The Mysterious Case of Medieval Dance Mania

An interesting story about ravers getting Medieval on that ass. The Roman philosopher Cicero said:

“Nemo enim fere saltat sobrius, nisi forte insanit” —no one dances sober, unless he is insane.

The combination of drugs, rhythmic beats, corybantic dancing, and rituals goes back thousands of years, just like effigy burns. Burning Man is based on the Mystery Rites of Eleusis, which the ancient Greeks used as a method of population control.

re-blogged from



‘The Saint John’s Dancers in Molenbeeck’ (1592) by Pieter Brueghel II.

St. John’s Dance, known historically as St. Vitus Dance, was a social phenomenon involving a type of dance mania that gripped mainland Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries. One of the most well-known major outbreaks took place in Aachen, Germany, on the 24th of June 1374, just several decades after the Black Death swept across Europe. During the outbreak, afflicted individuals would dance hysterically through the streets for hours, days, and apparently even months, until they collapsed due to exhaustion or died from heart attack or stroke. The number of participants at any one outbreak could reach into the thousands. In modern literature, women are often portrayed as being victims of the St. John’s Dance, although medieval accounts record that men, women and children were equally likely to be affected.

It was initially considered that the dancing mania was a curse sent by a saint, commonly thought to be St. John the Baptist or St. Vitus, hence the name of the condition. Therefore, people suffering from this condition would proceed to places dedicated to the said saint in order to pray for deliverance. The association of this phenomenon with St. Vitus can be traced to an incident that happened in Germany in 1278. During that year, a group of 200 people were dancing so vigorously on a bridge over the Maas River that the bridge collapsed, killing many of the dancers. Those who survived were taken to a nearby chapel dedicated to St. Vitus, and many of them were reported to have been restored to full health.

Interestingly, these were not isolated events, but occurred numerous times throughout Medieval Europe. Outbreaks occurred in Italy, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Holland, and Switzerland over the following three centuries.

Medieval Dancing Mania Engraving

An engraving of participants in a dancing mania. Photo source: Wikipedia.

Several hypotheses have been put forward to explain this phenomenon. For instance, ergot poisoning has been blamed by some for the hallucinations and convulsions that accompanied the St. John’s Dance. This form of poisoning coincided with floods and wet growing seasons, as the damp condition was suitable for the growth of the fungus claviceps purpura, which contains toxic and psychoactive chemicals, including lysergic acid and ergotamine (used in modern times as a precursor in the synthesis of LSD). This fungus is usually found on cultivated grain such as rye, and may induce certain symptoms of the St. John’s Dance including nervous spasms, psychotic delusions, and convulsions. Nevertheless, it has been argued that the outbreaks usually do not happen during the floods or wet seasons. Furthermore, not all the symptoms of the St. John’s Dance can be attributed to ergot poisoning.

Another explanation for the St. John’s Dance is that those participating in it were followers of deviant religious sects. As these people made pilgrimages throughout Europe during the years following the Black Death in order to gain divine favour, they grew in numbers. As they were involved in prolonged dancing, fasting, and emotional worship, such symptoms as hallucinating, fainting, and trembling uncontrollably would have been common.

Although it is highly plausible that some of the participants of the St. John’s Dance were genuinely affected by mental illnesses, it has been argued that the majority of those engaged in the dance did not actually suffered from any of the symptoms. Instead of looking at the St. John’s Dance as a form of mental disorder, it may be considered as a social phenomenon, sometimes referred to as ‘mass psychogenic illness’. This involves the occurrence of similar physical symptoms, with no known cause, which affect a large group of people as a form of social influence. Perhaps it may be suggested that some of those engaged in the St. John’s Dance did so out of fear, while others danced in order to fit in with the crowd.

While this form of mass hysteria may seem to belong to the history books, it is in fact just as common in modern times.  The Tanganyika laughter epidemic of 1962, for example, was an outbreak of mass hysteria in Tanzania in which uncontrollable laughter, accompanied by fainting, respiratory problems, and crying, spread from a group of school girls, to the entire school, neighbouring schools, and entire villages. Thousands of people were affected to some degree. The phenomenon was not completely eradicated for some eighteen months!

Such occurrences of mass hysteria have continued to confound the medical community and while it is easy to laugh off as ridiculous and bizarre behaviour, research has shown that there are a number of complex factors that can contribute to the formation and spread of collective hysteria, including rumours, extraordinary anxiety or excitement, cultural beliefs, social and political context, reinforcing actions by authority figures, and stress.  Cases of mass hysteria have been reported all over the world for centuries and provide a fascinating insight into the complex nature of human psychology!

