From The Trenches: Mohawk The Educator

(I have been waiting to do this interview for years now. Mohawk is a luminary in the NYC underground scene, my boss at New York DanceSafe , a spectacular dancer & a generally all around stupendous person. She’s throwing a party that you need to go to, and I’ll be giving two tickets away, so you have no excuse. But before you do, kick back and enjoy this long-form conversation with someone who is fielding a tactical force to keep your sorry butt alive if you’re partying in the Tri-State area.)

Mohawk, Harm Reduction Coordinator Extraordinaire.

1. How is the party coming along? Any new surprises to announce, or should we just show up and find out? The party is pretty much ready to go and we’re in our last week of ramped up promotion. I wouldn’t say there are true “surprises”, however I’m sure many people are hearing about the party through different sources, so beyond the musical talent we’ll have on board, the additional performers, vendors, and workshops might come as a surprise to many. We’ve been making announcements a few times a week, highlighting some of what’s to come. We don’t expect everyone to keep up with these announcements, but we definitely want to showcase all that we have in store. It’s getting pretty late in the game and we still have people wanting to take part in the festivities. Don’t bank on this type of event happening again–we host events with specific objectives and move forward from there. It’s a “launch party” of sorts, so come find out for yourself and see what it’s all about!

2. You’ve been doing harm reduction for a long time, have you seen any changes in the work/scene that you’d see as positive? Any worrying trends you are trying to sound the alarm about? I’d like to preface this answer first: I really only have visibility of what’s happening in NYC. In doing this work with a nationally represented organization, a lot of people assume that we all see the same things or face the same problems. This is not necessarily the case, so I’ve chosen to take the New York chapter in different directions based on what we learn each year. The good news is, people overall are becoming more “hip” to testing. People want kits! The worrying thing about this is that, people forget that drug use comes with risks beyond just the potential of ingesting the “wrong” drugs by accident. An obvious worrisome trend is how much do we need to fear fentanyl popping up in drugs, especially non-opioids? This is one with a lot of hysteria around it right now. It takes a lot of work to keep the most accurate information in circulation and weed out the sensationalism and myths.

3. There’s a big difference between being a volunteer activists & being a manager/chapter leader. What’s the hardest thing about organizing harm reduction volunteers and managing an org that no one told you about? No one told me anything, but I expected a lot of hardship, which is why I held off for over a year on reforming a chapter in New York City. I generally lack patience for unreliable people, but I think the biggest struggle has been managing and maintaining relationships across different chapters. We’re all volunteers–including the chapter heads. There will be a lot of egos and some trouble-makers. It’s rare that we have to deal with anything too intense, but when it happens, you’re usually left to your own devices to do what’s best in order to continue our mission in reducing harm. Making sure we can fulfill that is top priority.

