High spir­its at Ve­gas rave

The heat and cheer­ful an­ar­chy are out in full force at the Elec­tric Daisy Car­ni­val.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Au­gust Brown au­gust.brown@latimes.com

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.

Pho­tog r aphs by Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

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.

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