Introducing Kandi kids, a wholesome subculture birthed out of the American rave scene

By Malavika Pradeep

Published Jul 1, 2021 at 12:12 PM

Reading time: 4 minutes

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To date, Screen Shot has broken down a long list of internet aesthetics and subcultures. Be it kidcore or dark academia, all of these have one thing in common: a community with specific customs, activities and even Spotify playlists. But what if there is a community out there based entirely around a piece of DIY jewellery—in turn curating a movement with a dedicated handshake? Introducing Kandi kids, one of the most wholesome subcultures to have risen from the American rave scene. From beats to beads, here’s everything you need to know about the subculture’s evolution.

What is Kandi?

With enough evidence to trace its origins back to the 90s, ‘Kandi’ (pronounced like ‘candy’) is a piece of jewellery DIY-ed out of colourful pony beads. Although these chunky beads are strung together to make everything from wrist cuffs and face masks to full-fledged tops and hats, one of the most common forms of Kandi is the Kandi bracelet.

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Typically threaded on an elastic string, Kandi bracelets are made and worn by ravers themselves. Letter beads (used to spell out names or phrases) and charms (sometimes even resembling a pacifier) are also strung along to make these bracelets unique. Although pony beads are said to be the best beads to make Kandi bracelets with—given their inexpensiveness, availability of colours and ease of handling—acrylic, UV and styrene beads are alternative options suggested. The elastic string can also be substituted with a crystal beading string, a type of invisible string that won’t interfere with the colours of the beads. Clasps can also be added instead of merely knotting the ends of the string after making.

Kandi bracelets are also known for their versatility, you can wear just one bracelet on either hand or stack up multiple ones for a dramatic effect. They can also be stitched into a cuff—a style of Kandi bracelet where multiple ones are woven together so that the strands won’t separate. A Kandi cuff would therefore be one wide Kandi bracelet rather than four thin ones sitting on top of each other. While Kandi cuffs are harder to make than regular bracelets, ravers are also known to craft 3D Kandi cuffs. This style sometimes even takes them up to 18 hours to make.

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So, what are Kandi kids?

Also known as ‘Candy Ravers’ or ‘Kandi Ravers’, Kandi kids are a subculture consisting of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) enthusiasts. Having dedicated aliases or ‘rave names’, Kandi kids profess their love for both techno and happy hardcore sub-genres of EDM. At raves, they are the ones with the highest spirits—talking to everyone and making friends along the way.

In terms of their visual preferences, they are often seen wearing neon and rainbow colours, sparkles, feathers, coloured chains and most importantly: Kandi bracelets. When it comes to their fashion choices, they generally don children’s clothing (Scooby-Doo, Hello Kitty and Invader Zim imagery), coupled with baggy pants or skirts with colourful, thigh-high stockings. Plushies or stuffed animals are also part of their visual inventory. Kandi kids are spotted carrying plushie backpacks filled with an assortment of things like toys and candies to not only entertain themselves but others around them.

According to an entry in Urban Dictionary, the subculture features clothing so “outlandish” that one may think they have roots in the Harajuku district of Japan. Kandi kids are also labelled as “druggies,” considering their controversial history with selling and ingesting MDMA. “But in truth, many choose to get high off of the music instead of the drugs,” an entry on the platform reads. The ideal example of a Kandi kid, in this regard, is said to be featured in the movie A Midsummer Night’s Rave. “The blond girl who talks insanely fast is a Kandi kid,” a user summed up.

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Kandi bracelets and the PLUR handshake

Stacking both their cheerful attitude and Kandi bracelets, Kandi kids are well-known for a specific ritual within the community. This is also the entire purpose behind crafting Kandi bracelets: swapping. Exchanging Kandi bracelets has become a norm within the subculture. Anyone spotted wearing one of these bracelets at raves or other festivals are automatically perceived as a friend.

Each kandi trade represents a memory of the person who traded it to you,” said Andreas George, a DJ based in the San Fernando Valley. In an interview with LA Weekly, George explained how wearing these bracelets essentially meant wearing their past memories and experiences with their fellow ravers. In this regard, Kandi kids don’t necessarily make Kandi bracelets for themselves—but for others they hope to meet and bond with at the next rave.

Furthermore, the swap is done with a unique gesture known as the ‘PLUR handshake’. PLUR (an acronym for Peace Love Unity and Respect) is a term coined by the New York-based techno DJ Frankie Bones. The legend goes something like this: on 24 July 1993, a fight broke out during a rave in the Bronx. The participants then spilled onto the deck Bones was playing on. He then grabbed the microphone and yelled angrily, “You better start showing some peace, love and unity or I will break your fucking faces.” The story went on to grip the early rave scenes as a movement in itself.

The PLUR handshake usually involves two participants holding one set of hands while facing each other. They then form the peace sign using their index and middle finger while saying the word “Peace,” form a heart while whispering “Love,” lay their palms flat against each other while shouting “Unity” and proceed to intertwine their fingers before asserting “Respect.” Holding this position, one of the Kandi kids then slides the bracelet from their wrist to the others. The second raver then exchanges another bracelet in the same manner. They hug it out and move on—carrying the bond with them forever.

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A beaded timeline

Although Kandi is backed with one of the most wholesome messages and gestures in the rave scene, it is not perceived that way by all. According to a myth, Kandi bracelets were introduced to the scene by drug dealers. “Candy” used to be a slang term for cocaine, which these sellers are said to have reappropriated into “Kandi.”

Majorly worn by dealers, these bracelets were perceived as a visual signatory that they had drugs for sale. Stacked sky high on their wrists, dealers would usually wave their arms to blend in with the crowd. Those in the know would easily spot the colourful bracelets and buy some of their products. The beads of the bracelets were also leveraged to hide small LSD and ecstasy pills to avoid confrontations with the law.

Over time, however, the myth has been dispelled from the rave culture altogether. It has instead manifested into a desirable and wholesome ritual—gripping even the uninitiated into perfecting the PLUR handshake. So, be it for the beats or the beads, Kandi bracelets have essentially spearheaded the exchange of tangible memories of special events. Something we’re presently calling “friendship bracelets.”

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