– See more at


This video compares dancing to modern electronic music to that done in religious ceremonies, such as by African voodoo shamans:

We also covered this in 2012 in this post: Prayerformances: Rave Culture As The New Manifestation of Ecstatic Trance Rituals

Diplo-Matic Situation Escalates

deephouseamsterdam picked up the story about booing at Robot Heart, saying:

Being a multi-million dollar grossing DJ doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get the same amount of adoration everywhere you go. This is exactly what Diplo and Skrillex found out the hard way during the third day of Burning Man.

From globaldanceelectronichq:

Diplo has responded to the early reports of Jack U being reportedly booed off the stage. What is for sure is Diplo did in fact play the commercial tune, ‘Turn Down For What’, as joke to close off their techno set at the Robot Heart Stage. Skrillex and Diplo have been jumping from stage to stage at Burning Man delivering different sets at each performance.

Diplo has been quick to dismiss all of this as rumor, while still standing behind his decision to play the song as an “inside joke:

Despite rumors .. I wanna thank robot heart crew for putting together and awesome lineup or surprise guests and attendees that is gettin lost in a really lame false news story.. Although robot heart is anonymous and strictly a deeply quiet crew .. One of the founders .. Jaspn swamy loves this funny moment and is astounded that this is one of the busiest press stories from this years burning man.. Not only me and skrillex popped in but also above and beyond , thievery corp and Seth and many more underground artists.. No one is ever listed or promoted and all the lineups word of mouth .. I have been friends of Jason (who’s has booked me outside of bm in other countries) for many years and nothing on hear articles is true .. There was no booing .. No bad vibes … Nothing about seth troxler was true either… I wanna say one thing… I’m a dj thru and thru .. We did about 8 sets thru our few days at BM.. Ranging from trap dubstep at question mark to uk bass on the opulent temple .. Dub and classic reggae on the dancestranaught car and even deep techno and tribal house on robot heart.. Everyone on stage had a fun moment when we played a few tunes as we were Just killing time while the next dj was setting up.. We weren’t kicked off or booed .. Jus wrapped our set up with an inside joke … And of all the stories to come out after an amazing week… This is pretty tabloidish that’s not what burningman is about.. Everything we did there was good fun and all the people that attended knows it..”

Despite Diplo’s claims, we have a number of eyewitness accounts corroborating (and disputing) the booing. Of course, he has a lot of money riding on this, in terms of his bookability as a major international festival DJ. That is, if you think the Robot Heart crowd is cool and influential. I think they are; although I wasn’t there this year, every other time their crowd has been first-rate.

Diplo is one of the biggest stars in the $6.2 billion EDM market. Even his lawyer is a rising star.

The addition of [Diplo’s lawyer David] Rappaport will help build the firm’s new artist and electronic dance music (EDM) roster.

EDM has grown into a $6.2 billion business, according to a recent report, and Diplo (currently on the cover of Billboard) is among its biggest stars whose successful Mad Decent label and block party events have helped earn him some $12 million in 2014.



diplo skrillex ot

Syd Gris has publicly stepped up to Jack-U’s defense, saying that Skrillex and Diplo killed it at Opulent Temple, and their 7 other gigs on the Playa.

What’s kinda bugging me is how many links and stories are going around about if Diplo & Skrillex were booed off at Robot Heart. Like really? That’s the biggest music story to be told from BM this year? Let me stand up and say NO, it isn’t. 

After 2 years and near misses of talking to Skrillex’s team about playing at OT, we were excited to see it finally happen this year. The fact Diplo was in the mix with him was all the more exciting.

They bought their own tickets, asked for no special treatment and came out, and despite being scheduled back to back to play separately, played a 2+ hour awesome tag set as ‘Jack U’ of infectious excellent eclectic party music. People had an amazing time and I know the other sets they played with Roots Soceity, Dancetronauts and others were awesome. They were super friendly, down to earth and totally classy when they were at OT. 

Let THAT be the dominant narrative of them coming to play BM. 2 music lovers who shared what they do well with thousands of other happy music lovers. The obsession with if they did or didn’t get booed off (one website is offering money to anyone with a video of it) is to me cheap, gossipey and a bottom feeding waste of time. If Diplo did depart from Robot Heart’s generally ultra deep ethos to challenge the norm, good on him. If people really booed cause their expectations were so threatened, they really need to loosen up.

Let’s focus on the do-ers, the creators and gifting, not the drama. Thank you.

Syd Gris's photo.
Syd Gris's photo.
Syd Gris's photo.

This has been corroborated by some OT fans:

Dan: Opulent Temple, the Jack-U set was one of the top 3 shows of my life. Absolutely incredible! Does anyone have a download of their set? Want to listen to it on repeat for the next month!

Tony: Im not a fan of Skrillex, to be honest I didnt even know who he was or what he played, but we ended up at OT when he came on and all i saw was a couple thousand kids having the time of their life dancing their hearts out…so whatever it is that people are bitching about him playing Burning Man i dont quite understand? What i saw happening at OT seemed to me to be exactly why we all go to the playa…to have a great time! Thanks Syd and all of the OT crew who do it for the love of the people…we thank you!