On top of that, New York City is a very unique territory to provide service to. It’s a city of 8.5 million–THE most populous city in the US. There’s a lot of work to be done that can be done in NYC alone. This is our priority–not New England, New Jersey, Upstate, Central, or Western New York. Every year in NYC, the social and nightlife scenes change–venues close, new ones open, management switches hands, attitudes change, laws change, bridge and toll fares increase–it’s a lot to keep up with as a volunteer leading a public health organization in a city with a high cost of living. However with this, it keeps things fresh, it keeps me on my toes, and gives this chapter an opportunity to be pioneers in keeping this organization forward-thinking and progressive.
4. We’ve known for a long time that harm reduction fails sexual and ethnic minorities in this country. For those who might not know what that could be, could you give our readers a tangible example of what that failure looks/feels like? I am an ethnic and sexual minority. If I step out of the rave/EDM or Burning Man scene for 2 seconds, people don’t know what harm reduction is, let alone DanceSafe. When you’re at a Burning Man affiliated event, rave, or EDM festival that has harm reduction onsite (or none at all), can you count in your head the number of black and brown people in the same space? What about LGBTQ? Think to yourself, have you ever been to a circuit party and heard or seen a single person talking about or practicing harm reduction? I know I’ve been offered cocaine as a meal–and that’s not harm reduction. In many cases, I don’t think the problem is so much that people don’t recognize this is an issue, but few know the best ways to try to address it.
TripSit - Drug Combination Chart
5. What dumb-ass behaviors pop up no matter the party, scene, music, age or mix of attendees? Are there any bad things that drug users do that you would say are universal? Mix alcohol with virtually any other drug. Not only does it not potentiate the good effects of any substance outside of maybe THC, it usually decreases many of the desirable effects of the other substances being taken. Drinking is habitual in social settings for many people, so few think about the side effects from this volatile combination. I refer people to the TripSit chart in case they don’t believe me. Some have argued that cocaine and alcohol are a “good” combination, but when I attack these viewpoints, it’s from a harm reduction standpoint. Alcohol and cocaine is a unique combination, as it actually results in the creation of another recreational drug of its own inside of the body called “cocaethylene”. I’m sure many people “enjoy” the mixing of substances as it prolongs the euphoria for marginally longer (like 1 hour in total), however, it exponentially increases risk, as it also carries an 18- to 25-fold increase over cocaine alone in risk of immediate death. With that level of danger involved, my personal recommendation would be to find a different (and cheaper) high.
More Harm Reduction Cards for use with attendees
6. Best place to do harm reduction? Whether it’s a country, festival, party, or branded hang out, where would you always go do harm reduction if asked? Kind of a tough question, as I’ve done harm reduction in several countries and dozens of areas in the USA. I like the thrill of “mixing it up”, and learning from different perspectives and trying to take on new harm reduction challenges. Providing services to the same groups over and over gets stale, and starts to feel ineffective (although it’s an easy fundraising opportunity, no doubt). I would probably have to go with Europe or South Africa. If I had to choose a single country–the Netherlands. Aside from the struggle to find a hairdresser (for the record, Kinki Kappers is the go-to) the attitudes around drug use are far more tolerant, and it blows my mind that I can walk into a public facility to have my drugs checked–in private. North America feels lightyears away from being as tolerant and effective in harm reduction. Cocaine and MDMA deaths seem to mostly occur because the drugs are too strong, not because they are adulterated or misrepresented. Fentanyl is not a “problem”. People with opioid addictions can receive proper treatment and care instead of jail sentences and isolation. The Dutch teenagers are generally more informed than many American adults I’ve encountered, and when they aren’t informed, they’re extremely receptive of the information. I’ve had a conversation with an 11 year old boy and 14 year old girl who know more about drugs and harm reduction than the average person my age (31). I enjoy being intellectually stimulated, so doing harm reduction in a culture where drug use isn’t shamed so much is refreshing. Instead of debating with people over arbitrary distinctions between drugs or people that use drugs that are plant-based versus synthetic, or legal versus illegal, or talking about only misrepresentation, we get to talk more about physiology, behavioral patterns, etc. (I’ve attached two pictures of the card game they use as talking points. A person chooses a card blindly from this deck)Card From Harm Reduction Efforts
7. If I had a magic wand and you could do harm reduction at any party, festival, or event in the world, where would you go? I’d stay right here in NYC and do harm reduction at Electric Zoo because it needs it, but still need a lot of convincing to properly bring harm reduction onsite. I’d rather be impacting my local community.
8. Moreover, if you could make one change to drug or health laws, what would it be? Decriminalize all drugs, and strategically legalize others. But since we can only change 1 law, decriminalization on the federal level is where I would start. In many people’s minds decriminalization means complete anarchy and debauchery, but that’s not what that means. Many Americans can’t wrap their minds around these concepts that places like Portugal have already implemented. An analogy that Carl Hart used in his Ted Talk “Let’s quit abusing drug users”, is that… “decriminalization would be like treating drugs like a traffic violation. Someone might be required to pay a fine if they’re caught with possessing illegal drugs, but they will not be subjected to criminal prosecution”. In the case of Portugal and other similar countries, a jury determines if the use is recreational/infrequent or problematic, and if so, then they are sent to treatment.
9. While building out this amazing event, what have you been listening to these days? I’ve been pretty bored with my normal playlist of electronic music (varying from chill wave and other downtempo genres, dance music like house and techno, and extremes like Shranz and IDM) to listening to electro boogie, funk, and oldies. When you work this hard, sometimes you need a little (or a lot of) Gap Band, Zapp & Roger, Prince, and Earth Wind & Fire and to sing “Love Machine” with all your soul.
10. MLK Jr. said that the moral arc of the universe is long, but tends towards justice. We’ve been doing this for a long time. Do you think it’s getting better or worse out there? I think somehow it seems to be rubberbanding back and forth–but that just may be my limited American perspective. When I travel, I see lots of little good things in the world. It really depends on what timeline you’re living in and what point of view you’re seeing it from.

