How a Techno Snob Fell in Love With EDCArticle by: Ross Gardiner|@rossgardinerman
Thu May 17, 2018 | 09:15 AM
It was exactly 1:21 am on Sunday night that the Rave Kool-Aid finally took hold. Standing in the center of the LED embrace of the circuitGROUNDS stage, the sky burst to life with fireworks, as it had every night, and Santa Barbara trance lord Seven Lions was making the collective skin tingle and arms raise. Around us, there were ravers young and old, reeling in awe at the transcendent power of dance music and laser beams for the first time. And in that moment — all PLUR’d out of my damn mind — it was difficult to understate the towering influence that Electric Daisy Carnival
has on the culture.
This was the 21st edition of Insomniac’s flagship event. Since moving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas seven years ago, the event has grown to become one of the largest electronic music festivals in the world, attracting almost 450,000 people to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway over three extremely hot nights in June.
The absolute apex of EDM culture, EDC is garish yet staggering, overwhelming and somehow intimate. With 12 stages hosting 230 acts, including usual big room suspects like Martin Garrix, Diplo, Above & Beyond, and house and techno brands Paradise, Drumcode and Moodzone, the festival continues to spread itself generously across the mainstream and underground. The only requisite being that it needs to be hard.
While EDM festival lineups are largely interchangeable and increasingly forgettable, the levels of production on display at EDC far surpass anything else in the world. Pasquale Rotella’s vision of a neon-basted ravetopia makes just about every other festival look like a casual barbecue. At this point he’s really just playing against himself. This year’s elaborate production theme on the kineticFIELD main stage was Gaia, the primal goddess of life. Flanked on either side by the creepy Insomniac owls, Gaia had an LED screen heart that would open and close, and her opening ceremony each night was like the prologue to a hardstyle opera of Lord of the Rings. The aforementioned circuitGROUNDS remained unchanged from last year — and should remain unchanged forever — while the fire-breathing bassPOD was making its final appearance, and the Ancient Greek-themed wasteLAND is still the impressively nightmarish.
This year also saw them step up their art car game, bringing back Boombox, Parliament, and even bringing Everfest mainstays Desert Hearts
in to do an unprecedented 11-hour takeover of the Kalliope car on Friday.
“Our vibe is marathon style,” said Desert Hearts’ Mikey Lion. “Having almost 11 hours at EDC was great, because we got to program the vibe exactly as we wanted it and to manage the ebb and flow of the evening.” Kalliope was in a broad walkway between kineticFIELD and the cosmicMEADOW, which seemed to have been downsized slightly but still had its lush and cooling knoll to collect plenty of cuddle puddles.
The climate was hostile this year. The asphalt of the speedway had been absorbing heat all day, and even at night the temperatures stayed consistently around the 100°F mark. The festival sadly reported one death. A 34-year-old male from Thousand Oaks, California, died on Saturday morning, from suspected dehydration. While the immovable benchmark for safety is getting through the weekend without such tragedy, it should be said that there is perhaps no festival that goes to such great lengths—and expense—to ensure the safety of their fans.
Spearheaded by their widely respected health and safety expert Maren Steiner, and supported by Stefanie Jones of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and Missi Wooldridge of Healthy Nightlife, this year’s event felt significantly safer than previous years, despite the soaring temperatures. Due to the highly dangerous NASCAR and drag racing that typically inhabits the Speedway, there’s a sophisticated hospital on-site at EDC. With around 400 Ground Control volunteer staff, 600 security guards, 150 police officers, and a harm reduction safe space from the DPA and the Zendo Project, Insomniac have created different layers of health and safety, and that really is a high benchmark for the festival industry.
“We’ve really found that the people of EDC really look out for each other and make sure that they’re keeping one another safe ,” said Stefanie Jones, who is the director of Audience Development at the DPA, and herself a longtime festival-goer. “It might be a little cliched, but the ethos of PLUR runs really strongly through this event and very much works in our favor when it comes to making sure that the audience has informed autonomy over their own decisions.”
While the DPA worked closely with the festival to weave safety messaging into the promotional content, they lead this year with the mantra “All Are Welcome Here,” an updated PLUR for the marginalized, post-Trump dance head. The yellow, ravey “All Are Welcome Here” banners were ubiquitous around the festival site, and Insomniac really judged the mood of its audience well in the build up to the festival. There was a palpable feeling of catharsis on the dance floor all weekend, and I recall seeing pent up energy of the first fans who streamed into the festival site on Friday.
“People come here to forget about all the troubles and turmoil that they might be experiencing in their lives,” said Michael Diccicco, Insomniac's VP of Marketing and Media Planning. “We released the festival promo video about a week after the election, and we really tried to convey a sense of tension, because we could feel it in the community. We knew that EDC was going to mean a lot to our fans this year.”
That cathartic release and the feeling of shared responsibility to love and look out for one another will be my prevailing memory from EDC. When festival snobs or underground bores — I consider myself to be both of those things — take shots at EDC for being the absolute pinnacle of the decadent, mono-emotive and unsustainable rave culture, it’s important to remember that this is the biggest factory for the electronic music and festival scenes. Everyone starts somewhere, and each year this festival takes thousands of giddy young people, dips them in glitter, slaps a couple of pasties on them, and rolls them off the assembly line and into our marketplace, where many stay and mature for the rest of their lives. If EDC suddenly ceased to exist, its impact would be felt far beyond the Las Vegas economy. It would severely hamper the long-term developments of our industry at almost every single level.
Are there ways it could improve? Of course. There still are nowhere near enough women on the lineup, and Insomniac has enough influence to change that at a grassroots level. Safety still isn’t quite where it needs to be yet, and people still go harder than they really need to. There’s very little house music, which would be a nice break from the intensity. And does it have to be in June? But for sheer spectacle, influence and elation, nothing quite comes close to EDC Las Vegas.
This article was originally published in June 2017.