Minsters urged to expand drug testing at festivals
A parliamentary committee has urged the UK government to expand on-site drug testing at festivals.
In a newly published report, the Home Affairs Committee criticises drug laws as “outdated and in need of reform” and calls for a new legislative and funding framework that enables “practical, risk-reducing interventions such as establishing a pilot drug consumption facility and drug testing at festivals”.
The committee points out that countries such as the United States, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Canada, Austria and Australia have established drug checking services for festival-goers.
“Drug-checking services can help reduce the harms caused by high strength or dangerous combinations of drugs, and provide advice on harm reduction to users,” it says. “The government should expand the availability of these services at music festivals and within the night-time economy, with a dedicated licensing scheme in place ahead of the 2024 festival season.”
UK promoters previously accused the Home Office of putting gig-goers “at risk” following an apparent U-turn on drug testing at festivals earlier this summer.
Manchester’s 80,000-cap Parklife festival was unable to test confiscated pills at the June event after drug testing nonprofit The Loop was informed it needed to apply for a special licence rather than relying on its agreement with the police. The licence costs upwards of £3,000 and can take three months to process.
Parklife had worked with police and The Loop to test confiscated drugs on site for the previous eight years. Attendees were previously able to submit drugs for testing to establish their content before consumption, with a “push notification” alert subsequently sent to them if the tests show the drugs are a serious threat to health.
“There is no safe way to take illegal drugs, which devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, and we have no plans to consider this”
The festival’s founder, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester Sacha Lord, argued that without the provision of drug checking, the risk of drug-related harms or overdose at festivals could increase.
However, a Home Office spokesperson moved to distance the government from the committee’s recommendations.
“There is no safe way to take illegal drugs, which devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, and we have no plans to consider this,’ says the spokesperson. “Our 10-year drugs strategy set out ambitious plans, backed with a record £3bn funding over three years, to tackle the supply of illicit drugs through relentless policing action and building a world-class system of treatment and recovery to turn people’s lives around and prevent crime.”
In 2016, Secret Garden Party became the first British camping festival to give attendees the chance to test the content of their drugs without fear of recrimination, with Kendal Calling following a week later. A drug harm-reduction campaign piloted by the Irish HSE (Health and Safety Executive) at last summer’s Electric Picnic was also rolled out across a number of other festivals in Ireland this summer.
In the wake of the latest report, Night Time Industries Association CEO Michael Kill is calling for urgent modernisation of the UK government’s drug policy.
“The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 has served its purpose, but the landscape has evolved dramatically since its enactment,” says Kill. “Our European neighbours have taken proactive measures to address drug-related challenges, prioritising harm reduction and public safety. It is high time for the UK to catch up and adopt a more pragmatic and modern approach.”
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Secret Garden Party adopts social enterprise model
The UK’s Secret Garden Party is to evolve into a social enterprise-based music festival, with organisers committing 65% of the event’s profits to being a “force for good”.
The 30,000-cap event will become the biggest festival to embrace the model so far, setting out its mission to help in the “rehabilitation of at risk and disenfranchised individuals via the arts”. At least 65% of profit will go to front line organisations in these sectors, with the remainder going towards in-house partnerships and apprenticeship schemes such as Bridges For Music.
Launched in 2004, SGP has won several awards for spearheading new ideas including the introduction of MAST drug-testing, no branding policy, and immersive audience participation.
“SGP has always been founded on a principle of inclusivity,” says SGP founder Freddie Fellowes. “This is a word that’s meaning has evolved and grown up along with us. As a result, we deeply understand how much work and effort is involved in ensuring that a party is truly inclusive. Recently much has been noted regarding how inclusive the music industry is – or isn’t – and this set us thinking about how much more we could go with our core principles of being progressive, inclusive, and relevant.
SGP returns to Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire this summer from 20-23 July, headlined by The Libertines, Underworld and Fat Freddy’s Drop.
“Our theme for 2023, ‘A New Hope’, is not just some pithy reference to our pledge to have better loos this year,” explains Fellowes. “It is a real Declaration of Independence as we are ensuring that Secret Garden Party (Version 2.0) is a force for good by officially becoming a social enterprise.
