Raves, caves and staying connected in the strangest days

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Julia Koh/The Occidental

In early March 2020, Alec Randolph (sophomore) was with his friends enjoying the sights and sounds of Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) Mexico, an electronic dance music (EDM) festival in Mexico City complete with colorful lights, dozens of headliners and, in its 2018 iteration, approximately 230,000 attendees. The three-day 2020 festival coincided with Randolph’s March 1 birthday, and he described the entire weekend as an amazing experience for a rave fan like himself. At one point, he said a long line of people trying to take photos with him and his friends formed because of their extravagant outfits.

The same day as the start of the festival, Feb. 28, Mexico confirmed its first case of COVID-19: a 35-year old from Mexico City.

Alec Randolph (sophomore) attends EDC Mexico 2020. Courtesy of Alec Randolph.

Occidental College announced March 12 — within two weeks of EDC Mexico — that the college would shift to remote learning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor of LA Eric Garcetti issued a memo March 12 limiting gatherings to 50 or fewer people before issuing an even stricter “Safer at Home” order March 19 that closed nonessential businesses and banned gatherings. Without knowing it, Randolph had attended one of the last large events before COVID-19 altered global society indefinitely.

Despite this, Randolph still manages to make it to raves like EDC. In response to the pandemic, Randolph said, rave culture moved online, and in-person events were replaced by streamed performances.

“The transition to online has been seamless,” Randolph said. “It feels like we’re still raving.”

The coronavirus pandemic has, for the time being, scattered the Occidental student body, sending all but a few students home. Strict social distancing orders have further separated people across the country. Despite everything, Occidental students like Randolph have found creative ways to stay connected; whether by sending handwritten letters, meeting in a virtual world or raving online like the party never stopped, students continue to stay in touch and hopeful through turbulent times.

For Celeste Padula (senior) and Braedon Hatt (first year), one way to stay in touch involves a callback to their childhoods: “Club Penguin Rewritten,” a free-to-play remake of “Club Penguin,” the popular 2005 massively multiplayer online game. While the original Club Penguin — in which players adopt penguin avatars and explore a snow-covered island — was discontinued by parent company Disney in 2017, fan-run remakes like Club Penguin Rewritten allow players to return to a perfect replica of the island. The game has experienced an increase in players as people stay home and practice social distancing, with many who played the original as kids returning now as adults.

Padula said she has been playing Club Penguin Rewritten since summer 2019, but got her start playing the original Club Penguin with her older brother when they were younger. Since then, she has used Rewritten to stay connected with her brother, video calling him and playing the game at the same time. Padula is also the president of Occidental’s Delta Omicron Tau sorority and started playing the game Fall 2019 with her housemates at the Delta house. She can often be found hanging out in the Gold Mine.

“It’s the only type of social gathering I can have right now, which is nice,” Padula said. “It’s fun to just talk and have conversations there.”

Screenshot of the Town from “Club Penguin Rewritten.” Courtesy of Pablo Nukaya-Petralia.

Hatt also played the original Club Penguin when he was younger. He said he was introduced to remakes like Rewritten and Club Penguin Online through internet memes and started playing shortly before the pandemic. His experience with the game became useful when, in his role as a first-year senator for the Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC), he helped organize an April 10 meet-up in Rewritten for Occidental students. According to Hatt, approximately 10 students came to the event but several more reached out to him afterward expressing interest in the game.

“This is a great way and a great time to get introduced to it,” Hatt said. “It’s a cool way to get connected.”

In addition to the Club Penguin meet-up, Hatt also helped organize a trivia competition through Kahoot, a Netflix Party viewing of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and senator office hours via BlueJeans in order to stay engaged with his constituents while distanced. Even though he cannot be with his peers, Hatt said he still wants to be available as an ASOC representative.

Padula said she also tried using Rewritten to host events during the pandemic and once held Delta’s weekly chapter meeting at her in-game igloo. For the meeting, she said she decorated her igloo with green decorations repurposed from the game’s St. Patrick’s Day party in order to recreate the living room of Delta’s house. However, according to Padula, the meeting did not go as well as planned: despite everyone having usernames, it was difficult to know individuals’ identities.

“A lot of the time was just asking people like, ‘Wait, who are you?” Padula said. “Also someone random walked in [to the igloo].”

