Electric Flower Power

Insomniac founder Pasquale Rotella tracks the evolution of the techno party

I grew up in L.A., and my father was gone quite a bit. He was in the television industry, and the tight schedules of shows like Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers and The Greatest American Hero kept me in somewhat of a paternal role in aid of my mother, who was rearing what would end up totaling five children. Having been burdened with so much responsibility at such a young age, my parents felt I had proven myself trustworthy by the time I entered my early teens, and allowed me to come and go as I pleased, sans curfew, as long as I stayed safe and let them know where I was.

Come Saturday night, I was in downtown Los Angeles, attending what was then regarded as an underground party scene, but was later labeled the “rave” scene.

An episode of Beverly Hills 90210 cast a negative light on my Saturday night pastime of choice, complete with preposterous egg exchanges, abundant n’er-do-wells, and some sort of love drug called “euphoria.”

The reality was far more enlightened, and each week brought a new adventure, starting with the purchasing of tickets at a secret map point (usually on Melrose Avenue), continuing with a long, camaraderie-stoking drive in the car, and culminating with a grand celebration that didn’t let up until dawn.

The parties were held in all sorts of places: abandoned warehouses (Saturnalia), water parks (Mickey’s Holy Water Adventure), shopping malls (Love II), you name it. Regardless of venue, the space was usually separated into two areas—one where a DJ would play funk and disco (which inspired my career path later in life), and a second, more popular section that featured electronic music, which we called “techno.”

My partner in crime during this era was a man named Pasquale Rotella, whom most in the industry know as the owner of Insomniac Productions, and the mastermind behind what have grown into the biggest electric musical festivals in the country, including Nocturnal Wonderland, Together As One and the Electric Daisy Carnival.

It’s amazing to me that the little parties we attended every weekend evolved into massive events with tens of thousands of people in attendance, world-renowned talent and millions of dollars in revenue. Still, I’m not surprised at Rotella’s role in its success, as he is a businessman with a heart and, at the end of the day, a fan with passion for music, community and experience.

The 2009 Electric Daisy Carnival in L.A. drew 135,000 attendees, and the brand has now expanded to reach three other locations (Denver, Dallas and Puerto Rico). As the man at the helm, Rotella couldn’t be any busier, yet he took the time to sit down, reminisce and ponder the future of his electronic flower.

Graham Funke: As the ’90s progressed, a lot of those party people, myself included, moved on to other interests—yet you started a weekly party called Insomniac. What was it about that era that kept you inspired, and inspired to pick up the torch?

Pasquale Rotella: It was a unique environment for me because growing up in L.A., originally living in Venice and hanging out with the people I hung out with, people were very standoffish, and sometimes put up fronts. The thing that grabbed me at the parties was the vibe between people—walking into a room where people weren’t caring about how they were dancing, and not even caring that they weren’t dancing with someone else—and the energy behind the music. The combination was something that was impactful to me.

GF: Perhaps something that will manifest at this weekend’s Electric Daisy Carnival. What’s in store for everybody?

PR: We’ve been doing the show since 1993 and never have we done a production like this before—it’s far beyond anything that we’ve ever done. I’ve traveled the world, and checked out dance events, and I’ve never been to anything … like what we’re putting together. I don’t want to talk about anything specific, but I’m excited for it all. The production level is just beyond anything we’ve ever done. In every category, it’s doubled, if not tripled. You’re coming, right Graham?

GF: No, dude. I perform in Kansas City on Friday and St. Louis on Saturday.

PR: You never come! How can I get you to come? Do I have to book you to perform?

GF: Yes. Looking back on our teens, I realize that it was the overall experience that attracted me every week; not who was performing. Sure, the music was important, but really just part of a bigger package. What about you?

PR: The music was the huge draw for me back in the day—I didn’t know who the DJs were, or even who the producers were, but I knew the only place I could find that sound was at these events. Maybe I didn’t know what to call it, or who to give credit to, but I knew that I liked it, and it got me hyped. I think that’s why I kept going and a lot of people didn’t. So yes, the environment and the spectacle of the event was something that lured me in, but it was the soundtrack to my experience that made for a complete package. It wasn’t attributed to any one thing; it was the music, the people, the vibe, the specialness of what was going on. That environment opened my ears to the music.

GF: And now Insomniac is the name in this industry, Pasquale Rotella is a success! You’ve set North American attendance records, you’ve turned down offers from major concert promoters, you have an international following. Where is this headed?

PR: I’m always looking toward perfecting, I’m always striving to do better, to do the best event I can. And there’s always something more that I can do. Many people have told me that I should, but I’ve never sat back and said, “I did it.”

GF: You’re still hungry for it.

PR: Yeah, I love it. I really enjoy it. There’s a lot of good stories, we’ve touched a lot of people in positive ways. It sparks, opens something in their minds to get creative and it inspires them to pursue those dreams.

Visit electricdaisycarnival.com for more information about the upcoming Electric Daisy Carnival, or insomniac.com for details about Rotella’s other upcoming events