Erin: One of the most epic performance experiences of my life!…during Skrillex/Diplo set. Thank you, OT, Syd Gris, and all the amazing crew who helped make this happen! Xoxoxo! $ (I’m the lucky batch in flight, in the top right corner)

diplo skrillex ot

I think rather than a DJ faux pas, this sounds more like yet another Burning Man prank that fizzled on its ass to some of the crowd. People couldn’t tell the difference between satire, snark, prank, or a sign of the broader commercialization that seems to be rapidly gentrifying the event. What’s funny to the San Francisco crowd might not be taken the same way in Miami, Las Vegas, New York, London, and so on. Burners are not your typical EDM festival crowd. For starters, they’re all surviving together in one of the harshest environments in the world. And they’re probably not all doing shots from a bottle of Grey Goose with a sparkler in it.

Perhaps the Burner boos were themselves a prank. The Burners were not really booing, they were just being ironic.

Speaking of irony (or is it?), the hilarious BRC Weekly piece on Earning Man with their re-framing of the Tin Principles was outstanding and is highly recommended.

Rave of Thrones

Groan all you like hippies, rave is reigning supreme. This is going to be the summer of EDM.

To help you prepare for the Doof Onslaught, Ishkur has created this interactive guide to musical sub-genres. It’s really good – I started with “House”, then “Tribal”, the first track that came on was San Francisco’s Dubtribe Sound System, with a loop from their classic track “Hasta Luego Me Hermano”. You could spend hours exploring this thing. Plug your computer into your stereo and turn it up. Ishkur’s guide is at

Andy Samberg of SNL closed the season with this EDM parody. He’s in talks to play a Burner in a new UK TV series.

Wunderground bring us this amusing tale from David Guetta’s tour.

HBO are creating a new, Entourage-like show based on dance music culture. Calvin Harris, the #1 earning DJ in the world, has teamed up with Fresh Prince Will  Smith and Roc-a-Fella Illumini Jay-Z to create the show. Trainspotting scribe Irvine Welsh will write the script and presumably they will all collaborate on what could be an epic soundtrack. Harris might even star in it…perhaps playing a DJ? From inthemix:


EDM’s coming to HBO: Calvin Harris on board to develop scripted comedy series


Rave Of Thrones? Sets And The City? We can only begin to imagine the possibilities.

Dance music has already hit the big screen thanks to Insomniac’s Under The Electric Sky documentary. But now, according to Deadline Hollywood, it’ll soon be making its way to prime time TV. The site reports that HBO is developing Higher, a half-hour comedy show “set in the world of electronic music.”

The series will be penned by Irvine Welsh, author of the seminal novel Trainspotting, and developed with the help of none other than Calvin Harris. We’re willing to bet that the multi-talented 30-year-old has quite a few stories to share from his seven-plus years in the industry, especially given his crossover success; the show’s concept conjures memories of some of Entourage‘s more debaucherous moments.

It’s not just Welsh and Harris who have been tasked with creating Higher… far from it, actually. The series is being created in conjunction with Overbrook Entertainment, Three Six Zero Group and Marcy Media, three companies with some very well-known names behind them.

Among the show’s nine – yes, nine – executive producers are Overbrook’s Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and Marcy Media’s Jay-Z. The trio is already working together on a film re-boot of the musical Annie, but Higher will be a different sort of endeavor entirely.

No word yet on whether Harris will appear on the series, but he’s already (sort of)shown off his acting chops in the music video for Ellie Goulding’s “I Need Your Love.” We’ll keep you up-to-date on Higher as the story around the show develops

EDM is pulling in the big bucks – it’s now a $20 billion market. Attendance at the Top 50 EDM events is more than double that of all other festivals combined.

lego raversThe EDM market is a $15.0 to $20.0 billion global industry, with the major players in the global festival market achieving $4.5 billion in sales for 2012. Digital music revenues grew an impressive 9.8% in 2012 (IFPI, 2013).

While attendance at concerts and festivals for other music genres declined by 8.3% in the past three years, EDM has only prospered. The attendance for the top 50 EDM specific festivals was two times the number in attendance of concerts for all other music genres combined. The EDM genre alone reports a staggering festival audience of over 3.5 million people between the ages of 18-35, “who are young, highly inclined toward purchase, technologically facile, with significant disposable income,” making us the most marketable crowd in history.

When it comes to digital streaming, EDM continues to dominate over other music genres. reported their aggregate number of unique listeners and plays per genre since 2012 and their findings are astounding.

crowdsourcingPer, the average number of Hip Hop listeners dropped from 7,000 in 2012 to 2,000 through July 2013, a 78% drop. data shows that for the same periods, EDM as a total genre increased from 92,000 to 266,000, a 190% increase. Figures like these are powerful illustrations of the tsunami of new music dwarfing non-EDM related music content.