In addition to Club Penguin, Padula said Delta uses the video conference program Zoom regularly for chapter meetings and elections. However, she prefers how users can move around in Club Penguin and interact with one another as opposed to just calling.

“You can’t walk around and talk to certain people,” Padula said. “I feel like Zoom is very limited.”

While platforms such as Club Penguin offer a digital alternative to in-person communication, some have chosen options that more directly mimic live events. According to Randolph, the rave community responded to the pandemic quickly in its switch to online events, with EDM major labels like Insomniac setting up livestreams to make shows available at home. Despite the fact rave-goers can no longer congregate in the same physical space, Randolph said he is still able to attend online raves with his friends on a regular basis, and a major rave happens almost every weekend.

According to Randolph, events are streamed on sites such as YouTube or Twitch. While ravers are now physically distant from one another, Randolph said they can still communicate through a live text chat, talking about songs and sharing their enthusiasm. Randolph said he also video calls with his friends during raves.

“We’ve actually been having Zoom calls, Zoom parties and we’ve been tuning into online raves,” Randolph said. “Some of us are dancing to the music, some of us are just laying in bed.”

Prior to COVID-19, Randolph said he would go to a rave almost every weekend and several festivals per season. He said he fell in love with the music and culture after being introduced to it during his first year at Occidental. While he cannot interact with fellow ravers in person at the moment, Randolph said he still feels present at the concerts.

“It’s harder to meet people face-to-face, but you can still communicate on the online chat,” Randolph said. “I’m still reaching out to people I would have probably never reached out to before that I’ve seen on social media posting about these raves, and it’s kind of just a great way to stay connected.”

While students like Randolph, Hatt and Padula have tried to maintain connections online, students in the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority are trying something different: pen pals, according to Ruby Ferehawk (junior), the chief operating officer (COO) of Theta. As COO, Ferehawk organizes Theta’s programming and risk management, and when faced with the pandemic, she realized she needed to develop ways for sorority members to stay engaged with one another. Ferehawk said she noticed members were feeling bored or overwhelmed in isolation, so she organized pen pals as an optional activity for members who felt they had the time and energy for it.

Ferehawk said she organized interested members into groups of three or four based on people’s interests and compatibility. She also said she wanted to connect people who had not necessarily known each other well in the past. Making pen pals optional was important, she said, since she did not want to pressure members into participating when they may already feel particularly stressed by the pandemic. According to Ferehawk, she wanted pen pals and other remote programming from Theta to be a support system for students as opposed to another obligation.

“I think the approach we’re taking is working,” Ferehawk said. “I think people are really turning to Theta in a way that they don’t during the school year.”

According to Mia Hernandez (junior), president of Theta, pen pals represent just one of the ways the organization is trying to stay connected during the pandemic. Hernandez said they are also working on hosting annual events like their senior send-off, in which Theta celebrates their graduating seniors, over video call. According to Ferehawk, Theta also hosts other virtual programming, including movies with Netflix Party and sober happy hours on Zoom.

Despite their best efforts, everyone said remote connections and events could not completely substitute for a real experience. Randolph said that even though he enjoys online raves, he misses the energy and interactions that come from a live performance. Padula said that although Club Penguin is fun, it was not an effective alternative to Delta’s chapter meetings. And according to Hernandez, maintaining an organization built upon bringing people together is a particularly difficult endeavor.

“It’s hard to make a social organization digital,” Hernandez said. “It’s a new challenge. It’s not one you want to do, but you have no other option.”

While the raves Randolph attends nowadays are a far cry from the likes of EDC Mexico barely two months ago, he said he feels that the passion for rave culture and EDM are still present.

“It definitely isn’t the same, you obviously need the crowd and the energy is just unmatched,” Randolph said. “But people still care and want to provide the music.”

Hatt said that while connecting remotely is far from optimal, he appreciates that he can still perform his duty as first-year senator and connect with his constituents.

“With virtual programming, it’s given us senators something to do,” Hatt said. “It’s a way to make sure that I know I’m engaging with my job and that people are still feeling comfortable at school.”

Randolph said that even though online raves cannot fully substitute for the real thing, he appreciates that he can still do what he loves while staying close to people.

“It’s just a great way to stay connected with all your friends and makes it feel like there’s some part of normalcy to this weird reality,” Randolph said. “I’m glad we’ve been using this as an opportunity to talk to each other and make [us] feel like it’s normal again.”