Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Who Are the Kandi Kids?

Due to the massive recent press coverage of the Electric Daisy Carnival and its various satellite gatherings, many people have been re-exposed to rave culture. Though it’s been held every year since 1997, the event has broken through to the mainstream news—not because of its impressive attendance records, incredible light shows and decorations, or superstar lineups of electronic artists—but because of an overdose in Dallas.

The event itself used to take place in Los Angeles, but split off into Colorado in 2008, Puerto Rico in 2009, and Dallas in 2010. One 15-year-old at the L.A. 2010 event died of a drug overdose, causing the city to ban future Electric Daisy Carnival events, so for the 2011 season, the main event took place in Las Vegas, with other events in Colorado, Puerto Rico, Dallas, and Orlando in the week leading up to the Vegas event.

During that week, at the Dallas event, the news reported that numerous attendees sought drug-related medical attention, with two people dying as a result of drug use (though the second didn’t die from an overdose; after panicking for several hours, he purportedly shouted, “This should end it,” and ran in front of a speeding semi.) The attention brought to the festival in the week leading up the massive main event in Las Vegas has led to an unprecedented amount of coverage to a party and culture that have been around for a long, long time.

The general public has specifically become interested in the subculture of the attendees of these events, the so-called Kandi Kids. With their outrageous brightly-colored outfits which often include crazy makeup, novelty t-shirts, bikini tops (or no bikini tops, traded in for pasties), costume items, and dozens of necklaces or bracelets (the eponymous candy), these types of people make excellent subjects for news stories and photo journals, and their stories of excess and marathons of partying and drug binging are extreme gossip fodder. Though to some, this may seem exciting and new, it’s really just an evolution of a long-existing subculture; nonetheless, many want to know:

Who exactly are these “Kandi Kids”?

This is a subculture that comes and goes in waves of popularity largely due to current musical trends. When pop music is highly dance-oriented—generally meaning that it uses synthesizers as the primary instrument—other forms of electronic music experience a rapid surge in listeners as well. The fans then seek out events, parties which are often called “raves,” mostly by the media and not as commonly by the actual members of the subculture. For this reason, kandi kids are sometimes referred to as “kara,” a shortened version of “kandy ravers.”

"Kandi Kids" at Electric Daisy Carnival 2010
There was another similar burst of activity within the rave scene a little over ten years ago when dance music and these types of parties were very popular. In that era, there was a near-identical subculture of partygoers who dressed in much the same fashion. Both men and women would wear angel or butterfly wings, neon wigs, and gigantic pant legs to these parties. The women all pulled their thongs way up out of the back of their pants, much to their parents’ chagrin.

"Candy Ravers" in 2001
And then ten years before that, the New York City party scene was brought to mainstream attention by the Club Kids, most famously dramatized in the 2003 film Party Monster. This was one of the first club scenes to feature thoroughly outrageous outfits, and many of the trends that currently exist within rave culture were founded during this period. If you want to read an exceptional first-person account of this era, I recommend Disco Bloodbath by James St. James. Or just watch that movie with a bit of skepticism.
"Club Kids" in 1990
However, this still wasn’t the first era to feature excessive drug use in a dance environment. We can look back yet another ten years to the disco era to find the basic origins of that aspect of the music. You can follow this logical progression, from disco, to club kids, to candy ravers, to kara by watching the trend over time. And not surprisingly, house music is the genre that seems to have survived every era. From Studio 54 through the Electric Daisy Carnival, it’s all the same scene.

I was actually a part of this scene in the early 2000s, though it was my interest in electronic music that brought me there. I was part of an electronic music group call The Alpha Particle Projext, and it was my mission to seek out contacts, get booked to play parties, and just generally have a good time. As it turned out, I had much more success as a DJ, but also playing noise sets as half of Aemma-O (later called NARC.)

I went to a crapload of these parties. I never once attended one while intoxicated; no drugs, no alcohol, nothing. It wasn’t my thing, but I didn’t condemn those that did it. I know that ecstacy enhances appreciation of music, but I would never be able to tell you what was in one of those pills, and my appreciation of music was already about as high as it could get. As I networked and played shows, the scene grew to incredible notoriety, and the parties became much more about making money for the promoters rather than fostering a scene. I can still vividly remember the last party I went to.

