During Memorial Day weekend at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, I was among the lucky few who had the privilege of attending the “PLUR: The Rise of Electronic Music Culture in America” exhibit. This exhibition was specifically curated within the Woodstock ’69 museum to celebrate the Mysteryland USA festival held on the grounds. As an avid fan of Electronic music, I highly appreciated the concentrated comparison and contrast between the music, art and culture of Woodstock ’69 and the more current elements of the electronic music scene. It was especially eye opening to apply this knowledge to my fresh festival experience. The more in depth one digs into this history, the more one sees the huge political and societal impacts on the current electronic music scene. This is especially true within the festival experience.
Approaching the Woodstock exhibit entrance I was told, “to understand Woodstock you first have to understand the 60’s”. It was a time of war and oppression, which sparked an arousal of a ‘hippie’ counter-culture that fought for peace, and the freedom of expression. Woodstock was created as a celebration of the music, arts and culture of the Aquarian, or new age, movement. The production company, Capital Records did all they could to purify the experience for their patrons, going to great lengths in order to facilitate complete peace and celebration.
Michael Lang, one of the four innovators of Capitol Records, believed that the moment Police enforcement is involved a fused is sparked. Therefore, the small production company flew in a commune group from New Mexico, to act as the security for the entire festival. The local police force was allowed to direct traffic, however they were not allowed on the festival grounds. A large part of this allowed police refusal, was due to the current state of safety concerns and drug laws at the time. Newly researched chemical LSD, a hallucinogenic drug, was becoming a widely used, unregulated, recreational substance. There was an abundance of psychological experimentation with LSD, putting it on the brink of regulation. In addition, public figures such as, Timothy Leary began outwardly speaking of its spiritual elements, escalating LSD’s common popularity. Although the country was in a time of war, the idea of Woodstock had a low threat of terrorism compared to today and little preparation was made for the influx in population. Once a state of emergency was declared for the local county, many citizens in the area began to help by handing out sandwiches, providing water and medical assistance to anyone in need.
4 LSD 5 people
Media coverage included some magazine, newspaper and radio station ads, word of mouth and flyers spread throughout the country. In comparison to today’s standards, it is very surprising that this small amount of promotion lead to the unexpected overflow of attendees, which lead to Woodstock’s ultimate historic nature. Many attendees hitchhiked or spontaneously grabbed rides without any extra clothes or tents. Even though the fashion of the time was truly unique, because of this non-preparation, many patrons lived in one outfit the entire festival. Although many musical acts such as, Joe Crocker, Janis Joplin, Richie Havens and of course Jimi Hendrix, were true examples of free expression through fashion during the time. A half built fence around the property, barely survived the first few hours of incoming patrons. This, along with the half built ticket booths added to the chaos, making it impossible to control. The promoters quickly realized they had no choice but to make the event free.
6 Bus 7 Bug 8 richie
As many know, the grand attendance of the festival made it into an iconic event. Yet, its popularity lied in the music and the principle on which the festival stood. The music of the time was shooting in all directions of creativity, producing anthems that are still relevant to today. Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock performance is now one of the most well known. Still, the most surprising fact I found was that he actually performed last, playing Monday morning at 8:30 am at which point, most attendees had gone home. I feel this is a good lesson for all, wait until the end of the festival, or else you could miss something historic.
9 artist
Carrying the knowledge of this history with me, I continued downstairs to the “PLUR: The Rise of Electronic Music Culture in America” exhibit. The exhibit was curated specifically for the Mysteryland USA festival attendees and performers. However due to last minute changes, the museum was unable to keep the exhibit open during the festival. Fortunately, the museum opened for visitors Monday morning after the completion of the festival. The exhibit was jam packed with evolutionary information on the music, art and culture of electronic music and events. This personal history has roots in the rise of electronic music in Europe. Though American Electronic Dance Music events as they are known today, began with the underground Raves in cities such as New York and Los Angeles. It was amazing to walk past original promotional flyers from Insomniac Events, the promotion company of the widely publicized Electric Daisy Carnival, in California and many flyers from underground events in New York.
10 Flyers 11 chart
I marveled at the giant light-up flowers and mushrooms, black-lit reactive clothing and other colorful structures on display. Comparative to the ‘hippie’ artistic representations such as the bus, car and other colorful clothing in the Woodstock exhibit (pictures above), many ties were evident. As if I had taken a slight jump through time, these highly vibrant art pieces were also designed to capture the visual sense yet with even more energy, adding the element of light.
