Second death hits Stereosonic promoters’ anti-drugs battle

A young man at the Stereosonic festival in Melbourne. Photo: Craig SillitoeCan testing make drugs safer?Man charged over dealing drugs before Stereosonic death  

The operators of the giant Stereosonic music events appear to be struggling to combat the use of illicit drugs at their events after a second fatal suspected overdose during the latest festival at Adelaide

This is despite some of those who co-founded Stereosonic and who remain associated the company involved in promoting the event having previously indicated that they are well aware of how prevalent  drugs are in the electronic music industry scene according to prior public statements and experiences with other events.   One of the founders of the event is Melbourne DJ and promoter Richard Mark McNeill, also known as DJ Richie Rich, who  is still listed as a director and shareholder in the company that was the original owner of Stereosonic.

Mr McNeill, a veteran promoter, has often lashed out at drug users and once threatened to sue festival patrons who were using the illegal party drug GHB (or gamma hydroxybutyrate) also known as liquid ecstasy.

He was also embroiled in an incident where a rave he was promoting in 2007 was later described as ending up like a war zone because of the number of overdoses.

The situation highlights the difficult issues surrounding music festivals where operators are making millions of dollars from events which they know are impossible to quarantine from the illegal and potentially deadly drugs used by their customers.

The Stereosonic  event in Sydney, where 25-year-old Ms Choi died and dozens required medical treatment on November 28, is owned by United States company SFX Entertainment, which has had major financial problems over the past year.

SFX purchased the festival when it bought the Australian based company Totem Onelove Group Pty Ltd in 2013 paying about $75 million in cash and shares, and potentially making the co-owners like McNeill multimillionaires. Totem Onelove remains involved in promoting the festival.

Mr McNeill is no longer mentioned on Totem Onelove’s website and he has previously stated publicly that he resigned from the business in 2014.  But he is still listed as a director and shareholder of the Totem Onelove Group  according to company records.

In 2007, he was involved in promoting the Kryal Castle Rave at Warrenheip in Victoria. Prior to the event, Mr McNeill was believed to have undertaken a number of measures to try to reduce risk and was reported to have been promoting a strong anti-drugs message.

But when the festival went ahead it was later likened to a “war zone” when 14 people overdosed.

Local emergency physician Nigel Beck told media at the time the event was “out of control” and the car park was awash with cheap drugs.  He said he witnessed patrons smoking ice 50 metres from a police van.

“It was like a war zone with six people carrying unconscious people on a stretcher and we had to resuscitate them,” he said.

Following the incident Mr McNeill was purported to have angrily posted on social media lashing out at certain drug users.

Mr O’Neill did not respond to emailed queries from Fairfax this week.

But in the past  he told the ABC: “I think people like ourselves that are right at the core of it have major responsibilities, a lot of responsibilities which can even turn into liabilities at some stage when your talking like the issue with drugs and stuff at the moment, hence why we’ve set up the Dance Industry Association (DIA) and trying to find ways to put in like a drug policy in place”.

In 2009, he was reported to have threatened to sue festival goers who used the dangerous illegal drug GHB and overdosed saying: “I will sue because it tarnishes my reputation and ruins my business”.

Another shareholder of Totem Onelove is Peter Raftopolous, also known as “Peter Raff” who is a veteran of the industry, and spoke about drugs in 1996 saying that techno had “commercialised ecstasy”.

“It will always exist. It’s become part of the scene,” he said in the interview with a Melbourne newspaper.

Efforts to contact Mr Raftopolous were unsuccessful this week.

Asked for comment about the statements and whether enough was being done to prevent overdoses, Totem Onelove directed Fairfax to a statement which said the organisation was “deeply saddened after the death of a patron last weekend and whilst every effort has been made to ensure your safety we urge you to look out for each other throughout the festival”.

“We encourage our patrons not to play Russian roulette with your lives. We have always had and continue to have a zero tolerance towards drugs and if people are caught bringing them in they will be denied entry and removed from the site.”

On Friday, police arrested Daniel Dung Huynh, a 25-year-old from Punchbowl, over supplying drugs linked to Ms Choi’s death.

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