So far, 2012 has been a year of festival firsts for me. In the last three months, I've experienced two of California's largest-- Electric Daisy Carnival and Coachella. After covering both, it's clear that nothing beats EDC. With seven massive stages bursting with flames and LED acid trips, over 100 world class DJs, 300,000 new and old EDM fans, and high-flying performers, this three days of music from dusk till dawn, inside of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is something that everyone should experience before they die.
I had a few negative assumptions about EDC when I first arrived. I imagined legions of half-naked E-tards bouncing around in the desert heat, first pumping to the same five songs over and over again, while meeting people that were only there to see the main stage headliners. Well, some of that was true. From the minute I entered the Speedway and walked down the bleachers to scope out all 7 stages, lit up carnival rides, 100,000 plus people entering just like me, my ears rattled with disco-fied douchiness as a remixed version of Goyte's, "Somebody That I Used To Know", Calvin Harris', "Feel So Close" and Swedish House Mafia's, "Save The World" began bumping simultaneously from different corners of the Speedway.
Only two hours into the festival, I had already heard each of those songs at least twice already, but as I started to walk around, I ran into a stage anchored by a 60-foot-tall king in the middle looking over the crowd with a tower of fire on each side. This was Q Dance stage, which brought hard style to EDC for the first time. Never in my life would I have thought I would be glued to a stage with hard stylers and fans of stomping, happy hardcore. Q Dance brought familiar songs together with quick heavy, bass that commanded immediate attention from my feet and pelvis. It didn't matter who the DJ was (I couldn't remember if I tried). All I knew was that I didn't want to leave.
As I was leaving to head back for the night, traffic was deadlocked for hours. At one point, a kindhearted raver who saw my tattoo agreed to let me merge in front of him. See, I have a tattoo Oklahoma on my shoulder representing my late grandma. It is an outline of the state with a dream catcher locked on to the edge of the state. I told him the story behind it while we were in traffic, and he was kinda enough to let me pass in front of him. What a guy.
With the first day under my belt, Saturday would be the true test of will and my ability to loose control with the rest of the wild, EDC veterans. Of course, Mother Nature ended up being the wildest one at the party. With Calvin Harris just minutes away from ending his set by bringing out Rihanna, the whole event got shut down, as if the universe had pulled the rug out from under us. As the night progressed with winds reaching dangerous levels, 95,000 fans were forced to end their experience at the Speedway without seeing Avicii, Tiesto, Armin Van Buuren, Steve Aoki and the Blue Man Group. If this had happened at Coachella or any other festival, there probably would have been rioting and chaos.
I caught up with a photographer friend of mine and we left the media center to view the scene on foot. Surprisingly, PLUR ( Peace Love Unity Respect ) culture seemed to go into effect as the stages were shut down. Even though cellphone reception was out and many friends were lost in a jungle of people, strangers huddled together to make new friends on the grass and in the grand stands.
A single person banging a trash can led a raging sea of people in marching and dancing--turning a shitty situation into a reasonably fun one. In a mission to keep the fans happy, Armin Van Buuren performed a special A State of Trance podcast from his trailer, as Markus Schultz and Cosmic Gate joined him. As the hysteria and confusion died down, Van Buuren took time out to reach out to his fans. Markus Shultz even flew back out to EDC at 5 a.m. for a special set for the few thousand fans that stayed to party. This is a testament to the loyalty DJs have for their flock.
After such a tumultuous end to Saturday night, it seemed like the third and final day of EDC had to be one for the books. The first mission on Sunday was to catch Arty, the trance world's Russian young gun. It was interesting to see people running into the crowd chanting Arty's name during his early, 7:30 p.m. set. The sun was setting during his set, which made for a sublime experience. I spoke with him after his set and he said that this EDC performance was the best experience of his life. While David Guetta was performing, a girl in the crowd saw me in the photo pit and asked me if I wanted some kandy (yes, with a "k"). We did the customary PLUR hand shake as she placed beaded, yellow bracelet on my wrist.
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I completed my night by taking pictures of Armin Van Buuren, Porter Robinson, Dada Life, David Guetta, Avicii, Flux Pavillion and Cazzette. Even though you might be able to see these DJs perform together at Ultra Music Festival in Miami, the production value is not even close. There is nothing like seeing Van Buuren performing "Not Giving Up On Love" as seven girls dressed as gigantic red flowers dance around him with blue fireworks going off. It was also inspiring to see 19-year-old Porter Robinson represent a new class of DJs, spinning tracks like "Language" while LED flames consumed the top of main stage. And as much as I usually want to puke every time I hear "Levels," the sound of 50,000 people screaming with passion, "Oh, oh sometimes, I get a good feeling, yeah!" during Avicii's surprise set is something that I will never forget.
To cap my EDC weekend, I sat on the lawn with some friends as the sun rose to watch Dany Tenagila playing on the Cosmic Meadow stage hosted by Carl Cox. I'm not a big fan of tech house, but Tenagila inspired me to picked up my feet and used the last gasp of energy left in my tank to dance my ass off as the sun came up.
As the masses climbed the bleachers along the race track to head home, deflowered EDC goers like myself no doubt have a memory of those three continuous nights permanently seared into their brain as they prepared to go back to school or work, or some variation of boring, everyday life. Of course you'll always have the mental pictures of the people you met, conversions you had and the kind, random kindness of strangers. And chances are there's a photo of you getting high as fuck still lingering inside somebody's cellphone.