This weekend, I missed Electric Daisy Carnival for the 10th year in a row. But while I've never been to EDC, I figured I'd been there. Yet as reports from this year's fest, allegedly the largest single festival day in America, start to filter in, I'm wondering if maybe I've missed out. Where else can you find 90,000 ravers and so little clothing.
Of course, we all feel like we've been to that rave. Thanks to the '90s coverage from scene staples like (my now employer) URB Magazine, it was easy to envision the sort of colorful and druggy rituals taking place on a massive scale each weekend in Southern California. And it's not like my hometown of Detroit didn't have it's own scene. But we certainly had nothing like the tens-of-thousands kids who came together each weekend out west. So I traveled. I went to Winter Music Conference in Miami, the annual industry bacchanal that takes place in clubs across South Beach. I went to Love Parade in Berlin, where over 1 million people flood the streets and techno blasts from sparkling floats. I hit up Sonar--where an entirely more sophisticated form of "smart" electronic music is celebrated by large numbers of hard partying Europeans. But nothing I've seen quite relates to Electric Daisy Carnival--a heady mix of Cirque du Sole stage production, technicolor party people, DJs in t-shirts and lots of young adults from across the cultural spectrum having way too much fun.
In a perfect world, Electric Daisy would represent the ideal model for future music festivals. It's run by an independent promoter--Pasquale Rotella--who operates outside the giant corporations that control much of the American live music scene. It takes place in a much maligned older venue--the magnificent LA Sports Coliseum, which has endured controversy in recent years as its own USC football team threatens to relocate--rather than a newly minted (and pricey) McStadium. And It attracts a vastly diverse ethnic audience, despite the overwhelming whiteness of the performers--global mega-stars like Paul Van Dyk, Paul Oakenfold and The Crystal Method.
What's most impressive is that an event like EDC can take place at all. It doesn't feel so long ago that "raves" were public enemy number one, with the R.A.V.E. Act (Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act) all but making large scale electronic music events illegal across the land. But as has been proven time and time again--whatever heats up the culture wars in one era will eventually cool down. I expect some authority backlash if these sorts of massive scale parties continue to grow un-abetted, but perhaps the American government finally has more important things to handle than Congressional acts of buzz killing.
Another thing to consider is the tides of popular culture. The early '00s made dance music passé with the return of rockers like The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs killing off dance music. But things happen in cycles, and there's no doubt that dance music (at least in Southern California) is back and bigger than ever. What's most impressive is that through all the ups and downs, Electric Daisy Carnival has weathered the hardest part, kicking off in 2001 (right when things began to decline) and sticking true with a faithful audience and growing into the largest festival around--regardless of the music direction. Kudos to them.
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