“It is exciting to continue to show that there is another way to run live events and we know that ‘Why’ things are done is as important to our audience as the ‘How’. So, making this pledge to play it forward is something I see as vital right now.”
Relaunching the festival in 2022 following a five-year hiatus, Fellowes was keen to establish a more formal set-up that will benefit others.
“We came back because Covid – and lockdown – opened our eyes to what a privilege it was to hold a gathering such as SGP,” adds Fellowes. “Now, as we stare down the barrel of a cost of living crisis, that privilege is something to be leveraged further; by establishing ourselves as a social enterprise I can ensure that SGP is, and will always be, a force for good.”
The estate where SGP is held is family-run by Fellowes, meaning workshop space and accommodation facilities to mentor, patron and apprentice individuals will now be available year-round.
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Tech startup Easol partners with leading festivals
Experience commerce technology platform Easol has announced partnerships with a raft of leading festivals.
Easol will be the official booking platform partner for Afro Nation Portugal & Ghana, along with the UK’s Secret Garden Party and El Dorado.
The company, which launched a new financing solution for festival organisers in the autumn, says clients will be able to manage many aspects of their business on one platform – from setting their own booking fees to owning data – with complete end-to-end control of their brand, customer journey and finances.
“We’re super-proud to be partnering with these amazing festivals and feel honoured to be a part of their journey,” says Easol CEO Ben Simpson. “My co-founder Lisa and I started Easol to build a ‘creator-first’ alternative to traditional ticketing and third party booking platforms, that empowers rather than limits experience businesses and along with our team we are excited to support our new partners towards success in 2023 and beyond.”
“Having complete control and access to all elements of the festival organisation will be critical”
Suzi Sendama, head of commercial at Secret Garden Party, says: “When it comes to organising Secret Garden Party each year, we need a technology solution that is intuitive and easy to use so we can easily update our website with new information, add things to it as our festival grows and develops. We haven’t been able to do this with any other solution or partner except Easol.
“Having complete control and access to all elements of the festival organisation will also be critical, including control over our finances.”
Easol unveiled the full capabilities of its all-in-one toolkit to power festival organisers at its Festivals Showcase event streamed in September.
“Being able to upsell everything on one booking journey where everything is all working in-sync, with our own branding, will only help us sell more whilst providing a much better booking experience for our customers too,” adds Luke Wolfman, co-founder of El Dorado.
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Secret Garden Party 2022 sells out in record time
Secret Garden Party 2022 has sold out in record time following an “overwhelming response” to the reunion event.
It was revealed late last month that SGP, hailed as one of the UK’s best-loved and most successful boutique festivals, would return after a five-year hiatus to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
Tickets for SGP 2022, which features an entirely secret line-up that will not announced in advance, went on sale on Sunday morning (26 September) and were all sold out within two hours.
It was reported that 70,000 fans applied for the 15,000 tickets available for next year’s festival.
Festival boss Freddie Fellowes commented: “We are thrilled and frankly totally blown away by the overwhelming response to the return of SGP and its 20th anniversary.
“The love and enthusiasm for going back to the Garden have taken our breath away”
“We thought that since closing our doors five years ago and then after such an isolating grim couple of years there might be some interest, but the love and enthusiasm for going back to the Garden have taken our breath away.”
Fellows added: “There’s clearly a need to bring like-minded people together who want to meet, play, create and rejoice. It is no longer a luxury we can take for granted. The joy shown on SGP’s social media since the announcement and the subsequent crazy shared stories reminds us of how A Serious Party has the capacity to create magic.
“I’d like to thank every single person who applied. Congratulations if you managed to get ticket, if not then don’t despair; SGP is about collaboration and we have kept back a fair few tickets for the most wonderful ideas that people want to bring to life in the Garden. Applications for this will open next month so get your thinking caps on… and join us next summer.”
Secret Garden Party has seen performances from the likes of Gorillaz, Florence + The Machine, Faithless, Lily Allen, Blondie and many more.
