We Need to Talk About People, Dancefloors and Drugs

by Giulia Zambini


People, dancefloors and drugs have always been connected. Plants with psychoactive properties and fermented fruits have been used during rituals for centuries. With time and scientific discoveries, substances may have changed. In parallel, contemporary dancefloors are increasingly commercially exploited, and their origins forgotten, in our expansion and consumption-based economies. Yet the relationship between dancefloors and drugs has been ever present in human history and thus, it should be acknowledged and discussed much more openly. 

People and Dancefloors: Narratives of Drug-taking is a project right at the intersection of research, activism and advocacy. The aim is to encourage public discussion about people’s relationship with drugs in social and music spaces. Through film, it invites its audience to directly connect with participants’ stories. 

Our understanding of the relationship between people and drugs outside of our own experiences is shaped by media representations, which are frequently rife with sensationalism and inaccuracies. Few sources address the complexity of this relationship, and such sources generally enjoy a relatively niche audience. 

Even less openness exists on the relationship between drugs, pleasure and sociality. Society’s focus is chiefly planted on the harms of drugs, with related discussions on their negative effects on people’s health and life chances dominating debate. Without taking away from the importance of such discussions, they are not the whole story. The call for a more open debate on the relationship between drugs and pleasure, moving beyond harm, has come from some well-respected commentators (Ian Hamilton in the Independent and with Alex Aldrige in the Conversation, David Nutt and Adam Winstock in The Guardian to name a few).

Positive stories about drugs are usually only told in private and amongst trusted friends. This is largely because of the stigma associated with drug use, which is connected to the illicit status of some drugs, meaning that people refrain from admitting that they enjoy using them. In order to bring such positive stories out of the shadows, participants to the project were invited to share them through on-camera interviews, but also audio interviews and written contributions for those participants who wanted to protect their identity. Interview material was edited into themes that are recurring across participants’ narratives. 

The film thus touches on the relationship between dancefloors and drugs through participants’ own accounts and observations. These include the importance of dancefloors and music in their lives, the role drugs play within and beyond the dancefloor environment, and their effect on participants’ lives and identities. Other positive themes that emerged through participants’ accounts of their experiences included community and belonging, connection to others, and perception of the self, which we have discussed in some detail elsewhere. Participants also highlight the double standard that exists in British society in terms of its relationship with alcohol versus other drugs, along with the need to have a sensible and open debate about these issues; a debate that must include the voices of people who use drugs.

People and Dancefloors (@PDancefloors) is run by Dr Giulia Zampini (@GFZampini), Dr Eveleigh Buck-Matthews (@eveleigh_bm), Dr Anthony Killick (@AntKillick) in conjunction with Sambiki Saru Films. 

To learn more about the project:

Watch the film 

Visit our website 

Follow us on Twitter 

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