiers and sons; and they, we, wandered back to our cars in a daze as if it all were a dream, that the place where the freak in them could exist was made up. In a way they did make it up. Ascarate Park is just a dirt lot, but for Labor Day weekend it was a territory established on their terms, their laws. In a way, it was their city.

Eric Vasquez may be reached at [email protected].

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A PLUR virgin experiences SCMF and the culture within it