In 2017, founder Fellowes said “all good things must come to an end”, adding that they were working on a different festival to launch in the years ahead.
Secret Garden Party founder scoops award
Secret Garden Party founder Freddie Fellowes admitted he was “humbled” to be presented with the Outstanding Contribution to Festivals at the UK Festival Awards at east London’s Troxy last night.
Award directors’ judged that he “held a pivotal role in the formation of the now thriving boutique festival scene”.
Fellowes said: “I feel very humbled by this, and to tell the honest truth, this has been not only an honour and a privilege but also an utter blast to have been a part of. Every year so many people gave so much to make this party and in return got so much back from it. It was beautiful. I’m glad for all of those people that it’s been recognised.”
“This has been not only and honour but also an utter blast.”
A spokesperson for the awards said: “Across its illustrious 15-year tenure, the Secret Garden Party consistently set the creative benchmark for UK festivals – shifting the focus away from big name headliners in order to cultivate an extraordinarily immersive and participatory atmosphere through fantastical set design and meticulous attention to detail. It facilitated a grant system to encourage upcoming artists and acted as a springboard to a whole host of creative people – musicians, installation artists, performers, chefs, technicians – who have gone on to forge successful careers around the world.
“In addition to pioneering in the creative side of festival organisation, Fellowes has not been afraid to tackle current issues head on. He has been widely commended for being one of the first organisers to sanction MAST drug-testing facilities at a festival, a practice that has since been rolled out across many other festivals and events in the UK. And, with his wife Joanna he has been very vocal about promoter duty of care concerning the issue of sexual assaults at live music events. He encouraged AIF to set up the sexual safety charter for events.”
Latitude (cap. 39,999) scooped Best Major Festival at the ceremony, hosted by comedian Rufus Hound. Best Medium Festival went to End of the Road (14,000), headlined this year by Father John Misty, Jesus and Mary Chain and Mac Demarco; while Lincolnshire’s Lost Village Festival (5,000) won Best Small Festival.
TRNSMT Festival (50,000), promoted by DF Concerts on Glasgow Green, picked up Best New Festival, and Camp Bestival won Best Family Festival. CODA won Agency of the Year, while SJM Concerts picked up Promoter of the Year.
The UK Festival Awards are decided by a combination of public vote and industry judges. Previously held at the Roundhouse, it moved to the Troxy for the first time this year. The UK Festival Conference, usually held on the same day as the awards, was discontinued.
The full list of winners is:
Best Major Festival
In association with Ticketmaster
Best Medium-Sized Festival
In association with Peppermint Bars
End of the Road
Best Small Festival
Best New Festival
In association with Skiddle
Best Metropolitan Festival
Slam Dunk Festival
Best Family Festival
Best Non-Music Festival
Promoter of the Year
In association with Imaginators
Agency of the Year
The Brand Activation Award
In association with CGA
The Grass Roots Festival Award
Best Overseas Festival
Best Festival for Emerging Talent
In association with Skiddle
Dot to Dot Festival
Line-Up of the Year
In association with Tuned In Travel
Liverpool Music Week
Best Festival Production
In association with PRG XL Video
Marketing Campaign of the Year
Kendal Calling with Tour.Media
The Innovation Award
In association with Transition Video
Concession of the Year
In association with Pernod Ricard
Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Hyde Park
The Outstanding Contribution to Festivals Award
How streaming has changed the industry
In March this year, Ed Sheeran broke the UK singles chart top-20 record when, thanks to his streaming figures, his songs occupied 16 places in the list. It’s just one example of the dramatic way that streaming has changed the music industry.
At a time when sales of CDs and CD players were starting to decline, streaming suddenly emerged as the dominant way for people to consume their music. Record labels may have had to change what tracks they release, how they release them and how they market them, but in many cases streaming has kept them profitable. For some, like Warner Music Group, streaming has become the most important source of revenue. For others, it’s making them more money than ever before.
