HVDES and Darcy Michero (End Overdose) Think PLUR Should Include Harm Reduction

The activists talk music festivals and overdose prevention.

Darcy Michero is the Director of Events and Fundraising Programs at End Overdose, an LA-based non-profit working to end drug-related overdose deaths through education, medical intervention, and public awareness; HVDES is electronic rock artist and producer, also based in LA. End Overdose is partnered with Insomniac to provide resources like naloxone and fentanyl test strips to festival goers nationwide, and is present in local nightlife for community-based outreach. HVDES is a big supporter of the organization, so she and Darcy got together to talk about the importance of harm reduction in nightlife and music. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Darcy Michero: Thanks so much for being here. We’re really excited to talk to you a bit about your involvement with End Overdose, and your journey as an artist too. 

HVDES: I’m excited too, thank you for having me. 

Darcy: So I guess we could start with the beginning. How did you discover End Overdose and what initially drew you to support the nonprofit?

HVDES: Oh, man, it was so long ago, I don’t even remember exactly how I found you guys. I think it was through Instagram — the algorithm just algorithmed and placed you guys in my field of vision. I just thought it was really awesome. I started sharing it, because obviously it’s super important to me personally, what you guys are doing. And you guys were so much smaller, it was a couple years ago. But I really liked the overall message of harm reduction. I’ve always believed that harm reduction is so important and I believe the way that society views addiction is so archaic, and I think it’s really important to change the narrative around addiction and how to deal with it. Because too many people are of the, “Well, just don’t do drugs,” school of thought, and that’s so harmful because an addict is going to do drugs regardless. And even taking addicts out of the equation, just people who party — I’ve had friends die that, like, did a line of coke and were drinking by themselves, and there was fentanyl in it and they overdosed. So it’s really important to me.

Darcy: Awesome. Thanks for sharing. That is a lot of personal involvement, to know people that have died. Like you said, whether it’s someone that uses regularly or someone that tried it for the first time or someone that just experimented, overdose prevention is for everyone. 

HVDES: Yeah. I also think that, as a whole, a lot of people really don’t understand how much danger they’re in when they’re doing drugs, especially if they’re just partying. Because I mean, I’m in recovery and I’ve been to treatment a couple of times, and before I ever got into doing opiates and stuff, I was just doing party drugs at the club. And I remember when I went to rehab, I literally thought I was different from everyone there because I didn’t do heroin or meth or whatever. I’m like, No, I just do party drugs. I’m not like you, that’s dirty. I had these weird biases against certain drugs. And I think a lot of people subconsciously have those biases, and they think, Oh, because I’m not a homeless junkie on the street that’s strung out on opiates, it’s not a risk for me. And I don’t think people actually understand how much danger they’re in. 

Especially now when [fentanyl] is literally in everything — because on the drug dealers’ side, stretching profit is always going to be something that they’re trying to do. So I think the majority of people that do party drugs, even, have probably already done drugs that are laced, and it just wasn’t something that was noticeable or actually ended up in an overdose. It’s just really important for people to be realistic about the risks they’re taking. And if they’re going to take that risk, that’s fine, but at least put yourself in a position where if you are partying, you have a way to prevent yourself from dying, because it’s dangerous out there.

Darcy: Yeah, there’s even stigmas within people who use, which is really interesting. But what I’m hearing out of everything you’re saying is there’s this underlying education that everyone should be aware of, just knowing the risks. How do you see End Overdose helping the people you’re talking about? Do you think that End Overdose has helped specifically people in the music scene, like people that use party drugs? Or how do you see harm reduction in general helping that?

HVDES: Yeah, I do think that trying to either shift or get rid of those biases [is important], because I know that I definitely used to feel that way. And also, people lie — I ended up doing opiates and painkillers and things like that, and the guy that was selling me the drugs told me that he had tested them and there was no fentanyl in them. I didn’t realize that there was fentanyl in the drugs that I was doing until I did real oxys and actually tried heroin, and I was like, Oh, this is not nearly as strong as the pills that I’ve been doing. That freaked me out, because this was somebody I had been friends with for five, six years. I think that was a really important realization for me, that people will lie to you to make money off of you. And I think a lot of times when you party with people, you can mistake the relationship for being a lot more real or close than it seems to be. 

