Organisers of the Electric Zoo music festival have cut short this year’s event following a number of tragic drug-related incidents. Two concert-goers are dead and at least four others are in critical care after taking doses of “molly”, an innocent-sounding drug with potentially lethal effects. Several others required urgent medical treatment, while police arrested 31 people for offenses including drug sales and possession of controlled substances.
In a statement released on Sunday, Sept. 1, the city of New York noted that the festival’s third and final day had been cancelled “due to serious health risks.” Although toxicology reports were still to be finalized, “both [deaths] appear to have involved the drug MDMA (ecstasy, or molly),” it said.
The drug, which has been glamorized by popular singers such as Kanye West and Miley Cyrus, is a powdered or crystallized form of MDMA, a chemical used in ‘90s rave-drug ecstacy. Behind the glamour, however, is a potent stimulant which causes the body to overheat and which can lead to liver, kidney and cardiovascular failure.
“Molly goes to another level as far as potency is concerned,” says Dr. Howard Samuels, CEO of The Hills Treatment Center in Los Angeles. “The more the body overheats, especially in these environments that are so hot to begin with, it can create death, heart attack; the body just fries.”
Dr. Samuels’ concerns have been echoed by Louie Sabatasso, a recovering drug addict who has seen, first-hand, the effects of molly. He has watched friends die from the drug, and was once a regular user himself, but from his new “clean” perspective he recognizes what a horrifying problem it can be. “People don’t know how they’re going to react to Molly,” he told ABC Local News. “It’s the kind of drug that you don’t know if you’ve never taken it how you’re going to react to it. You could be one of those people it’s going to kill immediately . . . so in that respect it’s far more dangerous than other drugs.”
According to organizers, Electric Zoo is “the go-to electronic music festival in New York for dubstep, electro and more.” Unfortunately, it also appears to have become a “go-to” event for those seeking more chemical escapes. According to a report in the New York Post, 19 concert-goers required medical attention, but their status was hidden from authorities by private doctors and ambulances hired by promoters. A law-enforcement source allegedly told Post reporters that “It was just another way to keep the cops from finding out what was going on.”
Electric Zoo founder Mike Bindra is no stranger to drug-related tragedy. During the 90s, he was manager of the Twilo club in Chelsea which was closed down in 2001 following two fatalities caused by MDMA overdoses. Linda Wiest, mother of one of the college students who died at the club, told the Post that “I really thought that he [Bindra] had been shut down when the nightclub closed. I didn’t realize that he was still profiting from events where drugs were being so freely distributed.”
Festival organisers have reacted angrily to suggestions that they were trying to hide problems from authorities. “For anonymous sources to suggest we have doctors and ambulances on site for anything but to treat people in as efficient a way as possible is obscene,” event spokesman Stefan Friedman said. He added that Bindra was not responsible for overseeing security at the Randall’s Island venue.
Electric Zoo has been held three times previously: last year 110,000 people attended, up from the 26,000 who caught the inaugural event in 2009. Around 100,000 people attended the first two days of this year’s festival. While the appeal of its all-star line-up of international DJ’s and live acts is undeniable, questions will no doubt need to be asked of organizers – and about the poisons frequently associated with rave culture – before a fifth version can go ahead.