You might think that with the greater ease of access to music that streaming has brought about, that attendance at live events would be in decline. After all, attendance at cinemas is dwindling as people increasingly choose to watch films on their TVs, computers or smartphones. But in the case of live music, the opposite has happened. In fact, according to UK Music’s Wish You Were Here study, audience attendance at concerts and festivals in the UK is up to a record 30.9million annually. The live sector is one of the most vibrant and profitable parts of the music industry, and it is through ticket sales and merchandise that most musicians generate the majority of their revenue.
“Promoters understand the advantage they have over streaming services is that they offer not just music but an experience”
This may have something to do with the effect streaming has had on the profits of individual artists. Streaming has complicated the way they make money, and reduced the total amount they earn to the extent that some artists, such as Taylor Swift, have tried to boycott streaming altogether. Swift famously pulled her music off Spotify and refused to allow Apple to offer music from her latest album. It may have been a shrewd PR move (her eventual return to streaming was covered by every major newspaper and website) but it’s no secret that one of the challenges facing streaming services and record labels is appeasing and alleviating the fears of artists while still offering tracks cheaply to their customers.
It’s also to the credit of festival and concert organisers that they’ve thrived in the new musical environment. These organisers understand that the advantage they have over streaming services is that they offer not just music but an experience, and they’ve looked to improve all the elements that together make live music an experience, such as the stage design, the lighting and the pyrotechnics. At the same time, they’ve managed to keep the price of tickets at an affordable (though increasing) level. An all-day festival in the UK costs between £50 (€57) and £100 (€113); a single standing ticket to see Drake costs £110 (€125).
“Despite the improving health of the live music industry, for some festivals making a profit is no longer a given”
But can this model endure? With the proliferation of outdoor festivals comes the fact that the market is getting pretty saturated. There has been a sharp fall in the amount of money that is spent at smaller venues (those with a capacity below 1,500). In London, where costs are rising, licensing is strict and property developers wield a lot of power, these venues have declined in number by 35%.
With more and more festivals coming on stream, it is the artists who are benefiting most: they are now able to up their fees while different festivals compete to secure their presence. And despite the improving health of the live music industry on the whole, for some festivals, making a profit is no longer a given. One or two of the existing festivals are beginning to pull up stumps. This will be the last year of Secret Garden Party, for example, and there are rumours that other long established festivals might not appear next year.
As the figures show, live music has more than weathered the changes to the wider music industry. The live market has always been a valuable revenue generator for established artists, and this will always be the case. Nevertheless, the future may not look so bright for smaller festivals and small music venues. Their fate remains to be seen.
Support for festival drug testing grows in UK
Respected UK charity the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has called for drug-testing facilities, such as those trialled at Kendal Calling and Secret Garden Party last summer, to be made standard at all music festivals “where drug use is common”.
In a new report, Drug safety testing at festivals and night clubs, released this morning, RSPH says the move, “which is backed by 95% of festival-goers, [would] help minimise the risk of serious health harm as a result of recreational drug use”.
Secret Garden Party became last July became the first British festival to give attendees the chance to test the content of their drugs without fear of recrimination, with Kendal Calling following a week later. Jon Drape, whose Ground Control Productions company works with Kendal Calling, told IQ at the time drug testing is a “no-brainer”, adding around a quarter of those who tested their drugs opted to bin them after discovering their content.
RSPH’s own data suggests a similar figure of almost one in five (18%).
Drug testing at both festivals was undertaken in partnership with nonprofit The Loop, which will also introduce the testing – officially ‘multi-agency safety testing’ (MAST) – at several Festival Republic events this summer, including Reading and Leeds.
“If drug users can be reasonably sure of what they are actually taking, they will be better placed to make informed decisions about if and how to take these substances”
MAST, or a local variant thereof, is already commonplace in continental Europe, including the Netherlands, Austria and Spain. Efforts to introduce drug testing in Australia have been frustrated by local government and police, with festival promoters in New South Wales told they could face prosecution for drug supply.
According to RSPH, the need for pill testing at festivals has become more acute with the rise in strength of the average ecstasy pill. As reported by IQ last May, MDMA use is on the rise across Europe, with a simultaneous increase in the availability of high-MDMA pills and powdered and crystal forms of the drug.