[Harm reduction] is a really important way to cover your bases. And I think making it more approachable and making it more of a normalized dialogue is — the way that you guys do it is really awesome. Even just the branding and the people that are involved, and you and Theo [Krzywicki, End Overdose CEO] and everyone, are just relatable, you know? Yes, there’s the people on the very extreme sides that are using opiates every day and are IV drug users, but I think the majority of drug users are not that. The majority of drug users and recreational drug users are just normal ass people that have jobs. So I think it’s important to make that clear that it doesn’t discriminate, and everyone should be aware of it. 

Darcy: Totally. One of my favorite parts about working for this org is the neutral stance of End Overdose. We are here to provide overdose prevention education to whomever and not really judging. We’re not exactly a sober group, and we’re not pro or con, just neutral. And that’s the best way to help everyone. But how do you see us improving, to continue to destigmatize this conversation? What would you want to do in future collaborations with us to continue this progress of making sure that everyone knows that, just because you’re learning about drug safety and overdose education, you’re not being stigmatized for that, you’re not being called a drug user?

HVDES: It’s tough because I think it’s a lack of education. I think that this rhetoric around casual drug use, and even real drug addiction, was only starting to shift in the last 10 years. I think people are becoming a bit more self-aware. I know there’s obviously many people that don’t have self-awareness, but I think as a whole, society is beginning to become a little bit more aware of ourselves, our brains, psychology. I mean, psychology itself is a relatively new field of science, comparatively… So I think that it’s just a slow change that happens over time that will eventually be phased out after a couple generations. Even my parents — my parents never understood addiction and didn’t understand how to be supportive when I was struggling. It was mostly just like, “Why are you doing this? You shouldn’t be doing this.” And it’s like, “OK, well, I am, so…” You know what I mean? 

I don’t really know exactly what the answer is to that. But I think just continuing to talk about it and continuing to disarm people that are trying to argue about it with compassion, and understanding that they believe what they believe because they’ve been exposed to certain things and probably haven’t experienced any sort of party culture or drug culture or drug addiction. It’s just a level of ignorance. I think people get really emotional about things and they’re so quick to just be like, “You’re wrong! Fuck you, you’re a bad person! You don’t get it,” and then try to make them look stupid online. And it’s like, these people can usually be disarmed and taught something and change their perspective as long as you approach them with compassion and not be an asshole about it, you know?

Darcy: I hear you talking about empathy and compassion and just having a deeper understanding for people, and that really ties well into my next question. What progress have you seen specifically in our community since you first collaborated with us? Because you’ve been a long time supporter of us, which is awesome — have you seen a lot of changes?

HVDES: Oh, my god, yeah. Literally insane amounts of change, and it’s so amazing to see. I remember when I first started working with you guys and I started talking to Theo about how important it is to bring this into the more mainstream rave scene, making it available and making it an open dialogue that people aren’t ashamed to seek support on or have resources for. Because it’s very silly to just ignore the problem. I was like, “I really want this to be like a part of not just the rave scene, but the greater festival scene as a whole.” Because it is a party culture. We’d be lying to ourselves if we said that it wasn’t. A lot of people are using drugs recreationally, so why not acknowledge that this is a real thing that happens and make it easier for people to have that buffer so it’s not a life or death type situation?

But there was just so much red tape in the beginning. I remember I had talked to a couple people and I kind of got shut down pretty quickly, because I obviously don’t work for Insomniac and I don’t work for these bigger companies that are involved in making these things happen. So at that point I was kind of just like, “OK, well, I’m just going to keep spreading the message and keep working with you guys,” and there was really nothing else that I could do on my end as an artist other than just using my platform. But that’s why I’m so grateful for Lauren [Waggoner, at Insomniac] — I love her so much and I’m so grateful that she really pushed hard to make this happen, because that’s something I’d been wanting to see so badly. And even just your presence there is helpful to shifting that dialogue.

Darcy: Yeah, 100%. It’s been a long time coming and, honestly, Insomniac was such a pioneer in overdose prevention, education, and just being the first really big event company to partner with us. I know you name dropped Lauren — Lauren is awesome. She’s our Brand Manager at Insomniac.

HVDES: Yeah, she’s the best.

Darcy: I think since we started collaborating, you’ve seen the entire journey of End Overdose starting to work with these big names in the industry, like Insomniac, AEG, and Goldenvoice. I’m so grateful to our partners for taking that risk and being the first ones to speak out and give the people access to things like Narcan education, and Narcan just for free. But I wanted to tie into what you said more about how you as an artist supported us — how do you think your fans in particular reacted to you working with us, and just overdose response and prevention in general? What do you think was the general reaction?

