With any degree of change comes the transitional period where adjusting to new surroundings can be very strenuous. After 15 years in various venues, transplanting the Electric Daisy Carnival from Southern California to Las Vegas may have gotten the event off to an awkward start, as fans of the electronic dance music festival travel from all corners of the globe into the sweltering heat of the Sin City trying to find their bearings.
The promoters, Insomniac, are synonymous with some of the best and biggest shows in the states and occasionally abroad. In fact, dedicated attendees of the festival purchase their tickets months before the full line-up is even announced, which usually happens only a couple of weeks prior to the event. With a reputation as one of the world’s greatest entertainment experiences, there is a certain assurance that ticket holders will not be disappointed. Regrettably, with the burden of throwing some of the biggest events with over 230,000 attendees, like the weekend of Electric Daisy Carnival 2011, there are bound to be a few incidents.
Since the controversy over Sasha Rodriguez, the 15-year-old girl who died during last year’s Carnival at the Los Angeles Coliseum, electronic music concerts have been subject to intense scrutiny by the city, forcing Insomniac to change venues henceforth. There is much debate over whether the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the most appropriate venue change for the event. Many long time fans feel that it’s inappropriate to move the event out of California while other fans embrace the change, believing Las Vegas is the only appropriate destination the festival could have graduated to. While medical staff and the local cops were busy all weekend, but the exact number of hospitalizations, arrests, and the severity of both are still unconfirmed.
Regardless, after 15 years, the event has evolved into so much more than a mere music show. Now running for a full three days and maximizing every moment of darkness, going from dusk until dawn, the entire venue is lit up with dazzling lights illuminated from nauseating carnival rides, elaborate art installations, and stage lighting so stunning that it borders on seizure inducing. Each stage had its own sizable, unique set-up complete with walls constructed entirely out of strobe lights and speakers, echoing throughout the distant desert. Some stages were adjacent to one another, despite the Las Vegas Motor Speedway being a roomy venue for this event. The trek from one stage to another was a long and grueling endeavor, especially when coupled with the fact that there is no real flow to traffic and a majority of attendees are inebriated. The only real drawback to the speedway is that dancing on rocks, gravel, and dirt is not an ideal terrain for getting down.
All of the iconic wandering performers are present at Electric Daisy Carnival, from your disco-ball-wielding silver-clad Mohawk girls to the stilt-walking, bug-eyed freaks, even the oversized menacing nightmare puppets and more. There are mobile bands (like actual full bands with conductors), horns, and uniforms, as well as a clown make-up version of the mobile band, which also incorporates gymnastics and aerials into their marching act. Because of the size of the Speedway compared to the condensed Coliseum, these wandering performers hold less of a commanding presence and are difficult to spot. The arbitrary art installations only add to the carnival atmosphere of the event, occupying otherwise empty stretches of asphalt with incredibly elaborate and interactive oddities.
The event reached over 230,000 attendees over the three day weekend. With six stages playing simultaneously, it obviously becomes a very difficult task to pick and choose between this year’s all star line-up. Thankfully, Insomniac created a nifty little app, available from their EDC website, where attendees could determine their personal schedule of artists to see and at what times throughout the weekend, making keeping time slightly less chaotic.
Individual sets were broadcasted live from Sirius XM radio. As a result, not only were electronic dance music fans from Miami to Ibiza able to listen in from the comfort of their homes, but now sound files for each musician’s set exists. That means Electric Daisy Carnival 2011 is virtually immortal; at least for anyone possessing the MP3 of their favorite artist’s DJ set who could bump it in the parking lot of EDC 2021 on the Moon if they so choose. Book your interplanetary flights now.
FRIDAY, JUNE 24
The first day got off to a rocky start when the gates were opened 30 minutes late. As a jeering crowd poured inside, the stages filled up quickly. Wippenberg was first to play on the main stage, and although they played some very high energy electro house, a majority of the attendees were still stuck in the security line and unable to catch this set.