It was held in a warehouse in one of Atlanta’s many industrial parts of town. I had three DJ friends who were playing records that night, so I was interested in going, though my involvement in the scene had waned significantly. I arrived to an hour-long entry line which featured a full airport-style pat-down and security checkpoint—not to keep people from bringing in weapons, but to stop them from bringing in water and drugs to compete with the promoter’s employees inside.

When I got inside, I noticed that it was at least 100 degrees in there, and the ceiling fans hanging above were turned off. Everyone was sweating and suffering. Seven-ounce bottles of water were selling for $3. Drug dealers and undercover officers paced the place asking everyone if they were looking for “disco biscuits.” As I stood watching a random collection of images being projected on a wall, I felt a splash of liquid on the back of my legs. “Great, someone spilled their drink on me,” I thought as I turned around. In actuality, a tiny teenage girl, completely decked-out in raver gear including angel wings, glitter all over her face, and something like a hundred bracelets, was puking on the floor. Her friends held her up by her armpits as her eyes rolled around in her head.

A friend of mine who I had arrived with was supposed to meet up with a raver girl that he had met a few times before, and when he found her, he found an entourage of gullible young men following her around, all hoping to get her attention. She had invited all of them there to hang out with her. “Did you bring those Yellow Jackets?” she would ask one of them, who would anxiously whip them out of his pocket. Later that night she was throwing up over a wall from too many of the legal gas station stimulants.

I left. the scene wasn’t so much about music as it was about an idealistic “good time to be had” that involved promoters unfairly preying on their patrons while the crowd looked for drugs, took way too many, and got sick. There were others in that scene who didn’t take it to excess; my friend Jeff, who was playing records that night, was a moderate drug user but was completely sober that night. I spoke to him briefly about the direction the scene was headed in.

“Man, this is the way it’s always been,” he said, “and it’s the way it’ll always be. We just have to let the idiots make their mistakes so that they ditch out. Then it’ll be pure again.”

As I made my way back to the parking lot, I passed an ambulance, and paramedics were loading up a guy on a stretcher who was freaking out, screaming some of the most bizarre stuff I’ve ever heard in my life. I’m pretty sure he’d taken way, way too much LSD.

The scene collapsed on itself shortly after that event. The venue, less than a month old, was closed due to a high rate of overdoses reported that night. Other venues around the city saw a steadily declining attendance, partially due to the re-emerging metal scene in the city. It was just another moment in the cycle.

The candy ravers, meanwhile, stayed underground, remaining very close to their normal routine. The term evolved slowly from “club kid” in the 80s to “kandi kid” in 2011, but let’s face it, nothing’s really changed.


  1. You have left out the most important part of Kandi Kids.... PLUR(R). Peace, Love, Unity, Respect, Responsibility. It is what being a kandi kid is about - the happiness and music. We are all too often associated with the drug side of things, but many of us do not touch drugs and are there for the music. Yes, there are kandi ravers that do not take the extra R in plur seriously, but the ones that do far outweigh the irresponsible ones.

    RaverA <3 Plur.

    (I have been a kandi kid for a year, have a Bachelor of Science and a full time professional job.)

  2. I've been a kandi kid for a long time. I have done the drugs that are associated with the scene. I didn't touch them for a really long time (especially by those standards). The difference between now and then isn't the widespread use of these drugs, it's the glorification of the drug use. The drugs have always been around and widely used...just never talked about. The unspoken rules of raving. And, yes, PLUR is also the mantra of a true raver but, unfortunately in past years, that mantra has been replaced by deadmau5 heads, binkies, and "rave gloves" (which isn't what they're called and, frankly, it makes me sick to see something such as that to be mainstreamed so hard...I'm just bitter).

  3. hola soy un chico candy kids raver de Colombia.,.,. soy el único que hay en esta parte de la población.,., me siento orgulloso de serlo y seguiré siéndolo de tantos años llevándolo en la sangre como en el corazón.,., PLUR.,.,., solo quiero conseguir mas amigos candys alrededor del mundo.,, y poder entenderme,., por favor agregarme al correo para poder comunicarme con ustedes.,., gracias.,..,PLUR.,.,