Glow Sticks - Techno essential or Hollywood prop?
“Can you see the music?”
Whether it’s a Hollywood movie from the 90’s, an episode of Homeland, or a 30 second cat food commercial, you can be sure of one thing. If it depicts a “rave”, then you’ll see glow sticks.
To many, especially outsiders of the EDM world, glow sticks are synonymous with raves and rave culture. But are glow sticks for posers? “Glow sticks were never really popular in Amsterdam. I don’t know why that is.” says Pedro, 42, Amsterdam native and rave veteran. “But when I went to a rave in the United States, they were everywhere!”
Was the prevalence of these neon toys ever actually as cool or present in the scene as depicted in the media? Or is it a myth created by the mainstream, like mohawks in punk rock or horns on the helmets of vikings? Is the glow stick in the techno world revered or cliche? For such a futuristic, intergalactic looking accessory, the glow stick’s origins begin over 50 years ago. The plastic wands that illuminate when you crack them were originally meant to signal roadside emergencies in the darkness of night. They store easily and don’t require battery power.
In 1971, some Dead-Head decided to crack a couple and dance to the music at a Grateful Dead concert, man. It was far out to see those neon trails float in the air to the melodic music. The tempo of music accelerated in the 80s and 90s. It was in dance clubs and festivals that glowsticks found their permanent places of residence. Of course, the special pleasure they add while under the influence of any combination of substances cannot be overlooked. This was even the basis of Senator Joe Biden sponsored “2003 R.A.V.E. Act” which claimed that “chemilights, which were originally designed to operate during emergencies only, were being used to heighten effects of the drugs.”
Glowsticks transcend the techno scene. House, trance, EDM and even rock shows. Glowsticking eventually evolved beyond just sticks. Glow staffs, glowing nunchucks and even glow gloves for freehanding, brought the artform to the level of martial art. The New Zealand poi dance serves as a companion artform to modern day glow sticking. Poi is usually done with fire. Modern glowsticking provides a safer, more colorful update. Feel the beat in a whole new way and not worry about burning your back. You can create laser art in the air.
In that sense, there is no reason not to respect this art. No negativity. No cynicism. Just peace and unity. Enjoy the lights. Enjoy the music. Enjoy each other. Perhaps that is more of a testament to the scene itself rather than to actually light sticks. Peace. Love. Unity. Respect. The overwhelming validation of glowsticking on social media is surprising. The vaguest mention of controversy about the use of the neon party equipment was immediately dismissed.
“...I got upset thinking people ‘hated’ glowstick dancing. Lol” says HASBARA_hillary on Reddit. Sure, they add to the colossal trash build up at festivals. Of course, no one likes them being thrown at their heads. And when they break and the chemicals get into your eyes it isn’t exactly fun. But ravers seem to agree, the culture just wouldn’t be the same without the glow!
It is the aspect of the culture that stuck in the mainstream. Perhaps because it's the brightest. But today’s culture still has love for the illuminating plastic wands. Expressions of individuality as well as unity. And it looks cool when your state is a little altered. So it is not a Hollywood myth. Glow sticks are a thing. And they will continue to be a thing for a s long as there is music at or above 140bpm.