In Defense of Kandi Kids by the EDM Snob
I am proud to say: I am a kandi kid. Or if you prefer, you may also refer to me as a candy kid, or candy raver, or dumbass in neon beads.
When I became a kandi kid, I did it for what I thought was a very compelling reason– I wanted to fit in. My first rave left me feeling as if I had stepped onto another planet. Not only was music being listened to by the hour instead of by the minute, but there was an entire culture around me that would take years to truly understand. In some ways, rave culture has evolved like a write-your-own adventure novel. Many people have taken the liberty of making it up as they go. As a result, we have this melting pot of different ideas, styles, goals, and ambitions for what raving means.
Most people have no clue why kandi kids dress the way they do. As a result, they’ve become easy targets for mocking stereotypes of ravers, like this little gem from Rolling Stone magazine. I hope I get a job someday where I get paid for writing about things I know absolutely nothing about; though I suppose it’s far easier to mock something that looks different than to try and understand it. It’s ironic that the same generations that used to thrive on counterculture are now ridiculing things that seem a little TOO different. The culture surrounding EDM is just as powerful as musically-driven cultural movements of the past. The problem is, we don’t recognize our place in history or the significance of our own symbolism. That’s our own fault.
Somewhere along the way, “rave” became a dirty word. It used to be beautiful. It was synonymous with freedom, happiness and an all-inclusive celebration of being alive. But somehow, out of fear of backlash from politicians, law enforcement and media, we let society kidnap our word.
Several years ago, I noticed when I would call something a rave, how promoters would get panicked and wide-eyed before saying, “You mean ‘party,’ right?” Or concert, or show, or whatever politically correct term happened to be in fashion at the time. At first, that didn’t make a difference, but language is powerful. When we lost the word “rave,” we started to lose the bold magic that went along with it. At the time, it might have been necessary for survival, but we’ve grown up. We don’t have to be afraid anymore. Bring back the rave.
Kandi kids suffered the most in the war of the word. When raves lost their fearless defiance and toned themselves down to fit in, kandi kids did too. Just like that, the meaning behind an entire subculture was lost. Now, people at EDM events wear colored beads, but only the veteran kandi kids have any idea why.
Allow me to set the record straight. There is a reason behind every aspect of kandi kid culture, and while I became one just to fit in, I remained one because of what I learned. Kandi has become a signature symbol of EDM, and these symbols need meaning to be anything more than throw-away, plastic bracelets.
Being a kandi kid is about channeling the kid you used to be. Kandi kids take the psychology of the inner child and make it the outer child. That’s why cartoons, stuffed animals, sweets and bright colors are the norm. The idea is, the world would be a much better place if we kept intact the mindset we had when we were little. Children don’t pick their playground friends based on clothes, skin color or gender. Kids just want to have fun. They value people for who they are (and how high they can swing, of course).
Now, it’s a natural thing to grow up and mature. No one is saying to act completely childish, but there are important lessons we can learn from our former selves. There is something to be said for the fact that we come out of the womb naturally playful, honest and caring, and only learn with time to be devious, cruel and judgmental. Being a kandi kid is about trying to reverse the bad qualities these years have led us to wrongfully adopt.
Wearing brightly colored, beaded kandi arose from a similarly powerful philosophy. Kandi is about taking who you are on the inside and physically representing it on the outside. I’ve wanted to post my collection of kandi, but it’s simply too revealing. I’ve got kandi for places I’ve been, what I studied in college, my ethnicity, the sports I like; my entire self would be on display in all its beaded glory. That’s why trading kandi is so personal. It’s done with something special two people have in common. It could be a place, an activity or just an artist you like. We used to meet someone for the first time and study their kandi to get to know them, and we would get excited to find some common bond expressed in bead form. These connections sometimes lasted a lifetime.
Making kandi was a very special ritual. We would sit around on Saturday afternoons before a rave and wage war on a bucket of beads, making all kinds of artistic things: necklaces, cuffs, anklets, and most commonly, bracelets. We made every piece by hand, because it was important to show how much we cared. In my group of kandi friends, only two of us went to college. So, they made us pacifier necklaces in the colors of the schools we were going to. I still have mine.
As you would expect, I was pretty baffled when I saw this picture of Hot Topic’s new line of jewelry:
This is the raver equivalent of buying your mom a gift card for her birthday. It just totally misses the point. It’s the thought behind the item that counts. Kandi is a very personal form of self-expression. Mass-producing it is backward and self-defeating. I’ve heard of ancient tribes that tattooed their life’s accomplishments on their bodies. Kandi is our version of that concept. I’m sure Hot Topic will make a profit. After all, who has time to actually put thought and care into something, when you can just spend a few dollars and effortlessly look the part? Every shortcut has a cost, and anyone who buys these is spending good money on worthless plastic. Without meaning, the symbol is useless.
Kandi kids should be proud of their culture. I see fewer and fewer kandi kids every year, and that’s a tragedy. The truth is, many people are afraid to go all out. I know I have been. I used to hide my kandi in my pockets until I got close to the event, for fear people might think I was a weirdo, or because I was afraid of police thinking I was carrying or taking drugs. But if we allow ourselves to live in fear of being judged, we are letting the atmosphere of EDM die the moment the show stops.
Kandi kids have become, for better or worse, the stereotype of EDM culture, and as a result, must be the most willing to be themselves. What we’ve created is special. The world needs to see it.
I’ve always thought there is a parallel between the rise of EDM that we’re now experiencing and the popularity of rock’n’roll in the ’60s and ’70s. With new music came new cultures and new ways of living. All of a sudden, people were growing their hair long, playing their music loud and rough, and challenging the way they’d been told to live. They were the generation of dreamers. The Civil Rights and Anti-War movements of the ’60s were, I think, given a certain degree of vitality and passion by the music of the era. It’s a lot easier to protest with Bob Dylan in the background than with smooth jazz or doo-wop. The music helped define the mentality and spirit of the times. I think we have the same opportunity now.
I believe that the same way rock’n’roll ended wars, brought people together and gave people a voice, EDM has a surrounding culture that will change the world for the better. Kandi kids are, I think, the most powerful visible representation of what EDM is about. Never be afraid to show everyone who you are. Be proud of it. Encourage other people to be proud of who they are. Above all, do what makes you happy.
My favorite piece of my kandi is a necklace with a quote from Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It reminds me that most people are unwilling to take risks to live their life the way they want. It reminds me that most people dread being seen as not good enough. It reminds me that most people are living in a prison of their own fear.
It reminds me to never be one of them. That’s why I’m a kandi kid.
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