Following them was The Crystal Method, a duo finding themselves back in their hometown of Las Vegas and playing an over-the-top set to their many friends, family, and fans who came out to see them. Opening with their remix of Daft Punk’s “The Grid,” they relied on the nostalgia of the crowd, playing dance remixes of classics like Depeche Mode’s “Strangelove,” The Beatles’ “Come Together,” Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” ACDC’s “Dirty Deeds,” and finally closing with Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade.” Naturally, Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan put their own spin on any songs they play, along with originals like “Busy Child” stuck in the middle of their set.
After The Crystal Meth, Roger Sanchez hoped on the turntable, playing to a well-warmed up audience. Throwing it back a couple years, Sanchez played remix of old fan favorites like Benny Benassi’s “Satisfaction” and Justice’s “We Are Your Friends”. Overall, it was a very well done set – if it had been played at EDC 2006. While it managed to get many people on the dance floor, the use of stale songs was a bit of a shortcoming.
Next were the world fusion hit makers Beats Antique, who have been very busy playing shows across the country so far in 2011. Their unique brand of multi-instrumental, world-inspired dance tunes might have been seen as esoteric to the typical Carnival crowd, but for that same reason, it was a breath of fresh air in the otherwise stale realm of electronic dance music.
While attempting to navigate the seemingly endless stretch of asphalt that is the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it’s not uncommon to stumble upon an act that catches your ear in passing. Sub Focus stopped me in my tracks while moving from one stage to another. That is because Sub Focus, who I later learned is Nicholas Douwma, is a very well known musician in England, but sadly not so much here in the states, where he has been performing for nearly a decade. His skill in the dubstep, house, drum and bass arts was noted by the large gathering of people he drew while playing at a not so large stage.
A few days before their Carnival performance, a friend and I had a conversation about what may have happened to Cosmic Gate. No one seemed to have an answer. Apparently, they have still been putting out albums with little ado. Unable to break from their traditional formula, where their trance leads last just 4 bars too long before a break, the German duo seem unobservant to the changes going on around them. That’s not to say their set wasn’t good; I love Cosmic Gate. It’s just that their performance here was virtually indistinguishable from their 2009 Carnival appearance. As Allister from EC Twins told me, “You need to adapt to survive in this game.”
Arguably one of the most engaging and entertaining producers and DJs today is Steve Aoki, as anyone who has seen his live performance before can attest. His atypical sets incorporate lots of guitars, drums, and other live recorded instruments in a rock n roll / dance music hybrid. Premiering exclusive original tracks at Electric Daisy whipped the audience into a screaming, bouncing frenzy. Although consisting of mostly pre-recorded beats and guest vocals, Aoki’s set was among the best at the festival if gauged by the number of people he got dancing.
Manufactured Superstars are one of the best kept secrets among contemporary DJs. Playing plenty of mash-ups, remixes of originals, and finally remixes of their own songs, the Denver duo knows just how to feel the crowd. Starting out with Daft Punk’s “One More Time,” they broke into a series of remixes from many artists in attendance at the Carnival, like Swedish House Mafia’s “Leave the World Behind,” Afrojack’s “Bangduck,” Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” and Above and Beyond’s “Sun and Moon,” as well as other songs that are just plain fun, like Florence And The Machine’s “You’ve Got The Love” and Flo Rida’s “Turn Around.”
The drum and bass stage hardly ever sees much love at massive rave festivals. That’s why it was good to see a decent number of talented and well known artists at this year’s Carnival. The stage itself was grin inducing – a giant circular fan decked out in neon lights with an LCD screen behind that and all surrounded by plenty of subs. Skream and Benga of Magnetic Man took the stage later in the evening, pushing barriers by playing the unexpected (Tetris? Classical?) as well as a lot of stuff from Magnetic Man and their individual solo stuff. The two were really on fire for their entire set, raising the bar for the entire weekend.
Dieselboy, Perhaps the most popular drum and bass artist, performed on Friday. While many other DJs playing at the same stage went on to play remixes of Dieselboy’s original productions, no one could do it better than the man himself. Abusing the stage speakers beyond their potential, it’s a wonder that any of them still worked after this set. From his own original songs to bass heavy remixes and even his own remixes of his own songs, Dieselboy was without a doubt the king of this stage on Friday.
