Music

Stereosonic founder has some very real things to say about drugs, sniffer dogs at festivals

Following a summer during which there were three drug-related deaths at Australian festivals, drug use at major music events is back on the public (and political) agenda. While some have argued it is time for Australia to bring in pill-testingNSW Premier Mike Baird pledged to put in place new rules that could see major music festivals banned because of drug use. And now, for the first time, festival promoter and Stereosonic founder Richie McNeill has weighed in on the debate, telling FL’s sister site inthemix that when it comes to combatting drug use: “If it saves lives it should be allowed.”

>>>> READ THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH McNEIL

Promoters are not to blame

McNeil was keen to dispel the stigma that dance promoters don’t care about drug use at their events. “All of the major promoters go over and above the call of duty to provide a safe environment, and just because people are making bad choices as individuals we are seen as the bad guys,” he 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 … We can make them pull stuff out, but we can’t do a proper search. 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. The steroid issue and ‘gym hulk’ mentality in Australia is big too.

“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.”

McNeil at EMC in 2013 (Photo: ITM)

Sniffer dogs are a ‘double-edged sword’

Data released last year showed that up to two-thirds of public searches by sniffer dogs found no drugs, something the NSW Greens say is reason enough to ban them. McNeil also isn’t convinced of their effectiveness. “Sniffer dogs are a double-edged sword,” he told ITM. “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,” he said.

“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.”

>>>> READ THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH McNEIL

So what’s the solution?

McNeil believes the best response would be to provide amnesty bins like those trialled in WA a few years ago.  But there is just one problem: “The police say they can’t,” he admits. “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.”