“Given that a large degree of health harm associated with ‘club drugs’ stems from user ignorance of the exact strength and content of pills and powders of uncertain provenance, any measures that increase our knowledge base can be expected to have a positive effect on reducing harm – especially if the provision of such information creates an opportunity to impart information on safer behaviours and risk reduction to the key target population,” reads the RSPH report.
“If drug users can be reasonably sure of what they are actually taking, then they will be better placed to make informed decisions about if and how to take these substances, and so are less likely to have an adverse reaction or overdose as a result.”
MAST, therefore, says RSPH, is a “pragmatic harm reduction measure” which should “become a standard feature of places where drug use is prevalent, such as city-centre nightlife areas and festivals.”
Secret Garden Party 2017 to be the last
There will be no Secret Garden Party (SGP) beyond 2017, the festival’s founder, Freddie Fellowes, announced this morning.
The multi-award-winning Cambridgeshire event – this year headlined by Crystal Fighters, Metronomy and Toots and the Maytals – yesterday teased its “biggest-ever announcement”, but few expected that announcement to be of its cancellation.
A press release from SGP, which has grown exponentially since its founding in 2003, says it was a difficult choice to axe the festival, “as either too early or too late would have consequences for the loyal gardeners [festivalgoers]”.
Festival promoter Backwoodsman Ltd’s latest full-year accounts show it lost £115,319 in 2015, an improvement on 2014’s -£182,002. At a capacity of 32,000, SGP is the largest outdoor event in the UK with no sponsors or brand partners.
“Fifteen years ago I started out with a set of ideas as to what makes a good party and the most perfect venue for it,” says Fellowes, who as the eldest son John Ailwyn Fellowes, 4th Baron de Ramsey, is heir apparent to the de Ramsey baronetcy. “But with no set idea of what the destination was for this venture, the festival was, at that time, the perfect medium through which to explore these ideas. But rather than getting too excited and telling you about the phoenix we are going to raise from all of this, it bears explaining why we are lighting the fire.
“This summer will be the almighty send-off that the Garden Party deserves … think of it more as ‘Dylan goes electric’ than our Altamont”
“Much has changed since our first Garden Party, when there was nothing else like it in the UK: Facebook, YouTube and Twitter had yet to be invented and no one knew what a boutique festival was, let alone glamping.
“Since then the Garden Party has defined and redefined outdoor events in the UK, [and] we have done so as a collective of truly independent outsiders. We have never compromised our principles and we never will. SGP has always been a beacon of what you can do within those terms and, as imitation – being the sincerest form of flattery – proves, it has set the bar for everyone else going forward.
“But it is exactly because of those principles, and the love of those who have made the Garden Party what it is, that we are committing this senseless act of beauty.
“What better way to honour the love that has been given to this project and wholly demonstrate this principle than finishing now? This isn’t some principled self-immolation; this is opening up it for the future. So this summer will be the almighty send-off that the Garden Party deserves, and while that is going to cause some tears to be shed, think of it more as ‘Dylan goes electric’ than our Altamont.
“Because, after all, you can’t be avant-garde from within an institution and lest we forget: the frontier always moves.”
Pill testing: the cure for music’s drug problem?
The issue of drug deaths at dance music festivals was thrust once again into the spotlight this week following a spate of misfortunes for the Hard Summer event in California.
First, relatives of a 19-year-old woman, Katie Dix, who died after taking designer drugs (‘bath salts’) sold as ecstasy at the 2015 festival – one of two fatalities, along with 18-year-old Tracy Nguyen, who died from MDMA “intoxication” – announced they are suing promoter Live Nation for “turning a blind eye to the known risks” of drugs “in order to capitalise on teenagers and young adults who believed they were attending a safe party environment.”
Then news broke that three young people (Derek Lee, 22, Alyssa Dominguez, 21, and Roxanne Ngo, 22) had died at Hard Summer 2016 last weekend, held in the city of Fontana for the first time after being forced out of Los Angeles following the deaths of Dix and Nguyen. Although Hard published a long list of safety precautions prior to the event – and, it should be noted, the causes of death are still undetermined – the fatalities are likely to spark further discussion about what more can be done by festival promoters to keep patrons safe at their events.
