For me, it started in 2001. At the time I had no idea the important role that music would eventually play in my life. Several significant media outlets, including the New York Times, have recently published stories about electronic music, the rave scene, and drug use. I’m not sharing my experience to generate any kind of emotional response, connection, or impression -but- if you’re a part of this culture and are struggling with substance abuse, I hope that my story can invoke individual change, and drive home the message of freedom that I’ve found within music.
I was raised in a musical family – listening to everything: B.B. King, John Lennon, Donna Summer. My first exposure to electronic music came when I was eleven. At this point, I had just started forming my own musical identity. MTV was finally featuring electronic Music Videos such as ‘One More Time’ by Daft Punk, and ‘Days Go By’ by Dirty Vegas. I can’t say I fell in love with the music right away. I’ve found that most people, including myself, take time to refine their musical pallet, and eventually figure out what sounds they can intrinsically connect with.
Eventually, I was hooked by a 2002 single by David Guetta called ‘Love Don’t Let Me Go’. I’ve always been a technology junkie, good with computers (got me in a trouble a few times), and I was determined to figure out how to get as much of this music as I possibly could. There was no Beatport, no SoundCloud. I used file sharing software like Kazaa and LimeWire to form a collection. Artists who had an early impact on me included Paul Oakenfold, Ferry Corsten, and Erick Morillo. I brought my music to school. Other kids listened to Eminem, Linkin Park, and U2. This was mine, no one else’s. They didn’t understand me. I was different.
I’ve always craved an escape: escape through isolation, movies, video games, music, and, ultimately, through drugs. It didn’t take long for my chemical use to become directly connected with the music I was listening to. I told myself that the music made being high better. I told myself that being high made the music better. I told myself that I couldn’t have sex sober. I didn’t think that I could understand the music if I wasn’t under the influence. I didn’t think that you could understandme if you were sober. Cocaine, amphetamines, weed, and ecstasy, together with electronic music; this was my paradise.
I grew up in the suburbs of Manhattan and my love affair with drugs led me into the city. I didn’t only find the substances I was looking for, I found other people who experienced the same chemical bond to the music that I did. I fell in love with basements, parks, and warehouses. Stimulants to psychedelics, trance to Euro-hardcore, Kandi kids to bassheads, DJ Tiesto to DJ Inphinity ~ I loved it all. When I say ‘loved’, I’m talking about a feeling that I didn’t think I could possibly feel any other way. I finally learned how to connect with people; through music and drugs, I finally felt a part of something.
“I’m always here, I’m in denial, and when there’s nothing left between us, I will stay another while. You know you’re free, you’ve got your Wings, and I am just another angel with a voice who wants to sing… I’m on my way to heaven” -Above & Beyond (On My Way To Heaven)
I had a lot of fun. Or, maybe I was just telling myself that what I was doing was having fun. In my mind I was playing ‘The Wolf of Wallstreet’. In actuality, I was Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘The Basketball Diaries’, quickly slipping away into nothingness. I was soon to be relocated into a memory and a statistic. In 2005 I got thrown out of high school. In 2006 I ended up on probation. In 2007 I was in an out-patient drug program where I was psychologically evaluated; I was crazy, obviously. But at this point, from my perspective, the biggest problem with my substance use, was everyone else’s problem with my substance use. If only my parents and my teachers could understand how important this was, they’d leave me alone. They just didn’t get it.
By 2008, my life was completely upside down. The feeling of connectedness, unity, and peace I once felt
while under the influence had been clouded out by fear, righteousness, and egoism. Finally, with the support of my family, I decided to make a change. I wasn’t ready to solemnly swear off drugs for the rest of my life, but I was open to suggestions. Six days after my 18th birthday, I signed myself into an in-patient drug and alcohol treatment center. I haven’t gotten high since.
I began to engage the process of rediscovering myself as a sober young adult. Through a lot of hard work, determination, and willingness, I was able to start to actually live life. Up until that point, I had done very little living. For the most part, I had been simply fighting to maintain. Despite a new attitude and outlook on life, there was something missing; a connection to music. Tiesto’s 2009 Kaleisoscope tour was the perfect remedy. I wouldn’t try to label the experience that I had as better or worse than it would have been if I were rolling. It was different. It was exactly what I needed. It was perfect.
“You can travel the world, but you can’t run away from the person you are in your heart. You can be who you want to be, make us believe in you, keep all your light in the dark. If you’re searching for truth you must look in the mirror, and make sense of what you can see” -Tiesto (Just Be)
I realized it was O.K. to still love electronic music. My passion was reignited. Living in the middle-of-nowhere, Pennsylvania, I spent the next few years doing whatever I needed to do in order to get to festivals, clubs, and events. I visited some of the most iconic grounds in the world: California’s Empire Polo Club, Sydney’s International Regatta Center, New York’s Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, just to name a few. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to watch the electronic music scene flourish and evolve around me. I’ve experienced this world from an entirely different perspective, and now I have a chance to learn from those who are actually making the music.
There aren’t many people who can talk about our culture more profoundly than Moby, who also has been sober since 2008. I knew I didn’t have much musical talent, but I enjoyed writing. Inspired by people, like Moby, I started writing about music. As I found with most aspects of sober living, the experiences that I’ve had as a journalist far surpass any expectation. I’ve gotten to report on events like EDC Las Vegas and TomorrowWorld. I’ve interviewed artists like Infected Mushroom and Steve Aoki. In 2014, I was asked to cover an event over Halloween weekend in Puerto Rico. The 3-day party in paradise was capped off by a Calvin Harris-headlining performance on a private island beach.
Most days aren’t so glamorous. I spend a lot of time sitting at home on my Laptop, completing writing assignments and brainstorming editorial concepts. But it’s all a gift. Today I have something to offer other than showing up, blacking out, and trying to put the pieces together the next day. I go to concerts ~sober~ and I dance my ass off. There are a hundred moments to share that would punctuate how music and sobriety have become the most important parts of my life. This one seems as good as any: In 2013, I was at an EDC Chicago closing set. Headhunterz was playing the main stage. It was late, and it was cold. Of the people who hadn’t left, most were sitting down. I just kept dancing. To sum it up, I think of a 2004 track called “Piece of Heaven” by Cascada, the lyrics to which perfectly mirror the ￼emotional connection harbored within drug addiction: “All I want is a little piece of heaven. All I need a little piece of heaven.” For years, I thought that chemicals were the gateway to a spiritual connection. Chasing that piece of heaven led me to the brink of insanity and the edge of death. Thanks to an incredible support network, a relentless passion for music, and freedom from the bondage of chemical dependence, I’ve found my piece of heaven.
“For tonight, God is a DJ” -Faithless (God is a DJ)
I want to give a special thanks to the people who have been a part of my life over the last 8 years and helped make all this possible: my parents, Trish, Russ, Scott, Dino, Ed, Paul, and Mike. Also to remember the good friends that we’ve lost to drug addiction: Spencer and Frankie, and those who’ve overdosed at music festivals and nightclubs around the world.
Written by Ben S.