The first time I took ecstasy, I sat in my Los Angeles college’s freshman dorm room with two of my closest friends. We swallowed the pills, acquired through an acquaintance, and closed the door at sunset, venturing out only for snacks. Eventually, we put on The Land Before Time and passed out. The goal hadn’t been to get high and party hard, but to test our personal limits with the drug.
I’m Chinese-American. My friends were Filipina-American and Taiwanese-American. This had been our first encounter with a “hard” drug, and we’d prepared well beforehand — plenty of water bottles, fans running, and phones filled with notes on what to expect. It wouldn’t be the last time for any of us; I spent the next couple of years in and out of the rave scene. Right around when I left, in 2014, the deaths began.
There are certain things Southern Californian residents and visitors can expect from the region’s large raves and electronic dance music (EDM) festivals: young people of all genders wearing costumes or neon or almost nothing; miles of kandi accessories; and nowadays, multiple deaths, reportedly related to MDMA, ecstasy, and other “club drug” ingestion. In July 2016, for example, three people died at the HARD Summer festival, held at the Auto Club Speedway in San Bernardino. HARD Summer belongs to the Southern California HARD concert circuit that was started by music promoter and DJ Gary Richards in 2007.
Last year wasn’t the first time people died at HARD Summer, nor was it the first time that deaths were reported at a concert of any genre or scale. But all of the victims were Asian, and it was then I noticed that the drug-related deaths within the Southern California EDM festival scene seem to affect Asians most acutely. (Here, I use “Asian” to refer to people of East and Southeast Asian descent.) Of course, young Asian people aren’t the only ones dying from drug-related causes at festivals — but they’re dying at the highest…