With rogue doormen sniffing your drugs and overdose figures on the rise, it helps to know where you stand/lean against with a kebab…
You stand on the neon squares of a club called Fever or Blush, when you realise that ‘Mr Brightside’s “I’ll neveerrr” crescendo sounds a lot like Brandon Flowers is screaming for paella #misheardlyrics. Then suddenly, you’re sniped by the pinhole eyes of a fresher after his first ever bump of coke. “In here?” you think to yourself, “I didn’t think anyone would even try to get away with sniff in here.” Then, as if your mind ordered it, three bouncers teeming with testosterone drag the kid away from the disco ball and into the darkness. You get flashbacks to last Fridays’ rave: you were keying up by security, right in front of their blind eyes. It doesn’t make sense; why do some clubs exercise an absolute zero tolerance to drugs, whereas others accept them and have even been known to facilitate their use? Why should the law and morality be bent from venue to venue? With the festival season behind us, we look at how the organisers of our nittiest events operate in this grey area, and what that bouncer was really thinking when you gurned your way past him last weekend.
Success for staff shouldn’t be measured in the number of arrests or confiscations made. Instead, did the clients and punters feel safe? Good event security is about preventing or mitigating risk. A pragmatic and realistic approach from the club would be most helpful, rather than a strict enforcement of ineffective rules. Researcher Bina Bhardwa found that the amount of drugs in British clubs is relatively unaffected by having searches and heavy door security. We’ve all experienced that symbolic dance of a pat-down before entering the venue. Sometimes they seem as harsh as the drink prices, but other times the levels of frisking are as low as your serotonin levels the morning after. Stuff will get through the doors regardless, just keep out the knives and bad vibes.
“We’ve all experienced that symbolic dance of a pat-down”
Despite an external display of zero tolerance to narcotics, many clubs and raves operate by internal acceptance – just don’t be bait about what you do. A lot of security are told not to actively seek out dealers and just bust those who are either too obvious to brush past or are stumbled upon by chance. They’re often instructed to stay away from the toilets and to ignore anyone shovelling powder up their nose on the dancefloor. That’s not the case for all venues though, so be wise. For many clubs, police have insisted that anyone caught dealing should have their ID scanned and sent to the station. Whilst security will still keep that threat, in reality, if every person who got caught was reported then the club would be shut down. So instead, they get searched, scanned and spat from the venue – but the police are hardly ever notified. The photocopied ID is kept in the club office and the confiscated drugs are bashed by senior management in their own time. The real VIP booth is the owner’s office. There are more pills and powders in there than skatty Darren’s man-bag before Hype b2b Hazard.
Past are the days of clubs being ridden with gangs that monopolise the internal drug market through intimidation and bribery. But that’s not to say that clubs no longer play a lucrative and profitable role in maintaining the trade. Recent police restrictions on venues have done more to encourage management to take control of drug-related activity rather than seeking to eradicate it completely. If clubs don’t allow drug use to some extent then no one will buy tickets or no promoter will book the venue. So, some large clubs have an in-house dealer who has access to the club and takes control of the majority of sales, (mainly because they provide the doormen and management with their fix too). They are trusted by the organisers and ensure that all customers receive high quality and safe products. There are fewer sketchy shotters lining the corridors selling their dodgy pills, and the clubs can hold tighter control over a trade that will never be removed.
“I’d rather deal with someone who’s on MDMA or cannabis any day.”
You’ll notice at festivals how there’s a distinct lack of enthusiasm to chase the weed aroma that billows from the campsites. Thank God. Security typically try to crack down on people suspected of serious dealing, but turn a blind eye to a lot of other stuff, (within reason). Finding thieves and fence-hoppers are bigger issues, and the no spirits or glass bottles rules are also seen as more important in terms of safety. Alan Fiddes, director of Green Event Security who work at events such as Boomtown, has said that “with a lot of experience dealing with people who are drunk versus people who are on other substances – I’d rather deal with someone who’s on MDMA or cannabis any day.” This opinion is in line with an anonymous member of another security unit who said “I’d rather have an event of 10,000 stoners than 10,000 drunks.” From a safety and crowd management perspective, although illegal, the use of drugs by festival goers is perhaps better than drinking. There’s less violence and antisocial behaviour, and if everyone knows what they’re taking and how to look after themselves then all should be blessed.
Festival security should be acting more like babysitters than bouncers. The safety and welfare of party-people is the priority of the organisers, so don’t shy away from medical tents when they really could help you. Security are being paid to enforce laws in a place where people feel that they don’t apply, so they have to adapt. Experienced trippers aren’t the issue. It’s the under 18 novices and once-a-year-gear-guys. This is also where the importance of drug testing comes in. Organisations such as The Loop and KnowYourStuff offer free advice and chemical testing services at music festivals. That’s how you save lives and stop people taking something harmful, unexpected or too strong. However, such organisations are struggling to gain positions at festivals. The licence held by festival organisers relies on a clause stating that they will do as much as possible to minimise drug use, whereas the testing of people’s drugs is supposedly supporting their snorting. If we want to reduce harm then let’s look at the truth and properly protect our youth.
“Security enforce laws in a place where they don’t apply”
Venues try to maintain a clean public face, but it’s impossible to hide their own perpetually grinding teeth. For safety and business reasons, accepting and controlling drug-related activity is better for everyone involved. However, with so much being openly ignored around you it can be very frustrating to end up in trouble. You don’t mow a lawn by plucking a single blade of grass, so why arrest one raver and not the masses? But if every drug user was apprehended then you’d have a relatively empty club and a lot of paper work. So if you get caught then you probably deserved it, despite how hypocritical it may seem of the staff. Yet, examples have to be made and quotas have to be met. Clubs need their licence and you need the clubs. At the end of the day, don’t be bait, have fun and stay safe. Just be smart and think before railing lines anywhere still playing ‘Mr Brightside’ before 4AM.