My favorite attraction to the exhibit was a mock ‘Chill Zone’, complete with a full wall of Alice-in-Wonderland-type lit flowers, beanbag chairs and warm lighting. ‘Chill Zones’ were a large element of the underground scene. As MDMA, an amphetamine psychoactive drug became a highly used recreational substance in the scene. The drug’s known euphoric effects make the user crave a comfortable environment to absorb sensory exploration. MDMA was actually made illegal in 1985, but gratuitous psychological testing made it easily available for recreational use. Following the War on Drugs, political news outlets continued to target recreational use of illegal drugs as criminal acts. This social negativity increased pressure on promotion companies to implement a ‘no tolerance’ policy, meaning anyone caught under the influence can be charged with serious offenses.
Even with this attempt towards public safety unfortunately, experimentation did not slow and many underage users’ deaths still occurred. Uninformed experimentation, led to unused safety precautions and users became too frightened of the consequences to ask for help in emergency situations. Thankfully, this prohibition also sparked harm reduction groups such as, DanceSafe. DanceSafe is now one of the largest harm reduction non-profits in America, I was very glad to see their tent at Mysteryland USA.

The introduction of the RAVE act in 2003, made it illegal for establishments to sell products such as, glow sticks, massage oils, pacifiers and water, as this indicated the establishment allowed and encouraged recreational usage. This was a large shift in policy, making almost all electronic music events implement a ‘no tolerance’ policy. Under a ‘no tolerance’ policy festivals such as, Electric Zoo in New York City and Electric Daisy Carnival in Los Angeles, were still unable to stop drug related deaths and hospitalizations. After a few unsuccessful years under this policy, DeDe Goldsmith in 2014 began the campaign ‘Amend the RAVE act’. This Act petitioned Congress to accept the idea of harm reduction over no tolerance, to prevent further tragedies. Goldsmith’s 19- year-old daughter passed away from untreated heat stroke after ingesting MDMA during an electronic music festival. Her campaign truly embodies a shift in public opinion towards non-addicted drug use and societal response to this use.
Upon reflection of this particular section of history, I recognize the difference in the society and policy of recreation drug experimentation. Although LSD and MDMA have substantially different life-threatening concerns, MDMA was a recreationally used drug at the time of Woodstock as well. Mysteryland USA has been frequently compared to Woodstock as it is held on the ‘holy grounds’. Though the difference is evident in the treatment of event patrons. Woodstock was held during a time were very little policy and government had say over the production of the festival itself. Mysteryland however, is run by one of the largest internationally know companies, ID&T. The commercialization of the company forces it to comply to policy with fine print detail.
As first year attendee of Mysteryland USA, this year’s presences of drug K-9 units were no surprise, as it was part of my festival experience last year. Though in my own experience of this year’s festival, which you can read about in a few days, I was utterly astounded by the multiple roaming vehicles carrying state police officers, in full tactical gear. In addition to current policy, terrorism threats such as 9/11 and the most recent, Boston Marathon bombing makes large public events, a priority for safety. However, a patron of both Woodstock ’69 and Mysteryland ’15, shared his belief that these policies unfortunately allow the nourishment of current police brutality issues. He shared his horror regarding a comment he over-heard police officers with K-9 units say, “let’s see who we can catch today”.
Although changes to policy such as Goldsmith’s amendment have made strides to the overall festival experiences, many steps still need to be taken in order to make safety for festival patrons the ultimate goal. Companies like ID&T, Insomniac Events and others, unfortunately do not have total control over these issues, given the need for outside security, medical and local police providers. Nevertheless, as I diver deeper into these issues within the scene and current society, I believe more can be done within a festival, to continue changing public and empowered beliefs. A greater inclusion of harm reduction organizations such as, DanceSafe, Zendo Project and PLUR Angels, can be a great start. For those who are interested in more harm reduction type actions, research the great strides festivals such as, Lightning in a Bottle have made this year.
Looking back on the PLUR exhibit as a whole, I felt their progress of festival fashion was commendable as well. From the early nineties to my personal contemporary piece, faithfully displayed a representation of artistic evolution and comparisons to Woodstock itself.
These two generational counter-cultures have been a large focus of anthropological study. For further reading of this topic the PLUR exhibit’s curator, Daphne Carr, suggests the titles: Rave America, Love Saves the Day, the Last Dance, and Energy Flash. She also wrote, “Michelangelo Matos’s, The Underground Is Massive, wasn’t out when we were planning the exhibit, but a lot of the information from it was first published in various articles of his for Red Bull Academy, Resident Advisor, and other sources, and I referenced those often. […] I respect and am thankful for all his work and that his book is now out.” I gained a significantly deeper understanding of the music, arts and culture that I love. I hope that more exhibits such as these will arise in order to continue to spread knowledge and help positively change political and societal influences, as the popularity of the scene grows.
16 END

All Photographs by Philosopher in a Vest