Just a week after the death of 25-year-old Sylvia Choi at Stereosonic festival in Sydney, another young reveller has died after attending the electronic music event, this time a 19-year-old man from Adelaide.
As ABC News reports, Stefan Woodward died in the Royal Adelaide Hospital after a suspected drug overdose on Saturday. Two other revellers who attended the festival were also taken to hospital in a critical condition.
Following Ms Choi’s death, many critics of Australia’s current approach to illicit drug use came out to call for the introduction of pill-testing at music festivals and anywhere else large groups of young people are consuming drugs.
ER doctor and drug harm minimisation advocate Dr David Caldicott said the fact that deaths keep occurring despite the presence of police operations at music festivals means “we’re doing something wrong”.
The “we” Dr Caldicott was referring to was the Australian police forces and the government, who’ve taken an infamously hard-line approach to drug use, scoffing at the use of pill-testing programs that have been proven to work elsewhere.
Indeed, many believe that the problem lies not with young people and festivalgoers, who’ve always been exploring ways to alter their consciousness in the pursuit of a good time, but with the bureaucracy that prevents them from doing it safely.
Still, even the most passionate drug advocate has to admit the numbers that have come out of this year’s Stereosonic events are staggering, not limited to the tragic deaths of two punters, both of whom reportedly ingested drugs at the event.
As ABC News reports, at the Adelaide event alone, officers seized 34 pills and evicted six people from the event. Superintendent John De Candia said 34 people were refused entry after they were found in possession of drugs, with 23 people issued drug diversions.
Meanwhile, over in Melbourne, whose Stereosonic event takes place on the same day as Adelaide’s, ABC News reports a man aged in his late teens is in intensive care after suffering an apparent drug overdose, one of six suspected overdoses treated by paramedics on the day.
Victoria Police reportedly arrested 70 people and seized drugs including ecstasy, MDMA, amphetamines, cocaine, and cannabis at the Saturday festival, which took place at the Flemington showgrounds.
Police were left ‘staggered’ the next day following Stereosonic Brisbane. According to ABC News, despite extra security following the deaths of revellers in Sydney and Adelaide, paramedics took 20 punters to Brisbane emergency departments for treatment of drug overdoses.“Still, the question remains: why do certain Aussie music festivals seem to be magnets for tragic events such as the deaths of Ms Choi and Mr Woodward?”
Meanwhile, the Brisbane Times reports 139 people were arrested during the Brisbane event on Sunday. As Fairfax Media note, the arrest figures were similar to last year when the event was held over two days.
Last weekend, following the death of Ms Choi at Saturday’s Sydney event, a Perth woman took to Facebook to brag about how she allegedly snuck “100 pingas” into the festival’s Perth event the next day.
As WA Today reported, festivalgoer Chelsea addressed organisers in a since-deleted post that read, “Just wanna say big thanks to stereo security not searching me properly, managed to bring in 100 pingas so thanks so much for not doing ya jobs xxx [sic].”
However, while eyes remain squarely on police and government, perhaps it’s time that we as music lovers and festival attendees re-examine our own attitudes towards drugs. The kinds of attitudes that, as Yahoo News reports, saw Stefan Woodward ridiculed for seeking first aid.
Naturally, no one can deny the inherent issues with Australia’s approach to drug use, such as the increasingly controversial sniffer dog program and the reticence to employ pill-testing, which has been proven to discourage drug use among punters in Europe.
However, if we truly want to prevent the death of another Australian music festival punter, then we must also ask if there is a problem within music festival culture and whether it is widespread or limited to events like Stereosonic?
Obviously, there is drug use and drug arrests at almost any music festival or indeed anywhere where large groups of young people go to enjoy music or dancing, but why do we see such a large number of deaths occurring at large-scale electronic music events?
Just three months ago, Tone Deaf reported on the death of 26-year-old Nigel Pauljevic, who was found unconscious during the Defqon.1 music festival. This was followed one month later by the death of 23-year-old Anneke Vo at the Dragon Dreaming Festival.
Mr Woodward’s death marks the fourth death at an electronic music event in as many months. While many reacted with outrage when NSW Police claimed there was an undeniable link between the EDM scene and illicit drug use, do we see such a high number of deaths and drug arrests at other festivals?
In addition to the death of Mr Pauljevic at this year’s Defqon.1, in 2013 James Munro died of an overdose after swallowing “three pills” at the popular hard-style dance event, while Nathaniel Guymer died at last year’s Falls Festival after allegedly ingesting one tablet.
All up, that’s six deaths and countless overdoses in recent memory, all the result of ingesting drugs.
As the Sunshine Coast Daily reports, many Australian festival promoters have neutral attitudes towards pill-testing at their events. Big Pineapple Music Festival organiser Mark Pico, for example, said he would only support it if police or liquor licensing recommended it.
Mr Pico said drug testing wasn’t as necessary at his event because of differing drug cultures. “That style of festival [Stereosonic] is tailor-made to attract that kind of thing, it’s full-on dance music,” he argued. “We’ve never had any of those kinds of problems.”
Woodford Music Festival organiser Bill Hauritz also insisted his event had an anti-drug culture. “It’s not a cultural problem at Woodford, but should it become a problem we’d look at every means possible,” he said.
You can see where Pico and Hauritz are coming from. While you can find drug use at just about any music festival anywhere in the world, we don’t think of events like Soundwave, Bluesfest or Laneway Festival as ‘druggie events’.
We also don’t see regular deaths at events that gather a considerably larger amount of punters than Stereosonic, such as California’s Coachella festival, which regularly features top acts in the world of electronic dance music.
Of course, it’s important to keep things in perspective. The drug that causes the most deaths in Australia is alcohol and according to a 2013 study, of all illegal substances, heroin and other opioids were involved with the largest number of drug-related deaths in Australia.
Still, the question remains: why do certain Aussie music festivals seem to be magnets for tragic events such as the deaths of Ms Choi and Mr Woodward and why does this seem to be more common than ever before? Has Australia’s music festival culture turned deadly?
In a statement preceding their Brisbane event, Stereosonic organisers told fans that while they make every effort to protect their punters and keep them safe, “you as individuals need to make smart choices and understand the risks you are taking”.
“As media reports have indicated there are various highly dangerous substances on the market and there is no way of knowing what is in them,” the statement continued. “Do not gamble with your life today.”
Indeed, the government doesn’t seem to want to change anything, and while we cannot and should not stop putting the pressure on them, in the meantime maybe we can change our own culture and keep each other and ourselves safe.