The first Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas took place June 24-26, 2011. It attracted an estimated 230,000 people to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, about 15 miles northeast of the Strip, for three epic nights of dance music-powered revelry. All the biggest DJs of the day performed, mainstream stars like David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia, Steve Aoki, Calvin Harris and Paul Oakenfold, and more underground acts like Roger Sanchez, Richie Hawtin, Donald Glaude and Green Velvet. There festivities also included live acts like Empire of the Sun and Plastikman and celebrities like Paris Hilton and Flavor Flav.
EDC was the first large-scale Las Vegas music festival to find consistent success. Today it’s recognized as one of the destination’s huge annual events and a massive weekend for general tourism and entertainment—not to mention the biggest electronic dance music festival in North America—but 10 years ago, nothing was guaranteed.
“I’ll never forget the first year coming to Vegas, because it was a big unknown, how successful it was going to be,” says Pasquale Rotella, founder of the festival’s parent company, Insomniac. “It was the type of event that people misunderstood or didn’t know anything about, and it was a huge milestone, making that move. And there just had not been successful festivals [in Vegas] that came back and lasted more than a couple years.”
Rotella relocated EDC from LA after 15 years of parties that started with a 6,000-person event at the Shrine Expo Hall in 1997. Although the festival had already expanded with new events around the country a decade before its flagship landed in Las Vegas, Insomniac’s primary mission in 2011 was maintaining the big one—which is why it landed in Las Vegas.
“EDC would not be what it is today without the support of Las Vegas,” Rotella says. “The infrastructure … and the city’s experiences lend itself to be able to host these mass gatherings, and all the support we get from everyone in the city, there’s just nothing like it. We produce festivals all over the world, and none of them are like EDC Las Vegas.”
With the festival’s grand return October 22-24 at the Speedway, Insomniac will celebrate 25 years of Electric Daisy Carnival and 10 in Las Vegas, unique anniversaries made all the more momentous by the challenges and circumstances presented over the past 20 months.
In late February 2020, the lineup of artists was announced for last year’s event, which was then postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Originally slated for May 15-17 2020, it was first pushed to October 2020, and then to May 2021. And then on April 20, with the event just a month away, Insomniac announced that the changing restrictions on event capacities and safety rules would require another move to the fall.
Through all the upheaval and uncertainty, many of the festival’s fans—long referred to by Insomniac as “headliners,” signifying that the party people are the stars of the show—maintained their connection to the event that means so much to so many. It’s not just a massive rave in the desert with all the flashing lights and bass-pumping music one can imagine. It’s a ritualistic gathering, a way to connect with friends and strangers.
Rotella says he was reminded of the festival’s social significance over and over throughout the pandemic. “I’ve always known these events mean a lot to people, and it gives them energy and strength in their everyday lives.
“The amount of personal messages I received in the last two years, people going through stuff and needing these events, really strengthened what I already knew,” he continues. “This community brings a lot of value and happiness to people’s lives, and that impact is why I kept pushing and fighting to open up as soon as possible. It gave me a sense of purpose, and I’m grateful for that.”
Looking ahead to this comeback festival, it’s safe to say there will be two years’ worth of surprises in store for the returning headliners. The physical footprint has been expanded, after Insomniac received the green light to replace permanent RV hookups—long an obstacle for the fest inside the Speedway—with equipment that can be reinstalled, creating the largest EDC ever.
There will be two new wedding chapels with technology and nature themes, for those who want to take those festival connections to the next level. There will be new art and new artists, and the awe-inspiring visuals and stage production setups will be brighter than ever before, since EDC has never before been held in the darkness of October.
Looking back at the past decade, during which Electric Daisy Carnival joined forces with Las Vegas to become the world-renowned event it is today, Rotella says he has many standout memories. Among his favorites are the addition of Camp EDC in 2018, “which was important, because a lot of people said their least favorite part of the experience was going back and forth,” he says. “To be able to live onsite for four days and what that turned into, with 30,000 people out there [camping] and pool parties and really transforming the lot, that was a big moment.”
Adding roads within the temporary town that is the festival grounds was another significant and convenient development, and there’s extra affection attached to the Rainbow Road and Pixel Forest areas for Rotella, since those are named after his children, now 8 and 5 years old.
It’s difficult to overstate the impact EDC and Vegas have had upon one another. After five annual festivals at the Speedway—and after EDC 2015 attracted more than 400,000 attendees to make it the biggest weekender in the country—the event was estimated to have generated $1.3 billion for the local economy. Insomniac’s global expansion for various events and new endeavors in the music industry and other branches of entertainment reached an all-time high during EDC’s Vegas run.
“We’ve been doing our best to entertain people through everything that’s been going on when things were on pause, some drive-thru and online events, and we’re still working on new things to entertain people in different ways,” Rotella says. “But EDC is the largest event in the Insomniac portfolio, and it’s all been leading up to this. We refer to it as our New Year’s or our Mardi Gras. We can feel the energy and excitement going up as we get closer. We’ve been out there setting up, and we’re just ready to go.”