On Labor Day weekend 2015, I did something extraordinary. But let me start by saying what I didn’t do.
I wasn’t among the crowds of rabid fans lining up in front of big box retailers at midnight to partake in what the marketers dubbed “Force Friday,” which was Disney’s first big push of Star Wars merchandise in anticipation of Episode VII’s debut this Christmas. Admittedly, that BB-8 droid by Sphero does look awesome. But instead, I tweeted this:
I stand by that philosophy. For the most part, I like collecting experiences instead of “stuff”. Some experiences I love so much, I want to experience them over and over, like I do at theme parks, even though it may cost a pretty penny for the privilege. And I just might be on to something here. Recent research suggests that investing in experiences will make you happier, for a longer period of time, much more than buying “stuff” that makes you happy for a little while until it’s quickly taken for granted.
Most “stuff” sits on a shelf and collects dust, and we adapt to it. An experience may happen only once, but they often result in lasting memories and stories that are fun to retell. It’s not just a video you watched; you were there, it was your reality, you were a part of something. It’s not a stretch to say that experiences make us who we are. Experiences also make you feel connected to people, in ways that “stuff” never could.
That’s why I attended a rave this weekend. A 3-day extravaganza of thumping electronic dance music (or EDM), strobing lights, flashing lasers, fiery balls of flames, gushing water fountains, and showering confetti in a crowd tens of thousands strong. And I loved every minute of it.
Insomniac’s Nocturnal Wonderland 2015 celebrated its 20th anniversary over Labor Day weekend, but it’s only the second rave I’ve attended. My first rave was earlier this year at Beyond Wonderland, also by Insomniac, and also at the same venue, the impressive outdoor San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino, CA. I’m still new to rave culture, but I’ll do my best to explain what it’s like for those who haven’t been to a rave, and why I’m addicted.
When I attended my first rave, I knew nothing about EDM except that, to me, it just sounded like noise. But I decided to go anyway, thanks to the persuasions of a very good friend of mine, and I tried to go into it with an open mind. I figured, hey, even if the music sucks, there’s plenty of pretty things to look at. I do love things that light up. What I experienced next was completely unexpected and nothing short of mind-blowing.
EDM isn’t just a collection of random electronic noise, like it first seemed to my unaccustomed ears. When you experience it at a huge venue like Nocturnal, you don’t just listen to it; you feel it. Literally. Some of those deep bass sounds are so intense, it vibrates your entire being. You can get lost in it. It moves you in ways I never anticipated it would. It makes you want to dance, and dance hard. It’s, dare I say, transcendent. There’s nothing else quite like it. We heard sets from Galantis (my personal favorite), Alesso, Kaskade, Armin van Buuren, W&W and more. And boy, is it insane!
The repetitive nature of EDM is a turn-off to some, including me at first. I thought it was annoying and made everything sound the same. But I was listening to it all wrong. The constant beat of EDM makes you feel invincible and safe at the same time. Biologically, humans crave constants. We want to feel safe and secure via repetition, like knowing your house and comfy bed is always waiting for you at the end of a long day. This might explain how “House Music” got its name and how it became associated with EDM. Inside your house, you can run around in your underwear if you want! In the same way, EDM makes you feel at home and encourages you to be yourself. There are no standard dance moves to EDM. You simply move however the music inspires you to move in the moment.
At raves, everyone is riding the same wave of Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect – or PLUR for short.
There is no fear of judgment at raves. I’ve seen just about the craziest rave clothing you can imagine at these events. You can be whoever and whatever you want, the crazier the better. Since I am currently active in the puppy play community, I wore my hood and collar to Nocturnal. Several people commented to me how much they loved it!
One part I love about rave culture are the plastic beads, often called “kandi”. Ravers cover their arms, neck and even their face with them, and when you make a connection with someone, you can trade or give away your kandi to them, usually done by a special handshake that signifies acceptance. What makes this more special than, say, pin trading, is that each bracelet is 100% custom made by the individual. The kandi I have received reminds me of the wonderful connections I’ve made with people at these events. What could be more special than that?
I think what surprised me the most at the raves I attended is how friendly the crowd is! Now, it’s no secret that illegal party drugs are synonymous with raves. But I’ve never once seen a fight break out, or even heard mean words exchanged. All in all, there’s an overwhelming feeling of love, happiness and connectedness that cannot simply be written off as some chemically induced phenomenon. The vibe there is energetic and incredibly positive. You never know who you’re going to meet. It’s not just young adults, either: I’ve seen plenty of middle-aged folks dancing their hearts out, too. And everyone is gathered together for one thing: THE MUSIC.
There’s someone I admire professionally who also fell in love with raves: Tony Hsieh, billionaire and CEO of Zappos. He came into raves thinking he’d hate it, but like me, he came out of the experience with a completely different perspective. You can read his thoughts here, but one thing he observed is how connected everyone was, how unified the people were to the music and each other. It’s called the “hive switch”. Usually, humans are very selfish and self-serving. Whether jostling for positions at work, getting grades at school, or fighting for spaces in a parking lot, it feels like we’re always in competition with one another. But sometimes, we can tap into a desire to cooperate and work together, like bees in a hive. Think about the most awe-inspiring sights you’ve seen of people cooperating – like Olympic ceremonies, or even flash mobs. Raves can turn on that switch. Hsieh has very successfully applied this idea of group cooperation at raves to his employees and company culture at Zappos.
Here’s a video I took of the Nocturnal Wonderland 20th Anniversary fireworks. Of course a crummy iPhone video can never replicate the true experience of being there in person, but it will give you an idea. Enjoy! 🙂
Have you been to a rave, or thought about going to one? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Share them by leaving a reply below. Thanks for reading!