Popular Dutch trance producer Sander van Doorn played early in the morning, attracting all of the trance addicts who stayed specifically to see him. Despite being one of DJMag’s top 100 DJs, there was nothing principally stand-out of special about his set. It might have been the fact that he started playing 8 hours into the event, but several people watching him perform actually started to fall asleep. His use of low frequency, almost baroque trance leads and loops certainly speaks to the niche he has carved out for himself including his loving fan base, but other than that his music might as well be falling on deaf ears.
Inside what looked like a cloth igloo, adjacent to the main stage, was the Dome, an air conditioned bar that doubled as a stage. As a line grew from the entrance and across the speedway blacktop later in the evening, the seemingly crowded dome was actually a lot more spacious on the inside than it looked from outside. Psychedelic projections lined the ceiling as fans blew cool air over an audience dancing around the elevated DJ booth in the center. The entire atmosphere was surreal to the rest of the speedway and certainly a welcome change. Some of the best sets in the Dome this weekend were EC Twins, Savoy, Android Cartel, and DJ Dan.
“Headlining” day one was Tiesto. Although he played on the second largest stage, traffic anywhere in that vicinity came to a screeching halt as fans packed in elbow to elbow to catch his act. His fist pumping antics got everyone jumping with his skillful display of electro house dance music. A Tiesto set is always fun. However, the dynamic hasn’t really changed much over the last ten years. In fact, he still plays most of his fan favorite songs, which are years old, with only a few newer tracks thrown in. While it’s obvious that Tiesto is a skilled DJ, his song choice could have used a little work. The highlight of this set was when Showtek briefly stepped on the mic.
SATURDAY JUNE 25
One of several artists lined up to play two sets over the three day festival was Afrojack. Opening with his dirty remix of Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of,” Afrojack stopped the music to have a word with the audience: “I just got here in a fucking helicopter. Are you ready to go fucking crazy? Are you ready to jump around and do some stupid shit?” Amazed by the turnout for his set, Afrojack went on to whip the crowd into a frenzy via a series of hard breaks and acid house beats which put a grin on everyone in attendance. It was immediately apparent that Afrojack had jumped in his DJ prowess since playing the festival last year.
One of the more popular house musicians around is Benny Benassi. When you win a Grammy and have been producing music for decades, people tend to take notice. Benassi, most widely known for his song “Satisfaction” and the pop culture tidal wave it left behind, is also the pioneer of a very specific electro house sound. His set was done at a slightly lower BPM than the other performers, although this had little bearing on his inspiring original set. Stepping out of his comfort zone a bit, Benassi showcased his versatility by playing trance chords, hip-hop and even dubstep, making sure to please every single fan in the crowd.
Only two of three members of Above and Beyond showed up to perform for reasons which were never fully explained, but this didn’t stop them from putting on a jaw-dropping performance. Playing plenty of tracks featured on their radio show, “Trance Around the World,” as well as their Anjunadeep and Anjunabeats series, they really wowed the audience of fans and passer-bys alike with an eclectic aptitude of trance stylings. All in all, the two really showcased not only their skill and experience as DJs, but the versatility of trance music itself.
The Glitch Mob is a new-ish trio of genre transcending producers coming together to blow your mind. Their set early in the evening began rather slow, which put off a lot of people in the audience, however, this was merely a long build to an epic crescendo in their iconic bass driven, glitch filled, and smile inducing style. Playing all of the fan favorites from their album Drink the Sea, as well as plenty of remixes like their rendition of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” and finally some new songs from their forthcoming EP. Their music is slightly atypical from anything else heard at Electric Daisy because it’s not exclusively dance music, but their presence was welcome with open arms by the crowd of fans who came out to see them perform.
Love it or hate it, Saturday was all about the dubstep and drum and bass. Evol Intent, a trio on the forefront of genre busting drum and bass music, set the stage on fire with remixes of their own songs as well as brand new tracks. The three jumped in and out of the turntables in turns, sometimes working together in pairs and occasionally all of them would collaborate on the same track. The result was a skillful, bass filled collection of tunes that screamed sickness.
