The first electronic music festival I ever went to was the Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) in 2013. It wasn’t even that long ago, I realize, but those two and a half years feel like a lifetime. This blog certainly didn’t exist then, but I wrote a recap of the festival on the blog I had at the time. Part of it says:
“EDC was insanely fun because it was a collection of 20,000 of the nicest, happiest, most helpful people I’ve ever met. There was no anger, no drunken fighting, no drama. Just dancing and making new friends and everyone complimenting everyone else on their outfits. It felt like we were all part of one big family.”
EDC isn’t even really a festival I’d get that excited about anymore, now that I’m more knowledgeable about both the music and the crowds that different festivals bring. But even back then, as a total newbie, I felt an energy that was different than anything I’d experienced before. This was not just a collection of people who liked the same music. This was a community, a shared experience, and yes, a family.
“Family” is a word that’s thrown around a lot in the electronic music scene. In just a little over a year of having this blog I’ve talked about festival families and artist families (AKA groups of fans) and have posted pictures of my various rave families and have had amazing times with my weirdos (who are also family). To an outsider, I’m sure it’s hard to imagine that a group of people you like to go dancing with can be considered family. After all, I’ve been dancing to top 40 music at bars in New York for 10 years now and while I’m grateful for all those nights out with my NYC ladies, those experiences are just that – nights out. To be a part of a music family in this scene – whatever the common thread may be with your particular tribe – is something that runs deeper.
You may meet your family because you happen to have taken the same bus to a music festival. You may meet them because you’re fans of the same artist, or because you go to the same type of parties (there’s a spa in Brooklyn that used to host weekly dance parties and I’m pretty sure there’s a SPAFAM group out there on Facebook somewhere). But your connection to these people doesn’t begin and end with loving the same music or spending your summer weekends at the same festivals. To be a music family is to care deeply about other people, to love them and look out for them. You may not even be able to articulate why you love those people or why you feel such a strong connection to them. You just do, because that’s what this scene is about. It starts with the music but ends with this invisible web that somehow connects your heart and your soul to everyone else around you, even if you have nothing besides the music in common. Even if you might not have ever been friends if you met under other circumstances.
The spirit of PLUR (Peace Love Unity Respect), as corny as it may be, is ever-present. While I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone use that word seriously, the idea of it is something I see embodied all the time. I’ve seen people post in Facebook groups asking for help and receiving it from total strangers. There are people who volunteer to spend their time at shows not dancing with their friends, but walking around giving out water just to make sure that everyone is hydrated and having a good time. Because it’s not about you and me just happening to like the same DJs or producers. It’s about you and me being a part of something larger than ourselves, of being at this show, or at this festival, or just generally in this world, together.
My most recent dose of music family love was administered this past weekend, when I made the 6 hour trek to Hampton, Virginia for Basslights, an annual 2-day extravaganza of Bassnectar and Pretty Lights (and others). This was my first Basslights and my first time spending any quality time with people from the Pretty Lights Family. To say I was looking forward to the weekend is an understatement, but absolutely nothing could have prepared me for how many amazing, wonderful people I got to meet and spend time with. While inside the Hampton Coliseum, positive, joyful energy absolutely abounded. You could start a conversation with anyone and the feeling of being around 10,000 people who had all made the same pilgrimage as you did was incredible. But the shows were only a small part of it.
There’s a subset of the Pretty Lights Family group called the Pretty Lights Mamas, which is the ladies-only contingent of PLF. The women in this group come from all walks of life and geographical areas, and on the surface, it seems that the only thing we share is a love of Pretty Lights music (which, to be honest, is not something to be taken lightly in and of itself). In actuality, though, the Mamas group could also be named, “Where Did You Find All These Ridiculously Nice People Seriously How and Why Are They So Nice No One Is That Nice All the Time Are You Sure There’s Nothing In It For Them?” For whatever reason, the people who choose to join this group are all the paragon of what women should be but all too often are not: supportive, welcoming, and loving.
In New York City, gossip is a valuable currency and judging people is the lifeblood that runs through our veins. We thrive on schadenfreude and elitism. And while my friends here are some of the best people in the world, I also meet a lot of women here who are truly awful. So I’m naturally a little suspicious of meeting new lady friends because so often the people I meet who seem cool at first end up being just flat out mean or empty. So to spend a weekend surrounded by women who are so warm, caring, and thoughtful was both reassuring and empowering. Instead of having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, it was like having an angel on one shoulder and then turning your head and having another angel on the other one. And then more angels come around and you have just a group of happy angels circling your head saying positive things to you all the time and encouraging you to be the best version of yourself. Also those angels have awesome taste in music and are happy to indulge you in your desires to talk about music ALL THE TIME (this analogy got out of hand, but you follow me).
This is not to say that the PL Mamas are the only great people out there. Over the last few years I’ve made awesome friends – both male and female – through a number of artist family groups, and since Basslights is kiiind of a big deal, I got to catch up with a lot of those people too when I saw them around Hampton. The Mamas may have been my core for the weekend, but the love and good vibes certainly didn’t start or end there. Everyone is wonderful. After the weekend was over I even sent a text to one of my friends from the Big G Family, telling him how much I appreciate him incorporating me into the Pretty Lights Family community a few months ago.
“That’s what family’s about,” he said.
For awhile I always thought that college – or possibly my early 20s – were the best years of my life. But I truly believe that I’ve found my tribe in the years since that first Electric Daisy Carnival. I’ve found something I’m passionate about, and I’ve found people who share that passion with me. I’m a happier person, and while I’ll always be that snarky New Yorker, I do make an active effort to be a little warmer and a little kinder.
To anyone in any of my families who may read this – PLF/PL Mamas, Big G fam, my Gramatik Girls, all my festival rave families, or anyone else I’ve met and obsessed about music and shows with over the last few years – thanks for coming along on this crazy ride with me. I had no idea that I’d end up here but I’m insanely happy that I did. I love you all.