Yeah, I remember the last time electronic music was supposed to take over America. Back in my day, in the 1990s, people called it “electronica,” and magazines like Rolling Stone were raving about pioneering British DJs/producers with names like Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers. I wasn’t immune from the hype, buying the Crystal Method’s CD Vegas and occasionally partying on the Strip at Club Utopia. But I soon realized that the pulsating untz untz untz and tension-and-release moments only annoyed me the longer I listened to them, no matter my level of sobriety.
Now, more than a decade later, electronic dance music is filling clubs, pools and coffers around the Valley, and DJs are becoming rock stars—two concepts as inexplicable to me as the popularity of the Kardashians. Still, I was intrigued when the Electric Daisy Carnival moved its colossal party from Los Angeles to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway last year, and vowed to attend this year’s dusk-to-dawn festivities.
• • •
It’s opening night, June 8. The Speedway is overwhelming. Beautiful, neon-clad women parade in bikinis, fishnet, pasties and other semi-attire. Notwithstanding the stripper-like attire and party drugs, the crowd is well-mannered. The event has an underlying carnal vibe, but it’s a polite carnal. With my drab wardrobe of T-shirt, cargo shorts and tennis shoes, I presume many in the crowd believe me to be an undercover cop.
I recognize a few names on the performer lineup—Will.i.am, Kaskade, Afrojack—but for all I know about their music, it might as well be Manny, Moe and Jack on the turntables. And I’m convinced more than half of the 100,000+ people at the Speedway can’t differentiate from one DJ to another.
I’m sure true EDM aficionados could have pointed out the nuances between each DJ’s set, but it all sounds like variations of the same song to me. I find this especially humorous when a DJ announces, “Here’s my latest single,” then proceeds to play pretty much the same thing he played a minute earlier.
And even though this is supposed to be dance music, there’s not much uninhibited dancing going on. Instead, many audience members face the stage and pump their fists mechanically as if following instructions. As someone who usually can’t remain still during live-music performances, I don’t hear one song that compels me to do so much as tap a toe.
That’s not to say that the night is without highlights. Around 2 a.m., I venture deep into the crowd at the Circuit Grounds stage, where the British group Above & Beyond is entertaining the masses with trance (at least that’s what someone tells me they’re playing). Behind the crowd, the Serpent Mother, a 168-foot sculpture of a snake protecting its egg, shoots flames from its metal vertebrae, while the El Pulpo mecanico, a 26-foot-tall steampunk octopus, discharges flames from its tentacles. Adding to the sensory overload, the sky erupts into a kaleidoscopic 15-minute fireworks show, giving a celebratory lift to the evening. And the adjacent carnival rides completed the colorful scene, with those riding the Ferris wheel getting the best views of the entire spectacle.
I make my way back to the media center at the Speedway’s Neon Garage. From the third-floor patio, the music from EDC’s seven stages bleeds together, creating a nightmarish cacophony that sounds like the seventh circle of hell.
As I leave the Speedway, I come to the conclusion that, for me, EDC is like a child—better seen and not heard. It’s sweet to behold, but the music still strikes me as soulless bleeps and blips for a generation that grew up on computers and videogames. As for me, I have just one thought in mind as the sun’s rays begin to peek over the eastern skyline: I can’t hear a guitar soon enough.