…In 2005, there were approximately 38,000 total tracks released globally via traditional labels across all genres. For the 6-month period ending July 2013, there were a total of 371,000 total tracks released in EDM alone…The numbers don’t lie and the truth is, EDM is driving the global digital music growth and international artist sales. EDM is not only at the forefront of the music industry but it’s conquering it completely.

According to Burning Man’s ticket provider TicketFly, social media ticket sales are 6 times as much as for EDM events as they are for plays, sports or bands.

From Smartasset:

lego burning man The rising popularity of electronic music has led to it transforming seemingly overnight from a fringe genre generally associated with LSD, ecstasy, abandoned warehouse parties, and homosexuality, to over the top spectaculars brimming with sensory overload of every kind. In the process week long festivals like Ultra Music Festival, Electric Daisy Carnival and Coachella [and Burning Man – Ed.] have become household mega-brands. Their economic viability is very real; just one weekend can generate hundreds of millions of dollars for local economies and promoters. Although some events and promoters have close to 20 years of experience, the real acceleration only occurred in the last half decade.

The internet and EDM remain joined at the hip, today social media is the primary ticket sales for electronic dance music festivals, concerts and club nights. According to a report by TicketFly, social media ticket sales for EDM events are six times higher than “traditional events” like plays, sporting and other music events.

Smartasset takes us through the numbers of some of the bigger festivals:

58% of ticket buyers are usually males purchasing just one ticket. TicketFly speculates that the sense of community among EDM fans decreases desires to pair up prior to purchasing a ticket. 

Coachella…was cancelled in 2000 due to financial problems…In 2012 and 2013 the festival generated over  $47 million in revenue…with over 50 electronic musicians 2013 the festival generated roughly $500,000 in cold hard cash, or roughly $2.33 per pass sold, for the city of Indio, California. The economic impact of Coachella on the surrounding local economy is an estimated $254 million and is projected to grow for 2014.

…EDC 2010, held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, generated roughly $42 million for the local economy over the course of two days. In 2011 the festival moved to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and expanded its line up to three days. There the festival supported an estimated 1,400 full-time jobs and  generated $136.4 million for the Las Vegas economy.

EDC 2012 …Over the course of three days the festival generated $207.048 million for the Las Vegas metro area, an increase of 57%  from 2011. It also helped to support the equivalent of 2,018 full time jobs and over$84 million in labor income. … 108,000 of the festival’s 115,000 attendees  arrived from other parts of the world and spent millions eating, dancing, drinking and occasionally sleeping in the surrounding area. To date Insomniac claims that they’ve generated $344.246 million for the local economy, which excludes EDC 2013. We estimate that the economic impact of the festival will be in excess of $500 million for 2013.

Ultra Music Festival, which offers multiple day passes for $399 and VIP access starting at $850. …The south Florida city  has hosted the Winter Music Conference for 28 years, of which Ultra Music Festival is one of the 500 events underway over the course of ten days. In just one weekend Ultra, and its 165,000 attendees, generated $79 million in revenue for the Miame-Dade county economy. It also put $10 million in taxes into the coffers of  state and local governments.

Burning Man’s public estimate is that they bring in $35 million to the Northern Nevada economy, or about $500 per Burner. There is also a broader economy that includes air travel, car and RV rental, groceries, fuel , booze. Not to mention all the pre-Burn shopping on Amazon, Etsy and eBay. If you estimate each Burner is spending $1000 minimum (including tickets), that’s $70 million. The average is probably higher, given that some art cars cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it’s $250 just to ride the bus. Call it $100 million.

Industry execs see EDM as a way of reaching the half of the planet’s population that is under the age of 30 – including 2 billion millenials.

The biggest name in the business, Live Nation, has been getting into EDM in a big way. They acquired a half share in EDC, and controlling interests in top US producer HARD Events and UK’s Cream Holdings.

crowd fundingLiveNation, the largest concert promoter in the world,  views electronic dance music festivals as it’s greatest growth opportunity. In 2012 the promotion powerhouse raked in $3.9 billion and acquired a 90% stake in two EDM festival organizers: U.K. based Cream Holdings Ltd, and Los Angeles’  HARD Events.

Though LiveNation did not reveal the details of these acquisitions, Cream Holdings Ltd had an estimated $7.8 million in assets in 2011 according to the New York Times. This pales in comparison to the estimated $50 million paid by LiveNation to Insomniac Events for a 50% stake in the Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) organizer. Both Cream Holdings Ltd (which organizes the famed Creamfields Festival in the U.K.) and Insomniac Events are established players in the electronic music scene, having staged events since 1993 and 1998 respectively.