While banning drugs at EDM events is a good first step, it’s fast becoming clear that a more radical approach beyond prohibition is needed if the industry is to tackle its growing drug problem
Representatives of a number of major electronic dance music (EDM) festivals, as well as a spokeswoman for Amsterdam Dance Event, were keen to highlight to IQ their events’ zero-tolerance drug policies. However, while banning drugs at such events is a good first step, with close to 30 deaths at EDM festivals since May 2015 others believe that a more radical approach beyond simple prohibition is needed if the industry is to effectively tackle its growing drug problem.
At the Ibiza International Music Summit (IMS) in May, ‘The Future of Our Industry’ panel discussed just that, and the delegates’ consensus was that promoters should work with governments to focus on harm reduction in addition to enforcing drug laws. CAA agent Maria May criticised what she sees as a “double standard” towards drugs in EDM, which she acknowledges are “part of our culture”, and said she’d like to see an “industry standard for things like crowd control, free water and cool-down areas. I’d like to know that if I’m going to a club there are some measures in place for if people get into trouble.”
Tommy Vaudecrane, production director of the Paris Techno Parade festival, blasted France’s “terrible drug policy” and called for a “more mature approach” to preventing drug deaths, including facilitating the testing of drugs to ensure they don’t contain any potentially fatal adulterants. “We don’t have any testing at events,” he explained, [and] you have to be careful in what you say, because if you give information about a specific drug you can be [prosecuted] for inciting people to take it.”
Front-of-house drug, or pill, testing is already in force at events in the Netherlands, Austria and Spain, explains Jon Drape, managing director of Ground Control Productions, whose clients include the Parklife Weekender, Kendal Calling, Live from Jodrell Bank, Lollibop, Festival №6, The Warehouse Project and Snowbombing, and is a “no-brainer” for dance music events serious about minimising the risk of drug-related deaths, he tells IQ.
“I’d like to know that if I’m going to a club there are some measures in place for if people get into trouble”
“Unfortunately, I’ve had to deal with the aftermath and effect of having a drugs fatality” – there were two deaths from PMA-laced ecstasy in 2015 at The Warehouse Project – “and all you want to do is make sure it never happens again,” he says. “I’m sure everyone in the industry will be looking at it [pill testing].”
Kendal Calling, which took place last weekend, was one of two festivals to introduce pill testing this year, following a similar trial a week earlier at Cambridgeshire’s Secret Garden Party (SGP). Both festivals, with the full cooperation of local police forces and public health authorities, partnered with drugs charity The Loop to allow festivalgoers to test drugs at the gate to establish their content.
“We’ve been working for six or seven years with [The Loop co-director] Professor [Fiona] Measham, who has been researching the use of illegal drugs for three decades,” Drape continues. “We started by interviewing festivalgoers about what they consumed, and also did some testing of urine samples to see what drugs they had consumed. It gave us an interesting picture about what festivalgoers were up to, but didn’t give us any way to reduce risk.”
Drape says around 25% of those who tested their drugs at both Kendal Calling and Secret Garden Party opted to bin them after discovering their content. There were 80 “substances of concern” discovered at SGP, including extremely high-strength ecstasy, ‘ketamine’ that was actually an antimalarial and ammonium sulphate – used as a soil fertiliser and insecticide – sold as MDMA.
“Drugs will get onto the site, so it’s our responsibility to make sure people remain safe”
“Drugs will get onto the site, so it’s our responsibility to make sure people remain safe,” says Drape, who adds he’d like to see a similar system introduced at dance music-focused Parklife.
Prof Measham says its Multi Agency Safety Testing (MAST) can “help people make informed choices, raising awareness of dangerous substances in circulation and reducing the chance of drug-related problems occurring” and describes it as “an important innovation that we know can reduce risks and potentially save lives.”
She adds that “other countries in Europe have had testing services like this at events for years; the UK is just catching up, and we are pleased to be part of that evolutionary process”.
