UPDATED: This story has been edited to reflect the ongoing negotiatons between festival organizers and Cheam First Nation, who are working to establish a reasonable time to shut down music on the Friday and Saturday night of the Electric Love Music Festival.
Next to the powerful Fraser River rapids, between the rolling fields, dairy cows and small town hubbub of Agassiz and the Cheam Fishing Village, a sea of tents, glowing lights, neon hula hoops, body paint and thumping bass will permeate the river’s shore near Appel Road from July 26-29.
About 3,500 people are expected to attend the Electric Love Music Festival when it returns to Cheam Fishing Village for the fourth year in a row, with a theme of “earth, wind, fire and water.”
Electronic music is often in the “love it or hate it camp” of genres, and with it comes a unique subculture that includes lights, revealing and unusual costumes and, all too often, an association with drugs like MDMA, a psychoactive recreational drug that increases euphoria and heightens sensations.
But like many exclusive genres, most participants will say that not all is at it seems. Organizer Dennis Nukina said electronic music is about dancing to what he says some cultures call “the heartbeat of mother earth.”
“Certain types of electronic music – it doesn’t need lyrics,” he said. “It crosses all cultures. I think that’s the beauty of it.”
The festival’s Flower Power Friday embraces hippie counterculture and the 1967 Summer of Love, when hundreds of thousands of people converged in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood.
Festival-goers dress especially “groovy” on the Friday of the festival and embrace the ’60s and ’70s-era “flower power” movement. Free tickets to next year’s festival are given to the best dressed.
Celebrate the Power of Love on #flowerpowerfriday. Throw on your hippest hippy threads to have a chance at Two Passes for #Elfest2019. Peace, Electric Love & Music!! #danceandbefree pic.twitter.com/mtClym3etv
— Electric Love Fest (@electriclove67) June 23, 2018
But organizers are quick to clarify that Electric Love is a drug- and alcohol-free festival – within enforceable limits, of course.
Both the belongings and vehicles of patrons are searched before they enter the grounds, and if anyone does somehow partake in drug use over the weekend, they can turn to the “two-step safety program” in place: harm reduction and 24/7 access to first aid administered by a registered nurse.
All harm reduction volunteers are trained in the use of Naloxone – which reverses the effects of opioids – and local RCMP, ambulance and fire are aware the festival is taking place.
The festival has even Tweeted about “Camp Clarity” – a safe space for those who choose not to use drugs and alcohol while at the festival.
Camp Clarity is a clean & sober camp that provides a safe space for those who choose not to use drugs & alcohol while at the festival. Although not exclusively for those in recovery,everyone is welcome to come to our recovery meetings.#danceandbefree #justfortoday pic.twitter.com/yghaX6tFj6
— Electric Love Fest (@electriclove67) June 9, 2018
On Cheam land, the festival rents the outdoor space from a company who leases it from Cheam First Nation. So, for better or worse, locals in Agassiz, Popkum and Cheam have to deal with the accompanying noise and influx of music-loving tourists.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the area, according to Electric Love operations manager Eileen Halicki. She said that, on average, festival-goers spend $650 each on food, fuel and supplies in the local economy.
“As a mandate, we believe in keeping everything within a 100-mile radius,” she said, adding that some Agassiz vendors are on site but choose to remain anonymous because of the controversy surrounding the festival.
|Electronic music gives festival-goers a chance to ‘dance and be free,’ said organizer Dennis Nukina. (Electric Love/Facebook)|
Organizers implement a “leave no trace” mandate that includes initiatives like a rideshare program, free “pocket ashtrays” and a post-festival cleanup from a garbage collection company. All profits from collected recyclables are donated to Cheam First Nation, according to Halicki.
But by far, most complaints about Electric Love have to do with noise. Electronic music is usually accompanied by powerful bass, the decibels of which carry easily across the river.
“Unfortunately, with any music festival there is going to be noise,” Halicki said. “You put any noise near the water and it is going to be loud.”
But this year, festival organizers have made some changes to reduce the impact on nearby communities.
“We have volunteers and security that ensure that the patrons of the festival are being mindful of the neighbours that are directly impacted by the festival,” Halicki said.
Organizers are also adjusting the direction of the speakers, attempting to aim them downwards so the noise is less likely to bounce across the water.
Finally, instead of playing music until 6 a.m. as the festival has in previous years, decibels will be lowered early in the night, and the music will end far earlier – the final details of that time are still being worked out with Cheam First Nation, said Halicki.
And on Sunday the music will stop at 6 p.m.
“The majority of the noise complaints we received were from the Sunday night,” said Halicki. “We’re recognizing that and being cognizant of it and we’re taking steps to make sure we don’t disrupt the community again in that sense.”
What you’re saying online about Electric Love Music Festival:
I’ll probably come under fire for this, but the festival is a pain. The sound travels to my home day and night without stopping. My walls and windows vibrate and it’s virtually an exercise in sleep deprivation.
In Bridal Falls our windows were rattling last year. After three nights of that (including the early hours of Monday) and then having to work on Monday morning, we felt tired and frustrated. This year we made plans to be away that weekend.
– Natasha MacDonald
Sorry but this is still a one weekend event right? So one weekend of “suffering” and then 51 weekends without? Just checking.
– Astri Mccurdy
I have never gone into that sort of thing but it’s one weekend and I believe people should be able to let loose and enjoy themselves. Me and my husband sit outside and enjoy the lights and sound. It is what it is.
– Christina Aiken
Can’t wait to go next year. Love that there is actually something fun to do nearby.
– Cath Richter
The area of the festival is very clean, medical staff on hand, kids don’t come out past a certain time. Everyone there is respectful of one another. It may be loud to the surrounding area but everyone’s having a safe and fun time over there for a weekend.
– Josh Amberg
This is nothing but 3 days of misery. Even with the windows all closed we could feel the house shake and the noise was really bad. Try sleeping with that when you have a migraine headache. A noise production like this should not be allowed within 10 miles of a town.
– Kathy Read
I never complain about music keeping me awake at night. I love when the kids/young adults party at the end of the road and I can hear the music and the laughter. The music would never be my worry. I would just worry that everyone is safe … at all times. There’s always one idiot that ruins it for everyone … and it’s only a matter of time. I hope everyone is safe this year, and LOVES the music.
– Christie Jack
When all you can hear is the bass, it is not enjoyable. We live in Popkum, have music jams at our home and everyone is gone by 11:00. Not sure how anyone can party for 20 hours except if you were coffee wired, or …
– Berezan Carolyn
IT’S one WEEKEND A YEAR. I know it’s coming so I prepare. Earplugs work great. I know it can be annoying … BUT as long as people are out enjoying themselves, and not hurting anyone, I say have at er … let them enjoy the weekend with many other people!
– Maria Werring Morrow
I get there’s a lot to complain about towards the festival, but instead of being upset about it, why not be thankful that it’s only 3 days. Once a year. And not every weekend …
– Thomas Alexandier Walker