High spirits at Vegas rave
The heat and cheerful anarchy are out in full force at the Electric Daisy Carnival.
Fans dance weekend away at the Electric Daisy Carnival.
LAS VEGAS — On top of a row of rusty shipping containers at Electric Daisy Carnival, a couple of burned- out cars were covered in graffiti. In the light of a f ire in a nearby oil drum, one message in white paint stood out. It was a short, profane expression of displeasure at the police.
This art installation was an unexpected note of anger at what is usually one of the most intensely optimistic events in music. EDC, the electronic dance music festival that draws 400,000 fans to a three- day takeover of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway with acts like Calvin Harris and Kaskade, is usually saturated with uplifting slogans about fans coming together.
But this brief moment of discord suggested new tension among the cheerful anarchy of a good rave, the actual anarchy that any event of this size is bound to generate and a national mood that dance music — once a refuge for escape and rejuvenation — has struggled to reckon with.
That graffiti didn’t re- f lect the dominant mood at EDC. Organizers generally went out of their way to emphasize the inclusiveness and kindness of dance music culture. Before the fest, EDC’s parent company, Insomniac, promoted a new initiative, # WeAreWideAwake, to get fans talking about risk- avoidance and looking out for patrons who overindulged. Friendly, neutral “ground control” staff patrolled the f ield, helping weary patrons without the posture of policing.
That’s a worthy goal, especially given the 110- degree heat in Vegas over the weekend and the deaths of fans at EDC last year and, most infamously, in 2010, when the event was in Los Angeles.
But as a giant billboard overlooking the grounds declared, “You Are Free Here,” it was worth asking: What’s the right mix of freedom and safety at a major music festival? And what if that freedom includes darker feelings?
On the fest’s opening night Friday, the heat was rough but spirits were still high. EDC has sometimes struggled to absorb its intense fandom, but it’s getting a bit better. Insomniac expanded its shuttle system, and the revamped grounds were easier to navigate.
Logistics are just as important as music when the top attraction is fellow ravers in all their silly, neon splendor. A good thing too, because musically, this year’s fest was largely drawn from acts that have been at EDC many times before — headliners like Kaskade, Martin Garrix, Steve Angello and others who played as recently as last year.
As mainstream EDM goes, the music did its job without surprises. Kaskade played light and friendly with his dreamy, hook- driven house. Dutch teen phe- nom Garrix had headliner competence and pop- star stage presence. The trapdubstep combo Yellow Claw sprayed ridiculous rap beats over video footage of aircocking shotguns and softcore lesbian porn.
The ’ 90s staple Fatboy Slim credibly updated his big- beat sound with harder edges for younger crowds, who are reviving the acidtripping smiley faces and Hawaiian shirts of his heyday. Carl Cox and Loco Dice, each a f ixture of the more dangerous and moody ends of house and techno, held court for f ive hours late Friday as they socked their octagonal tent with tracks that felt like cold steel.
On the second night of the festival, Armin van Buuren, the Dutch DJ who’s been at it since the early ’ 90s, found favor with a new generation with his optimistic, high- octane trance. His ’ 70s arena pomp — dancers dressed like strippers from the Roman Praetorian Guard, a riser ascending from the deep center of the stage — played well here. Before him, younger countryman Hardwell, DJ Mag’s top- ranked act at age 25, asserted the primacy of the Dutch electro- house sound with tracks that were big, blunt instruments that met the needs of festival- goers.
Disclosure, which introduced the world to Sam Smith on “Latch,” has seemed a few steps apart from the maw of EDC culture. The duo is playing two nights at the Sports Arena in L. A. this year, but their DJ’ing the smaller underground tent at EDC suggested they know they have the power to reshape the scene from the inside out.
Duke Dumont, a Grammy nominee with a similar vintage- inspired, vocal- centric house sound, was joined by a small live band, including a drummer, whose presence went a long way at a festival dominated by mixing consoles. Songs like “Won’t Look Back” had a musicality and zest missing from the pure club culture at EDC.
More than a concert, EDC is a barometer of mainstream dance music’s mood, and right now it seems to be hovering between hopefulness and restlessness.
Restlessness for what exactly is hard to say. Maybe for something fresher in the music or a real transcendent escape. Maybe in some corners there’s even a hunger for the biggest American music phenomenon of the decade to engage with the tensions of race and class that are part of the larger culture.
At EDC, the oil- drum fire was fake, but the heat was perhaps real.
THE KINETIC STAGE draws a big crowd at the Electric Daisy Festival, a showcase for mainstream electronic dance music, at the Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday.
EDM FANS celebrate at the Cosmic Meadow stage at the festival on Friday.