When you hear the word “rave”, what comes to mind? For many, it’s the image of out of control crowds, incomprehensible music, and risqué outfits. Indeed, rave culture has come to mean many things, and even the word itself produces polarizing effects with either a response of “ew, why do you like those” or “PLUR is life!” Although each individual is certainly entitled to their own opinion, many people who dislike the idea of raves have a one-sided view of the people that enjoy them and the music that brings everyone together. All around the world rave culture is growing and changing and Utah is no exception, in late August V2 presents hosted their 7th Das Energi at the Great Saltair. People from all over the state, as well as out-of-towners, traveled to Magna for two electric nights, an event that seems to signal a shift in Utah entertainment and pop culture.
Utah may not be the festival hotspot that California, Nevada or even Michigan are, but since 2011, thousands of people gather in the desert to witness the desolate lake transformed into a glowing world of music, art, and love. World renowned DJ’s come to Small Lake City to perform for a sea of smiling faces and for many Utahn’s, Das Energi is the highlight of their summer, the last send-off before another year of school or a final hurrah preceding a long work week. You may be wondering why seemingly “normal” folks would spend their hard earned money sweating along with nine thousand glitter covered bodies. There’s something special that happens when you’re in the middle of the crowd, each heart beating to the same rhythm. Here you can be whoever you want, wear whatever you want, and do whatever you want! Of course, there are a general set of rules you’re expected to follow, the saying “PLUR” (Peace, Love, Unity and Respect) provides a general set of guidelines that basically advise you to be a good person and live your life without hurting others. Ultimately, raves provide an opportunity to be someone else—someone more daring.
A rave is a place free of judgment, a space that can be hard to find in our dominantly conservative state. In fact, you can find many progressive ideals constantly at work at raves. When women feel comfortable and safe to wear what makes them feel beautiful, they promote body positivity. When straight men slap on some glitter, they disrupt society’s ideals of masculinity. When trans folks come out dressed to the nines, they normalize the wide scope of gender identities in our community. For some, the thought of raves as an enrichment to our society may seem counterintuitive, but I encourage those skeptics to keep an open heart to the more unconventional events that are making our community more diverse, and what a better place to dip your toes in than in Salt Lake’s annual rave; Das Energi.
As I arrived at my second year of Das Energi I felt a familiar spark ignite in my gut. Ever since I discovered this unique subculture a year back, I was yearning to connect with the rave community again. Friday was the first day of the festival, and the energy surrounding the Saltair was palpable. Ravers are passionate people, and it’s evident in the way they dress (colorful and creative), the way they dance (energetic and carefree), and the things they bring (think craft time on steroids). The things you see at raves can’t be found anywhere else, and that’s because a rave is one of the only places you won’t get an awestruck stare for dressing in a full chicken suit or covering your entire head in rhinestones.
Unfortunately, Friday proved to be more of a chaotic mob than the unforgettable night I had been hoping for. Extreme winds and light rain cut the night short, breaking one of the main stage screens and causing one structure to collapse on top of an unlucky festival goer. Staff members began ushering ravers towards the Saltair building and music from the three stages stopped abruptly. Miscommunication among V2 staff resulted in a panicked crowd that was either forced to leave the venue or packed like sausages inside the musty building. For about two hours ravers waited in confusion, many of them embarking on the long journey home to various parts of the valley. Eventually, around 11 pm, V2 announced they would resume the night with artists like JOYRYDE, Dillon Francis, and Kaskade. Refunds were issued to those who never made it inside the Saltair, but hundreds of ravers who were told to leave by ill-informed staff members were disappointed to hear that they would not be reimbursed for the four hours of the festival that were shut down. Although I empathize with V2 who cannot control the weather and must manage a crowd that has vastly outgrown the venue, I can’t help but think that more streamlined communication among staff members and festival goers would’ve helped de-escalate the situation and ensure ravers their concerns were being met.
I myself was able to make it back to the venue after being told to leave around 9, barely making it in time to see headliners Dillon Francis and Kaskade close out the tumultuous evening. An impressive firework display signaled the finale and almost made up for the several hours of music that were canceled. Around 3 am I went home feeling unfulfilled but nevertheless enthusiastic for the second day of the festival.
Luckily, Saturday delivered the Das Energi ravers have come to know and love: a nine-hour extravaganza marked by massive LED dragonflies, fire-breathing stages and of course music that makes your bones shake. If you plan on attending the festival, I highly recommend arriving at the venue early enough to catch the sunset. The flat lake bed provides the most breathtaking perspective of the descending sun and the perfect photo op for your painstakingly designed outfit. I myself arrived around 7 and after walking around the festival grounds to get a good feel for the three stages that would be my utopia for the next few hours, I was finally able to relax and enjoy the things that make raving so special to me. You see magical things can happen at festivals when you become the most outgoing version of yourself you are open to possibilities you wouldn’t consider otherwise. The number of genuine people that I’ve met at festivals both locally and around the country have opened my eyes to the experiences of those who are different than me, and I even met my current boyfriend at a New Year’s Eve rave at the Saltair this past January. The Kandi Kulture helps facilitate these interactions; lots of ravers make beaded bracelets they bring to festivals and trade with other attendees. You end up taking home something thoughtfully handmade that you either keep or continue trading. The idea that something you made could potentially travel around the world through thousands of wrists makes the transaction excitingly personal.
Of course, there are a few things you are bound to see at raves, some people come to these events purely to take drugs and zonk out in the med tent. But there are bad people in every corner of the world and it is always good practice to stay mindful of where you are and who you are with. As Catalyst staffer Jane Lyon puts it, “For every hundred beautiful, loving people, there was probably one creepy person with a binky”. It would be naïve to say that drug use is not embedded in rave culture, for many the concept of “letting loose” involves mind-altering substances. Although V2 does their best to provide a safe space for those who choose to partake—providing water stations, earplugs and medical tents throughout the festival—the consequences of this activity can be horrific. Early Sunday morning around 3 am, a man was found on I-80 near the Saltair. Presumed to have attended Das Energi, he was hit by oncoming traffic and pronounced dead on the scene. Although no specific information was released as to the circumstances that led to the tragedy, officials assume the man was leaving the festival when he became ill and began vomiting over the interstate, eventually falling over. The somber instance serves as a reminder to stay with your friends, and remain aware of your surroundings.
Despite the dismal situation that occurred Sunday, Das Energi is still held dear in the hearts of ravers across the Western US. People drive across the valley and even from states as far as Oregon to be a part of these two extraordinary nights, and as more and more folks open their minds to rave culture, our community gets an opportunity to diversify.
A rave is a place where everyone is accepted for being their authentic selves, whether that’s a person dressed as a pineapple or a person dressed barely at all, there is room for everyone. And although these events may not be for some, I think most people would shine just a little brighter with a sprinkle of PLUR to their lives.
Photo credit: All photos are mine