Don’t miss the party on the 19th, I’ll be there working, dancing and harm reducing with the rest of the NY DanceSafe crew. And, if you want a shot to win 2 free tickets to the event, make sure to follow @terrygotham on Twitter, because more info on that is coming up Wednesday morning!

Hometown Fire: D.V.S.*

DVS - AMPLIFYSo, remember that whole Amend the Rave Act thing? Yea, so that’s still happening (focus people), and because of that, I wanted to use the paltry internets soapbox (wow, that’s such an outdated description of methods of communication) to give shout outs to artists that are going out of their way to do so. This guy is one of a series of DJs part of the AMPLIFY Project, focusing on harm reduction and treating ravers better. These DJs & producers are taking risks doing so. If you don’t think so, you’ve never seen bar managers argue with event producers about water. But, more importantly, he’s freaking talented & technically skilled as fuck. He walks this fine line between psy & indie with his production sounds/vibe, but he applies it across the spectrum.

It’s impressive to hear someone be able to produce competently both in a live mix/house environment & in the wacky realm of psy-dub that Space Jesus calls home. This guy knows what he’s doing & deserves your attention. The album below is a soothing, melodic journey into synthy sounds & organic instrumentation, mastered exquisitely. He splits his time between Brooklyn & Austin, and if the Gods are willing, I am hoping to convince him to help in our little harm reduction struggle. Judging from the picture below, I’m hoping he agrees. Remember to go support Amending The Rave Act if you haven’t already.

We’ve Reversed The Google Ad Words Ban But MDMA: The Movie Still Needs Your Help!

Emanuel Sferios, The founder of the national organization over 15 years ago, has been working on a documentary movie about MDMA, as all of you are aware of, is extremely popular in our culture, especially today as it’s often targeted in music and the media and almost always misrepresented and misinformed. This film explores its history and use today. And yes, it’s not just some small pet project. Thump from VICE has already covered it and the media campaign is heating up. So much in fact, that Google Ad Words had banned them from advertising. That’s right ladies & gentlemen, Google believed that the first film ever to discuss the harm reduction potential of MDMA and the research surrounding it as a PTSD medication, so Emanuel was told they can’t advertise using the dominant advertising platform of our time, because drugs. That’s why the video you clicked on above this paragraph, was the one that they (temporarily) banned.

In one of Google’s dumber moves this side of Google+ & Wave (you remember those right?), they decided that this movie “promotes” drug use, and will not allow the movie to advertise. This has put the brakes on the fundraising inertia it was developing, but they’re still moving along at a brisk pace. However, in a stunning reversal after a serious crowd-sourced push to get Google to change their minds, THEY HAVE! To celebrate, I’m bringing you a few tidbits from the movie that I hope you’ll watch & donate to/for. First off, Dr. Julie Holland, one of the foremost clinicians in the world when it comes to dealing with substance use, MDMA-use & general rave-related behavior from the drug standpoint. Lastly we’ve got Dede Goldsmith, founder of the Amend The Rave Act movement we’ve been discussing around these parts off and on for months. Both of these ladies are exceptionally relevant within the movement, so please watch & then dig deep.

