Two years after my first visit to Electric Daisy Carnival, I still remember the first person I met that strange, mystical night. He was part cowboy, part clown—a living cartoon who greeted me as I took my first tentative steps into the Speedway. Then, with a totally straight face, he offered to hose me down.
I can’t remember who I heard spin that night, but the cowboy—undoubtedly getting paid a fraction of the DJs’ salaries—made a lasting impression. My EDC memories all lean that way: interaction over soundtrack, anonymous performers over A-list names.
“I hear that from fans all the time,” says EDC founder Pasquale Rotella. “A lot of people are getting into dance music now, which is a beautiful thing, but they tend to want to treat it like rock ’n’ roll and hip-hop. I think we’re getting the message across slowly. It’s all about the experience. It’s all about the people. The music being good is a given.”
To create the kind of experience that will bring more than 300,000 attendees to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway over three nights, Rotella and Insomniac Entertainment Director Jila Alaghamandan enlist expert stage designers and engineers, artists in a variety of mediums and an army of more than 500 performers. They commission installations, like the 130-foot daisy that’s become a landmark on the festival grounds, and with lights, rides, pyrotechnics and interactive artworks, transform the desert racetrack into a fantasy world of strange, glowing sights that grow out of the earth like a mirage.
This year, Rotella says, some of the stages will be art pieces in their own right, “on a scale that’s never been done before,” and the people playing those stages will be different, as well—or at least will be in different places. Last year, at the EDMbiz convention that coincides with EDC Las Vegas, Rotella set off a minor scandal when he said, “Our strategy moving forward is we don’t want to book the [big] guys.” This year, he clarifies that position: “I don’t want the same 10 guys to keep playing the same stage at my shows. ... We’re trying to get away from the whole ‘main stage’ thing, and all the same guys want to play the main stage. I’m putting a techno guy; I’m putting Richie Hawtin; I’m putting Carl Cox.”
During and in between their sets, festival-goers encounter high-flying aerialists, trampoline artists in full-body spandex and character performers that wander the grounds in rich, shimmering costumes that would feel perfectly at home on a Cirque du Soleil stage. Alaghamandan runs this motley band of eccentrics, and her marching orders are simple.
“The note that I give them every time is the same. ‘Our job here is this: We are here because we have more fun than you and we would like to show you how,’” she says. “We set out to show people how to have fun and make that happen.”
Some performers rotate through the stages, adding a visual jolt to DJ sets in front of towering walls of light. Others wander free, offering to spray down the odd journalist.
“With our particular show, it’s a little bit different in that they’re given the freedom to become their characters and be whatever they want,” Alaghamandan explains. “There’s no set script for them. We try to create an immersive experience.”
This weekend, more than 300,000 people will be immersed in what Alaghamandan calls “a proper adult theme park.” Rotella has one final piece of advice for the fans anxiously anticipating their walk down the Speedway stairs: “It’s not about going and finding your place at the front of the concert barricade and you wait to be entertained. It’s about dancing, exploring, listening to the great music, expressing your personality.
“We provide the platform for people to have a good time. The rest is in their hands.”