Words by Samantha Pillios Art by Nick Manton
Festivals are usually all fun and games but sometimes the politics can be a hard pill to swallow
To all my festival lovers out there, this one’s for you. Here is my take on 21st century festivals and the politics surrounding them.
For many of us, it’s not hard to understand the expediential growth of festivals over the past decade, but just in case you need some reminding, here are a couple out of the many reasons why festivals are here to stay.
It all starts when you feel those first few pulses walking through the entry gates. Nothing but smiles and excitement in anticipation for the next few hours of dancing. The colourful surroundings, numerous bodies and loud music thumping from the speakers encapsulates that overwhelming feeling of joy. It’s contagious. You can’t help but smile to the strangers next to you and form an instant connection over the bliss of your favourite performer on stage.
More often than not, your festival outfit has been somewhat planned to fulfil your newest Instagram. Even if we don’t want to admit it, part of the festival fun is to dress up with the most colour and glitter you can physically smear onto your body. But remember people, sparkle responsibly! You can look fabulous and be eco-friendly simultaneously by buying some biodegradable glitter. If glitter really isn’t your style (still don’t believe you), festivals are a great way to express yourself without feeling like an outcast. Whether it be your favourite flanny, mum’s old overalls or the ‘I woke up like this’ attire, it is undeniable that this is a great part of festivals.
Onto a more serious note, attending festivals comes with many risks. A major risk is the rise and danger of illicit drugs, especially poorly regulated drugs laced with unknown life-threatening chemicals.
The pill testing debate is not new to the Australian public, and by now most of us have formed an opinion on whether pill testing is a respectable measure to help the safety and welfare of festival goers.
Pill testing has already been trialled at the 2018 Groovin the Moo in Canberra and will be returning again in 2019. Matt Noffs, member of the Safety and Testing and Advisory Service at Festivals and Events, commented on the success of the program, with 50% of pills tested containing ‘other’ substances and two samples being fatal, reducing potential harm to festival attendees who were considering taking the pills.
Australia is behind on the pill testing regime, with France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, America and New Zealand already embracing the service as part of their national drug policies.
Pill testing is a harm reduction service, giving those who are considering taking pills the opportunity to expose the risks in doing so. The Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation proposes that by implementing the regime, it will lead to the safer risk management of young people.
Looking at the flipside, permitting on-site pill testing at festivals has potential to send contradictory messages about the use and possession of illicit substances. Currently Australian law states that it is illegal to possess, supply or administer prohibited drugs. It also states that a person can be stopped and searched where police have reasonable grounds to believe they are in possession or under the control of illicit drugs. Therefore, by facilitating pill testing, issues stem as to when and where police have the ability to intervene and to what threshold the individual is held to be accountable for.
Another issue posed in pill testing is that the on-site drug testing is not 100% reliable. Current pill testing kits are limited in what they can detect. The need for sophisticated equipment and scientific opinion to provide accuracy challenges if it is possible for a quick pill test to determine all risks associated with its consumption. So who is held liable? The pill tester or the pill taker?
This discussion is not an attempt to persuade or argue the personal use or administration of illicit drugs but rather shine light on a pulsing issue facing the Australian government.
Festivals are built on the allure of live music and the promise of good memories. But like all good things, festivals come with their own unique drawbacks. When you’re out on the D-floor dancing glitter-covered to your favourite tunes, try and remember the bigger considerations and conflicts at play.