Displaying a unique style of dubstep, and championed as a pioneer of the genre, Rusko played a popular set on Saturday. The surrounding stages were saturated with Rusko’s fan base, all of whom were very excited to see him perform. His set consisted of all of their favorites, including hits like “Woo Boost,” his remix of Kid Sister’s Pro Nails,” and songs he did with Caspa, who wasn’t present. While his mid-tempo music puts the dub into dubstep, his songs weren’t much different than listening to a Rusko CD. There wasn’t much variation between his songs played live and the original production versions of his songs, which all in all wasn’t such a bad thing.
Drawing one of the largest congregations of people from both the general admission and VIP areas was Skrillex’ set. Given his recent spike in popularity among the younger crowd, Skrillex used his time in the spotlight to have a moment of silence for the late Ryan Dunn. Coming from a hardcore/screamo musical background, Skrillex’ concept of what a breakdown is was very intriguing. It can sometimes come brief and unexpected, backed by only low frequency dissonance and bass before jumping back into where the song last left off. Skrillex played primarily his own songs along with a couple remixes and dubstep bass leads. While his set was certainly interesting, it would have been significantly better if it wasn’t intermittedly interrupted by random quotes taken out of context. That sort of thing works well on an EP, but during a DJ set at a dance music festival, pumping through a giant wall of speakers and subs, it’s just upsetting.
The final set of the evening isn’t an ideal slot for the artists. By then, the sun is preparing to rise and many attendees are getting ready to leave, or have long since gone back to their hotels for some long overdue sleep. But that’s really their loss, since some of the last sets turned out to be some of the best. Boys Noize played with such energy that even at 4:30 in the morning he was able to get every single person dancing. With his own customized videography that flashed different patterns as well as the word “acid” on the many stage screens, Boys Noize played mostly remixes of his own original songs in a high BPM, progressive and electro house dance-a-thon. It was the kind of set that properly closed out an evening of amazing music in a “saving the best for last” sort of way.
Similarly, MSTRKRFT played the closing set on a different stage on Saturday. Not unlike Boys Noize, MSTRKRFT played mostly remixes of their own songs, which is always a crowd pleaser. At this point in the evening (morning?) only true fans remain to see their favorite musicians play amazing sets at one of the world’s best music festivals with over the top production. Granted, the rising sun started to interfere with the stage lights as the set came to a close. But it didn’t stop MSTRKRFT from playing highly danceable house music that even got the the feet of people walking to their cars moving.
SUNDAY JUNE 26
Playing one of the first sets as people began to trickle into the speedway were the EC Twins. Displaying their deft mixing ability, the brothers from Manchester dropped several new remixes of their own design, including LMFAO’s “Champagne Showers,” “Is It Me” by Remy Le Duc, Paul Oakenbfold’s “Mesmerized” and Dirty Vegas’ “Electric Love.” Their high energy variations of house music was an ideal set to start off the last day of the festival.
Infected Mushroom are often the odd man out at rave festivals, usually being the only actual band present. This doesn’t stop the Israeli five piece from owning the stage every time they get the chance. Opening with a ten minute rendition of their hit “Becoming Insane,” they made their presence known as their music is distinctly different than most other sets played at the festival. A majority of their time on stage was spent playing songs from their new, upcoming album, including a cover of The Door’s “Riders of the Storm.” To close an amazing set, the band performed a cover of a Foo Fighters song.
It’s always great to discover amazing new artists at a festival whose line-up is already overflowing with international talent. While meandering the speedway, I was lucky enough to stumble upon Datsik at the drum and bass/dubstep stage. My first time hearing this artist perform blew me away, as his set was better than the performances from artists I knew and loved playing that day. His mastery of dubstep was readily apparent and an immediate crowd pleaser. Given the opportunity, I would invite all to check out his future performances.
