Stereosonic founder Richie McNeill has opened up about the drug issues plaguing Australia’s music festival scene, and offered his thoughts on how to fix them.
Stereo was rocked by two drug-related deaths last year – one in Adelaide and another in Sydney – before a 23-year-old woman came dangerously close to meeting a similar fate after overdosing at Sydney’s Field Day.
The close string of festival-based OD’s prompted the NSW Government to wave its fist in the air and threaten to ban music festivals altogether, if they couldn’t successfully stamp out drug use at their events.
But in a new interview with In The Mix, McNeill says the government has basically tied organisers’ hands by refusing to budge on certain key measures that – if implemented – would make Australia a much safer place to party.
According to the Stereo founder, one of the biggest problems is that festival staff neither have the physical nor legal power to thoroughly search and arrest punters; something which is exacerbated by Australia’s “steroid issue and ‘gym hulk’ mentality”.
“We can’t arrest people – you try to arrest some big six foot dude who is juiced up on steroids and alcohol, he’ll tell you to fuck off and smash two of your guards while he’s doing it,” McNeil says.
“We don’t fucking promote drugs. We don’t have the power to search people thoroughly, we can’t carry weapons, we can’t lock people up. We can knock people back at the gate, which we do, but at the end of the day – even with police dogs there and the support of police – it’s really difficult,” he continues.
“…We can’t search people. We can pat them down, but we can’t say ‘open your wallet mate’ and then hold them if we find something illegal. We can make them pull stuff out, but we can’t do a proper search.
“…We don’t have the power so there’s not much more we can do that we aren’t already doing. We can provide a safe place and work with the police. I think most promoters are already doing everything they can and so are the police.”
But, according to McNeil, there’s plenty that the Government can do, to help the problem.
Introduce Pill Testing
“If it saves lives it should be allowed. It also makes the government aware of what is being sold, so that they can give out warnings [when pills are bad]. I go to events in Amsterdam and there are signs up at some venues telling you what is on the market and what to stay away from. That can save people’s lives. I think it’s ridiculous that stuff can’t get tested here – pill testing isn’t promoting drugs, it’s making them safer and the majority of the time, it is deterring people from taking drugs..
In Europe, people go off on their lunchbreak during the week to get their pills tested – they drop them off, come back half an hour later and get their results. So they might buy one, test it and if it’s crap, they aren’t going to buy 10 for them and their mates. They might not get any for the weekend and just go grab a drink instead. That could save their life.”
And 83 per cent of over 10,000 punters who voted in a Music Feeds poll would agree, indicating they’d be in favour of Australian festivals introducing drug testing procedures for ticket-holders.
Use A Combination Of Sniffer Dogs And Amnmesty Bins
“Sniffer dogs are a double-edged sword. I’m all for them because they’ve helped us keep a lot of drugs out of the events. They’ve assisted the police in finding large amounts of pills, charging people and then making their way back to the manufacturers, so there is a positive.
But with the positive comes a negative, as kids freak out and they drop stuff before they come or they pre-load. Or they get there and if they see there’s lots of dogs so they’ll drop everything that they’ve got before they go in, and that puts them under an incredible amount of risk. It’s one of those things where I’m split right down the middle. I believe in them for helping to keep drugs out, but there is also the flipside that it’s encouraging and making punters take their stuff in larger amounts before they get detected.
I think festivals should have amnesty bins. But the police say they can’t, because if people put stuff in the bins, they have to arrest them for possession. That’s just the way the law is written. The fact we don’t implement such a simple solution is mind boggling.
Everywhere else there is amnesty bins so if [punters] see the dogs and they freak out they can just put it in the bin, walk away and no problem. It’s really fucking simple, they do it at Glastonbury and they do it at most major festivals. If there’s dogs out the front, you’ve got drugs on you and you don’t want to get arrested, you put them in the amnesty bin and go off and have a great day.”
Ongoing Cooperation And Discussion
“When [the drug] GHB first came on the market in the late 90s/early 2000s there was the Dance Industry Association, which ran for four or five years. It was a proactive group that worked with the state government to develop policies for self-regulated events in Melbourne. It was a safe code for running dance parties in the 2000s and it worked. We need to bring something like that back on a national level.”