Since arriving in Las Vegas in 2011, Electric Daisy Carnival has quelled naysayers, battled Mother Nature and ballooned in size. As a veteran festival performer, I’ve followed Electric Daisy Carnival’s Las Vegas odyssey from atop a pair of stilts. Here’s a look back, plus—with a little help from Insomniac CEO Pasquale Rotella—a peek forward at this year’s festival.
The 2010 death of an underage EDC Los Angeles reveler led to a brief moratorium on future events at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. EDC needed a new home, and Las Vegas was hungry for the boost. It was time to pack up the Ferris wheel and head for the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “I’d been looking at Vegas for years,” Rotella says. “It was scary to take the chance. It felt like China for the dance community. It wasn’t a destination for dance culture. What put fire under my ass was that there were more challenges than ever [in L.A.]. I was gonna risk taking the leap.” Septuagenarian then-Mayor Oscar Goodman welcomed Insomniac with open arms, declaring EDC Week and flirting with attending himself. But not everyone shared Goodman’s sentiments. “People were on the fence,” Rotella remembers. “There were mixed emotions.” In advance of the first EDC Las Vegas, measures were taken to increase patron safety: The age minimum was raised to 18, electronic ID scanners were adopted, and free water stations dotted the speedway.
The Sophomore Effort
The EDMbiz Conference and Expo debuted in 2012 at the Cosmpolitan. “We don’t want to book the big guys,” Rotella said during a panel at the event. To find the not-yet-big guys, a DJ talent search called Discovery Project was launched. Meanwhile, Dutch company Q-Dance introduced its hard-style stage, and the second round of EDC seemed primed to be bigger than the first. But Mother Nature had other plans. High winds Saturday night made Rotella nervous. “Turning the button off was a challenge,” he says. “I know how important EDC is for people. I know they spend time and money to make the journey. I don’t want to take that away. I prayed the wind would die down. I waited as long as I could. But nothing is worth someone getting hurt.” No doubt he was thinking of the seven people killed when wind collapsed a stage in Indiana in 2011. EDC attendees were frustrated at having to evacuate Saturday night. But Insomniac demonstrated its commitment to safety.
Enter the Rainbow
With wind in mind, the 2013 installment of EDC was scheduled on a traditionally less gusty weekend later in June. Rotella, meanwhile, had grown the brand with a strategic partnership with Live Nation, and grown his family with a baby daughter, Rainbow, who inspired Insomiac’s costume department. “It was the biggest production we’ve done,” Rotella says. The stage was dominated by a 40-foot-tall owl—the EDC mascot—with a 70-foot wingspan. Sunday’s Night Owl Experience, with its special effects and hundreds of performers, was the most ambitious performance ever staged by Insomniac. “We were behind on certain things,” Rotella says. “Getting the doors open and being ready for everyone was the biggest challenge. Considering the record numbers, traffic was good, and the vibe was good.” On closing night, Rotella proposed to girlfriend Holly Madison atop the Ferris wheel. Love was in the air elsewhere too, as partygoers got hitched at EDC’s first onsite chapel.
… and beyond
Insomniac is full of surprises. This year will be no exception. “Art on every level is different,” Rotella teases. “We’ll have DJs who have never performed, art installations built just for EDC, stages that will premiere and more people. Every year, we have the opportunity to make it better, keep things innovative and exciting.” With the theatrical release of 3-D concert movie Under the Electric Sky, anticipation is at a fever pitch. What does the horizon hold? Will EDC ever outgrow the speedway? Considering that the speedway seats more than 150,000 patrons, and that Insomniac is rumored to have a 10-year contract with the venue (through 2022), EDC fans can get comfortable with the idea of returning to the racetrack. Will Rotella ever quit booking big-name, high-priced DJs? It remains to be seen, but dwarfing them with a giant blue owl and fostering the next generation of talent via Insomniac’s Discovery Project are moves in the right direction. “My passion is not selling tickets and making money,” Rotella has said. “I want to create an experience. The next move is to build a venue, sort of like a grown-up Disneyland.” Knowing Rotella, he’ll want to erect it on the moon.