Multi-Day Festivals & Safety

 

2hxslecWhile there’s a whole lot of information out there about how to not die when the party lasts 4-8hrs, what the heck do you do when you want to go HAM over a weekend? Multi-day events are becoming the norm, as festival culture to continues to explode. To put this in context, there were over 800 festivals in North America, in 2013 alone. This stuff is the new normal, and they’re quite different from club nights.

IMG_1552My peeps ravelrie, NY DanceSafe & Stay Safe Seattle are going to focus on tips for the raver/festival attendee themselves, but I wanted to take this time to directly address fest producers & managers. I worked with the Electronic Music Alliance to develop this Event Safety guide for festival managers. There are a number of tips that most people haven’t thought of, but if ravers are aware of them, they can help mitigate the potential for a bad experience even when the festival is kind of a clusterfuck.

Some of the easiest take aways are:

  • Know where the water/crisis intervention/medical stations are before you have an emergency. This can literally make the difference between life & death.
  • Assume that the water stations will have heavy lines & no one will have extra ear plugs. Bring multiple pairs of those & more than one pair of sunglasses, especially for events with a heavy day component. There’s nothing worse than having your shades break on day one and squinting in 3 days worth of pictures.
  • Know the route from the stage(s) back to your tent in daylight & the dark without relying on too many landmarks. One of the biggest issues newbie Burning Man attendees have is the day after the Man burns, no one can find their way around because they were using “the man” as a guide post to locate themselves.
  • Start consuming gatorade & electrolytes after the 1st day. The water stations don’t take into account the fact that you’ve been sweating & pissing salts out for 24hrs, and the opposite of dehydration can kick on when you don’t have enough salts.
  • Pick up your garbage from your campsite gradually over the weekend, such that you don’t have a massive clean-up task when the event is over.
  • Have a plan to get there AND TO GET HOME. No one wants to be the guy who is hitching a ride away from the festival.

There’s a lot to talk about so join us at 4:30pm EST/1:30 PM PST for #FestFriday on Twitter!

Ten Questions With Terry Gotham: Soohan

(I was delighted to be connected to one of the freshest sounds coming out of the Mid-Atlantic. Soohan’s new album is wonderful, and liberally embedded into this post. Enjoy it, and when he spins in NYC, you’ll know. Trust.)

1. Do you consider this album hip hop? Dance Music? What does a live show of this look like?
I would consider it hip-hop, yes. It’s sample-based and rooted in 808 hip-hop beats. At the same time though, I would call it dance music.

2. What kind of influences led you to this kind of amazing, retro-futurist sound?
I have always made sample based music, but as a DJ, have always been drawn to the 808, due to Baltimore Club Music, which is my favorite genre. I wanted to use the 808 in my own style, drawing from indigenous cultures as well from pop music from the past twenty years.

3. What is the party scene in Baltimore like these days? Is this kind of music popular or do they have no idea what they’re in for in 2015?
The party scene in Baltimore is incredibly unique. We have a large, but close-knit music scene here. The rave scene is huge. The jam scene is huge. The DJing scene is big as well. Maybe this is the first time they have heard my own original music. Seems like they are really digging it. So in a sense, yes, they have no idea what they are in for from me in 2015 ;). I am already three songs deep into my next album, which I am expecting to drop before summer. I think a lot of people would tell me “that’s too soon” to come out with another album. But to me, it keeps people interested and on board.

4. Do you find it’s still possible to do good creative work in a city like Baltimore & still keep the lights on? It’s getting to be almost impossible here in NYC.
Yes, it is entirely possible. I am completely surrounded by creatives and artists trying to make ends meet in Baltimore. That doesn’t go without saying, our art isn’t usually our main source of income.

5. Where do you go from here with this album? Live shows lined up? Any plans on performing outside of Baltimore, perhaps another city on the East Coast?
I am headlining a giant rave this weekend, with 1000 eager youngins. I am incredibly excited for that. As I said earlier, I am already working on the next album, which will drop in four months. I am working on a Northeast tour with an old promo buddy for April. Should be Baltimore, Philly, NYC, Providence, Boston, Bangor. Talks about performing in the Midwest. Honestly my main focus right now is to get “Made in Baltimore” into as many people’s ears as possible while simultaneously creating new material. I think I will find my success through my releases, as opposed to playing live shows.