HVDES: I think the majority of people were really stoked, especially my fans that have been around since before I got sober. There’s been a lot of new people since then, but I was obviously very miserable and really chaotic in a bad way, and I think a lot of people knew that. I didn’t try to hide it or anything, and I really subscribed to that whole archetype of the fucked up artist that’s just so tortured and miserable, and doesn’t care whether they live or die or whatever. That was kind of my whole personality for a while. So I think when that did shift, people were really stoked because not only was seeing me happier and healthier good for them and made them feel good, but also because my music I think got better because I wasn’t fucked up all the time. But it still didn’t change the core message of my music, my music is still really dark, so I think a lot of people saw that it doesn’t have to affect your creativity.

And then I think as a whole, working with you guys, I feel like the majority of people have been very supportive and really stoked on it. I’m willing to bet the majority of people anybody knows has been affected by overdose related deaths or incidents at some point in their life. I think that if you just take a second to think about that, that is fucking insane. That’s really fucked up that that is one of the leading causes of death of people of our age group. To even just take a second to absorb that as a fact is so terrifying. So I think the majority of people were very cool about it. I mean, every now and then, you’re obviously going to have the person that’s like, “Just stop doing drugs,” but I think, again, the best way to deal with them is just to be like, “Hey, I understand what you’re saying, but here’s why you’re wrong.” And not in a mean way, but just a compassionate, “I hope that helps a bit.” The majority of the time, people are pretty responsive to that, because they’re surprised that you’re not like, “Shut up, you’re stupid.” Because that’s how the internet works.

Darcy: Yeah. Or surprised that you’re even acknowledging them and responding, because a lot of people probably comment on your stuff and think that you’re not reading it. But ultimately, I love how you’re trying to become part of the solution by responding to people who kind of go with the narrative of, “Don’t do drugs,” or “If you do drugs, that’s a risk you’re willing to take.”

HVDES: Yeah, exactly.

Darcy: Good for you for responding with that empathy and compassion. I love how you described how your creativity was not affected and your fans totally agreed with that. That that hasn’t changed your internal messaging as an artist, that’s really, really cool.

HVDES: I also think that one of the things that drew me to the rave scene so much, and just festival culture in electronic music, is PLUR and the whole message of that. I thought it was such a beautiful thing, because it’s like, “Let’s take care of each other.” Obviously when you have something as mainstream and as big as EDM has become, there’s a lot of people that don’t carry that message. But I think the majority of people are inherently good and want to see that for each other. And I think, what better way to promote that than to promote taking care of each other? Even if you think doing drugs is wack and you have all the biases in the world against people who use drugs — let’s say you’re the biggest hater of people that party. Still, having Narcan on you or carrying naloxone and understanding what overdoses look like could literally save somebody’s life, even if you’re just walking down the street. 

So I think it’s just a really cool way to also carry the message of PLUR. I think electronic music and festival culture is really what a lot of other areas of music are modeling their festivals after and are following the precedent of what rave culture has built, so I think just carrying that message and continuing to do what you guys do is going to leak into other areas of music, because it already has in so many other ways.

Darcy: Totally. I love that you brought that up. I think we’ve made so much headway in success in getting Narcan and naloxone into these communities because of PLUR culture. Obviously we do work with other types of music — we do rock and punk and occasionally rap shows. And just the overwhelming support that we get at EDM shows — people are now coming to raves and stopping at the water station and End Overdose first. We’re like an essential stop before people go rave, and I think that’s just so cool. And I completely agree with you on the PLUR side of things. It boils down to literally, “Let’s just take care of one another.” It could happen anywhere. It could happen in your house, it could happen at a restaurant, it could happen on the street, and it could happen at a music festival. It just really comes down to a little bit of kindness and wanting to look out for one another, and it just takes two minutes to learn how to save a life. 

HVDES: Absolutely. I love that that’s become kind of an essential thing for people going to festivals. And I think a lot of people at the end of the day want to feel like they’re good people, like they’re helping, like they’re doing something good for the community, and I think that’s a really good way to do that. People are stoked when they feel like they’re a part of change without having to do the really performative online posting and things like that. There’s a way that to be a part of the solution without being performative about it.

