Publication Date: April 2001
Document ID: 2001-L0424-004
Archived on: January 1, 2006. This document may contain dated information. It remains available to provide access to historical materials.
This bulletin discusses raves and club drugs in the United States. The subject areas covered are history, rave promotion, rave clothing and paraphernalia, and anti-rave initiatives.
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Rave Clothing and Paraphernalia
IntroductionHigh energy, all-night dance parties and clubs known as "raves," which feature dance music with a fast, pounding beat and choreographed laser programs, have become increasingly popular over the last decade, particularly among teenagers and young adults. Beginning as an underground movement in Europe, raves have evolved into a highly organized, commercialized, worldwide party culture. Rave parties and clubs are now found throughout the United States and in countries around the world. Raves are held either in permanent dance clubs or at temporary venues set up for a single weekend event in abandoned warehouses, open fields, or empty buildings.
Attendance can range from 30 "ravers" in a small club to tens of thousands in a sports stadium or open field. While techno music and light shows are essential to raves, drugs such as MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), ketamine, GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), Rohypnol, and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), have become an integral component of the rave culture.
HistoryRaves evolved from 1980s dance parties, aided by the emergence of European techno music and American house music. (See Rave Music.) European clubs that sponsored raves in the 1980s tried to limit the exposure of attendees to the public and to law enforcement. Raves were secretive, after-hours, private dance parties and were often held in gay clubs where attendance was restricted to invitees or friends of invitees. The site of the party was often kept confidential, and invitees usually were not told the location of the host club until the night of the party. Because of the restricted access and the secrecy surrounding the locations, the growing rave culture was often described as an "underground" movement.
By the mid-1980s, rave parties overseas had developed such a following among youths and young adults that by 1987, London raves had outgrown most dance clubs. It then became common to hold all-night raves--which drew thousands of people--in large, open fields on the outskirts of the city. As the movement continued to grow in the late 1980s, the first rave parties emerged in U.S. cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Rave parties and clubs were present in most metropolitan areas of the United States by the early 1990s. Teenagers overtook the traditional young adult ravers and a new rave culture emerged; events became highly promoted, heavily commercialized, and less secretive. Many new U.S. rave promoters were career criminals who recognized the profitability of organizing events tailored to teens. Capitalizing on the growing popularity of raves, specialized industries were developed to market clothes, toys, drugs, and music. Private clubs and secret locations were replaced by stadium venues with off-duty police security.
By the late 1990s, raves in the United States had become so commercialized that events were little more than an exploitation of American youth. Today's raves are characterized by high entrance fees, extensive drug use, exorbitantly priced bottled water, very dark and often dangerously overcrowded dance floors, and "chill rooms," where teenage ravers go to cool down and often engage in open sexual activity. Moreover, many club owners and promoters appear to promote the use of drugs--especially MDMA. They provide bottled water and sports drinks to manage hyperthermia and dehydration; pacifiers to prevent involuntary teeth clenching; and menthol nasal inhalers, chemical lights, and neon glow sticks to enhance the effects of MDMA. In addition, rave promoters often print flyers featuring prominent and repeated use of the letters "E" and "X" (E and X are MDMA monikers) or the word "rollin'" (refers to an MDMA high), surreptitiously promoting MDMA use along with the rave.
The increasing notoriety of raves has caused the rave culture to spread from major metropolitan areas to more rural or conservative locations. Rave parties are emerging in areas of Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin that are not always prepared to manage unexpected crowds of teenagers.
Rave PromotionDespite the commercialization of raves through the 1990s, many promoters have preserved the tradition of rave location secrecy, more as a novelty than as a necessity. In this tradition, raves are rarely promoted in open media but are advertised on flyers found only at record stores and clothing shops, at other rave parties and clubs, and on rave Internet sites. The flyers or Internet advertisements typically provide only the name of the city where the rave will be held and a phone number for additional information.
The location of the rave often is given to the caller over the telephone, but many promoters further maintain secrecy by providing only a location, called a "map point," where ravers go the night of the rave. At the map point, ravers are told the actual location of the rave. The map point is usually a record or clothing store within a 20-minute drive of the rave.
Raves and Club Drugs
MDMA is unquestionably the most popular of the club drugs, and evidence of MDMA use by teenagers can be seen at most rave parties. Ketamine and GHB also are used at raves, as is Rohypnol, although to a lesser extent. A recent resurgence in the availability and use of some hallucinogens--LSD, PCP (phencyclidine), psilocybin, and peyote or mescaline --has also been noted at raves and dance clubs and may necessitate their inclusion in the club drug category. Inhalants like nitrous oxide are sometimes found at rave events; nitrous oxide is sold in gas-filled balloons called "whippets" for $5-$10.
Rampant use of club drugs at raves may be leading to the use of other and highly addictive drugs by youths. There have been widespread reports of increasing availability and use of Asian methamphetamine tablets (frequently referred to as "yaba") at California raves and nightclubs. Heroin is being encountered more frequently at raves and clubs in large metropolitan areas, especially in the eastern United States. A wider variety of visually appealing and easy-to-administer forms of MDMA, LSD, heroin, and combination tablets are also found at raves and on college campuses.
Rave Clothing and Paraphernalia
Ravers often wear bright accessories like bracelets, necklaces, and
earrings made of either plastic beads or pill-shaped sugar candies. MDMA
users sometimes use these accessories to disguise their drugs, stringing
MDMA tablets mixed with the candies. Many ravers chew on baby pacifiers or
lollipops to offset the effects of involuntary teeth grinding caused by
MDMA. Pacifiers are worn around the user's neck, often on plastic beaded
Perhaps the most successful anti-rave initiative was "Operation Rave Review," which was initiated in January 2000 in New Orleans. Following the overdose death of a 17-year-old girl at a rave party in 1998, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) assessed the extent of rave activity in the New Orleans area. The assessment indicated an apparent correlation between rave activity and club drug overdoses resulting in emergency room visits. For example, in a 2-year period, 52 raves were held at the New Orleans State Palace Theater, during which time approximately 400 teenagers overdosed and were transported to local emergency rooms.
Following this assessment, the DEA, New Orleans Police Department, and U.S. Attorney's Office developed a methodology for the potential prosecution of rave promoters who allowed open, unabated drug use at the events. They used 21 U.S.C. § 856 as a basis to investigate rave promoters and to gather evidence that the promoters knowingly and intentionally allowed the distribution and use of numerous controlled substances during rave events. (See statute.) As a result of this investigation, several rave promoters were arrested and the largest rave operation in New Orleans was closed.
Since the completion of Operation Rave Review, the number of overdoses and emergency room visits caused by club drug use has dropped 90 percent, and MDMA overdoses have been eliminated, according to the DEA and New Orleans hospital officials. The law enforcement agencies that participated in Operation Rave Review developed a five-step process that might be employed effectively in other areas experiencing high levels of rave activity, club drug overdoses, and related emergency room visits. The process employed consisted of the following steps:
Raves have developed over the past decade from a small subculture to the highly commercialized and widespread exploitation of young people by large-scale rave promoters. The growing awareness of the nature of rave activity and the effects of club drug use have moved many communities to action. In order to curtail rave activity, communities and law enforcement agencies are enforcing existing fire codes, health and safety ordinances, and liquor laws, and are establishing juvenile curfews and licensing requirements for large public gatherings. They are requiring rave promoters and club owners to pay for building or liquor licenses, medical services, and security for their events, all in an effort to force rave promoters to move or cease their operations.
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