6. Is there anything happening in your scene right now that you really like and would love to see replicated elsewhere in the underground?
Just the sense of family and support for our local musicians and artists. We all motivate each other and have each other’s backs. I can’t tell you how thankful I am to have the support of so many people in Baltimore. It really gave me the confidence to pursue putting out a full album like I did.

7. If you’re willing to comment, what does the drug culture in the parties you frequent these days look like? Or, do you find it’s a predominantly alcohol-fueled crowd?
Hahahahahaha! I will not ignore this because the counter culture and electronic music are closely intertwined. Seems like Coke and Molly are people’s go-to at the moment, which is kind of like “meh” to me. I know personally I am over it, don’t really see the good in either of these. But then again, Ill be the first one to order a round of shots. I am a big time supporter of plant-based psychedelic experiences, although they are very infrequent for me. I think people mistake a seratonin molly blast for a psychedelic experience. My advice to them, go on a journey, and leave the powders behind.

8. If you could open for anyone in the business right now, who would it be?
This is an interesting question. DIPLO first and foremost. Don’t care what people say about him. He will always be my number one inspiration when it comes to any of this music stuff. Also probably someone like Shpongle or my old buddy Alvin Risk.



9. Is there an artist (of any genre) that you’re really digging at the moment?
Space Jesus. I am really into what people are calling “Global Bass” or “Tropical Bass”. 808-heavy dancehall/world music stuff. Extremely hard to find though.

10. Besides the free downloads on Soundcloud, is there a place people can pay for the album or otherwise get you cash for this ish?
Yes, on bandcamp. https://soohan.bandcamp.com/

Bonus: Favorite album or mix of 2014?
Nope! Been too busy working on my own album to know what is super hot right now.

NeuroSoup, Krystle Cole & The Need for Information.

researchThis week, I want to tell you about a resource you’ve probably overlooked. Krystle Cole runs a site called NeuroSoup. It’s very similar to Erowid, in that there are informational hubs based around drugs and places to discuss things. But instead of being stewarded by veiled, noble guardians, Krystle came out from behind the shadows and told her story, which frankly is utterly astonishing. If any of the readers out there know their history, in 2003, an underground missile silo was raided by the DEA. Two chemists lived there, producing (allegedly) 90% of the world’s LSD. Krystle was in that world for 3 years, and it utterly changed her. There was a stunning VICE segment done on this, in case you’re interested in where all the acid went.

She could’ve spent the rest of her life ruminating on her experiences, but she struck out and decided to try and help people make sense of the experiences they were having, just like she did. Going into psychology, she’s spent her life not only educating people, but really just trying to make sure people didn’t get as lost in that world as she did. I think this kind of wounded healer needs to be celebrated. She walked the walk, unlike the dozens of authority figures that wag their fingers at ravers but haven’t ever done drugs. She is better than you at drugs. If she wasn’t, she’d be dead. She’s spending her life getting better at it, and in doing so, creating one of the only repositories of usable information about these experiences that exist on the internet, besides Erowid & Pill Reports.

This gets to the central stupid thing about the War on Drugs. At this point, because research on these things has only just started again in the last decade, people wanting to have these experiences could only rely on other lay-people’s experience. Which causes giant problems when it comes to reproducible dosages & variability in effect, especially with a new drug. This is preposterous. NeuroSoup should be celebrated, but the fact that it needs to exist makes me scared for the kids out there diving headlong into a lot of this stuff. This is what the community has created to protect itself. Just imagine what could be done if people actually helped or made the stuff legal such that we could figure it out instead of scrolling through forums hoping.

I’m so glad that Krystle is there to actually focus on helping people. We’ll be talking about her on Twitter using #bioDFF from 4:30-5:30pm, so come on in and learn from one of the best fighters we’ve got out there.