Darcy: Completely. There’s a lot of ways to support the causes that you are passionate about, and yeah, speaking out and using your platform obviously is one of them. But obviously, overdose and drug use is still very stigmatized — I get people that don’t want to post about it constantly. Obviously I do; I love it and it’s my passion. But there’s some of my friends that are like, “How do I support and not [publicly] associate myself [with drug use]?” Which obviously within itself is a bit of an issue. I wish that we were, as a society, moving towards being OK talking about this. But for people that may not be as ready, there’s always donating to the cause that you care about. Narcan is $50 over the counter; organizations like us give it to you for free. So donating or getting trained yourself, or sending the training link to a friend and saying, “Hey, get trained, learn how to use it and carry it on you” — there’s just so many ways to support. 

What would you say to your fans that want to help but don’t know how? 

HVDES: I mean, there’s so many different ways. I have a ton of fentanyl test strips that I just have on me — and obviously I don’t do drugs, I’m sober, so I never use them. So when I am with friends, I just give them out. Not even making it a thing and just being like, “Hey, have these.” Little things like that. I think obviously getting certified [is great], but just literally the smallest action… 

Darcy: Thank you so much for working with us and using your platform. You’re one of the biggest supporters of this. Obviously, I know you have your personal story with it, but just like we’ve been talking about, it can affect anyone. It does affect most people. It’s a preventable issue and no one else has to die if we just continue talking about it and get those resources out to people that need them. I think you’re really awesome for doing that, and I just want to thank you for talking about this with me.

HVDES: No, thank you for having me, dude. I really appreciate it. I really love what you guys do, and I really love the shift in the rhetoric that I’ve started to see. And I do think it’s a generational thing that’s going to take a long time and a lot of reframing of the dialogue. It’s a multi-pronged thing, right? Because it goes all the way up to the government and big pharma and how that’s contributed to the opioid epidemic. It’s like if you get a cut on your arm and it gets really infected and you just put a Band-Aid over it. It’s still this festering wound that is going to eventually get into your bloodstream and kill you. It’s kind of the same thing with harm reduction, because it’s a compromise. It’s saying, “OK, I don’t have the power to change this on a mass scale or on a governmental level and fix the problem. So what I can do is accept that this is the problem, and here’s how I can help it be less deadly and less problematic as a whole.” I think people that don’t have a platform or aren’t involved in government or legislation can feel powerless and they can feel like, “I have no control over this, I don’t fucking care. The world is just going to be what it is.” But [harm reduction] is part of the solution and what the individual person at any level of influence can be a part of.

Darcy: Totally. That’s something so big that I wish people felt. I think we’re getting there; we’re definitely making sure people feel individual responsibility. Every single person has the ability to take a Narcan training, learn how to use it. It’s not very hard — it’s just signs and symptoms, how to identify it, how to use that narcan, make sure medics are on their way, and then aftercare. If everyone did that, and if everyone carried Narcan, this simply would not be an issue anymore.

Supported by electronic and rock staples including deadmau5, Bring Me The Horizon, Senses Fail, Svdden Death, Kill The Noise, Of Mice & Men, and more, HVDES brings a blackhearted yet thrilling aura to the next generation of electronic and rock music. With deep roots in her local alternative and punk scenes, HVDES possesses a versatile grasp of music across the spectrum, beginning with her earliest talents as a classical pianist. Armed with her influences in the rock scene and a laptop, HVDES found her sound by expressing her authentic self — turning the darkest corners of her life into music. She offers a strikingly sinister sound that resonates on the dance floor and in the mosh pit. Much like the ruler of the underworld, the sheer intensity of HVDES’ trademark sound represents her fierce persona.

There’s a reason HVDES has released on labels such as Kannibalen, Bloodhoney, Monstercat, and more; she’s carved out a lane for herself and herself alone with her own gritty, raw, and signature style. In 2019, HVDES unleashed her Stand Alone Complex EP, embarked on her first international tour across China and has since toured across the U.S. In 2020, she released her pivotal song “Fallout” and in 2022, co-produced and co-wrote the major re-imagination by Bring Me The Horizon & Masked Wolf.

For the misfits and the misunderstood, HVDES delivers both a comforting and cutting-edge perspective on the dark side of life. Creating beauty where there’s pain, HVDES cuts deep in all the right places.