While pill testing is, as Prof Measham says, well established in much of Europe and gaining ground in Britain, groups pushing for similar schemes in other major touring and festival markets – notably North America and Australasia – have run into stiff opposition.
“Other countries in Europe have had testing services like this at events for years. The UK is just catching up, and we are pleased to be part of that evolutionary process”
Melissa ‘Missi’ Wooldridge, the director of Denver-based charity DanceSafe, estimates that her organisation tests drugs at fewer than ten US festivals each year (with Backwoods in Oklahoma one of the notable exceptions), and Insomniac CEO Pasquale Rotellas said in his Reddit AMA that it is unlikely to change any time soon: “Unfortunately some people view partnering with DanceSafe as endorsing drug use rather than keeping people safe, and that can prevent producers from getting locations and organising events.
In Australia, meanwhile, the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation is risking prosecution by pushing ahead with plans to introduce pill testing at a number of upcoming Sydney festivals, despite the New South Welsh government declaring the project to be illegal.
In addition to its testing advocacy, DanceSafe is currently lobbying for the scrapping of the US Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act (formerly the Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy, or RAVE, Act), which it says dissuades many event promoters from providing “basic safety measures (ie free water, cool-down space, drug education materials, even the presence of DanceSafe!)” for fear that their presence “prove[s] that they know drug use is present, and make them vulnerable to prosecution”.
Speaking at IMS, Mark Lawrence, CEO of the Association for Electronic Music (AFEM), says a priority for his organisation is to “lobby for change in the legal and political environment for promoters to raise the level of harm reduction they can publicly achieve”. “For the first time in the two years I’ve been at the association, everybody has realised that poor standards of harm reduction and lack of ability for promoters to be open about drug testing or education impacts the entire industry,” he commented.
“I think we need to show drug use exists, and it’s a problem, but that it’s not linked to music or culture – it’s linked to government policy”
There is, of course, no silver bullet – pill testing included – to stop drug deaths at live music events: a significant minority of festivalgoers, especially those at EDM events, are always going to take drugs, and everyone reacts differently to their effects. But pushing for positive change at a governmental level and fostering a culture of openness between promoters, patrons and police and local authorities, as exemplified at Kendal Calling and SGP, is a start.
“I think we need to show [drug use] exists, and it’s a problem, but that it’s not linked to music or culture – it’s linked to government policy,” said Vaudecrane.
“We need to work with organisations to set up a global electronic music policy that includes harm reduction, by saying, ‘Yes, we have drugs, here’s how you take them if you’re going to take them’, and warning people: ‘This is a bad product, don’t take it.'”
SGP becomes first UK fest to offer pill testing
Secret Garden Party (SGP) last weekend became the first British music festival to offer on-site pill testing.
As part of a 10-minute health and safety session provided by drugs charity The Loop and supported by Cambridgeshire police, local public health authorities and festival promoter Secret Productions, festivalgoers were able to submit drugs for testing to establish their content before consumption. Around 200 people did so, discovering over 80 “substances of concern”, including extremely high-strength ecstasy, ‘ketamine’ that was actually an antimalarial and ammonium sulphate – used as a soil fertiliser and insecticide – sold as MDMA.
SGP founder Freddie Fellowes tells The Guardian’s Libby Brooks he is “thrilled” to be a pill testing pioneer. “Harm reduction and welfare is a vital part of hosting any event, and it’s an area that for too long has seen little development or advancement,” he says.
“Around a quarter of people who brought in their drugs asked us to dispose of them… We were taking dangerous substances out of circulation”
Pill testing schemes have already been trialled in festivals in the Netherlands and Germany, although Australian promoters have been warned they could be charged with drug dealing and manslaughter should they try to implement anything similar.
Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which mediated between SGP and local authorities, praised the scheme’s removal of potentially harmful substances from circulation at the festival.
“Around a quarter of people who brought in their drugs asked us to dispose of them when they discovered that they had been mis-sold or were duds,” he explains. “We were taking dangerous substances out of circulation.”
There were a record number of police at SGP 2016 in response to an increased threat of terror.