Paul Oakenfold, who actually owns his own nightclub in Las Vegas, played the second set on the second largest stage on the third day. After DJing and producing for over three decades, you tend to form certain expectations of a musician with so much experience. Paul Oakenfold played an amazing set for Paul Oakenfold fans, and if you’ve heard a Paul Oakenfold set in the last ten years then you know what a Paul Oakenfold set consists of. The Paul Oakenfold formula is: 1 part dance, 2 parts trance, 1 part nostalgia, let it simmer on a turntable for two hours with the volume turned all the way up and enjoy.
An artist who has been consistently rising in popularity in the recent years in Laidback Luke. Master of the house music arts, Luke is known for throwing dance mixes of old school hits into his live sets, and his Carnival set was no different. Nostalgia is always fun on the dance floor – just ask anyone wearing those neon plastic sunglasses straight from the 1984. Not only do Laidback Luke’s DJ sets tug at familiar memories of dance tunes from ”back in the day,” but he is actually a very skillful artist who knows exactly how to work a crowd. Just as DJMag’s top 100 DJ list where he is constantly featured.
The highlight of the Sunday show was the block of top notch trance DJs performing on the main stage, starting with Ferry Corsten. Playing a lot of original songs and remixes from other DJs and producers who were performing through the course of the weekend, like Above and Beyond, Cosmic Gate, and others, Corsten’s set was almost like a tribute to the other talented musicians who graced the same stage.
ATB played an equally amazing set, segueing seamlessly from Ferry Corsten to the point where most onlookers didn’t realize they had switched DJs. His set was made up of slightly more progressive trance with house influences rather than traditional trance, which get a lot of spectators off of their asses and up to dance.
Markus Schulz’s set began with a stretching lead and a crescendo break into low frequency trance goodness before he laid on the original remixes. In the traditional Markus Shultz style, his music built up uncanny momentum until the point where it could not go any higher, then slowed to a grinding halt before picking back up again, all while utilizing his own customized leads and other sounds. It was interesting to hear him play other styles of music, like electro house and even drum and bass, while infusing them with his own signature trance sound.
The progressive trance act with a name I’ll never understand, Dash Berlin, had big shoes to fill while following Markus Schulz. In the early hours of the morning, their set seemed to be putting people to sleep. With plenty of piano leads, female vocals, and slow synth lines, Dash Berlin’s set was uninspired when compared to the three amazing artists who played before them. As relative newcomers to the trance and electronic dance music scene, Dash Berlin have risen in popularity rather quickly. However, they still seem to be lacking a dedicated fan base. For Dash Berlin, they still have a ways to go.
Headliners of Sunday, and arguably the entire three day event, Swedish House Mafia took the stage around 1 AM. The snowball popularity of this group is incredible and indeed well earned when examining the raw talent behind the three individual musicians who make up the Mafia. Last year, their hit “One” was played and remixed by every other DJ around, championed as a summer house anthem. This, their new single “Save the World” was thrown in the middle of every other DJ’s set. Aside from being slightly overplayed, the song is catchy and well produced. Anyone you might have talked to at the speedway would express their enthusiasm to see Swedish House Mafia’s set on Sunday. Although the set was a solid two hours, it was nothing out of the ordinary. No rainbows shot out of Axwell’s eyes and hundred dollar bills did not shoot out of the speakers. Overall, their set was great, quality house music, but it had been built up so much that the guys just couldn’t deliver what people had expected of them at a festival where every set is already over the top.
As the sun comes up in Las Vegas, heating the dry desert air to an uncomfortable, hellish temperature, dancers, ravers, and music fans alike begin searching for their car, friends, and sanity. Three straight days of dusk til dawn, non-stop music begets a long road to recovery and return to a normal sleep pattern. Electric Daisy Carnival’s first year in Las Vegas was an overwhelming success, and it’s a damn good thing, too. The Las Vegas Motor Speedway signed a contract with Insomniac to hold it there for at least the next four years. In addition, Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman declared June 20-26 to be “Electric Daisy Carnival Week”. As one of the largest electronic dance music concerts in the world finds a new and hospitable home in the desert, it seems Electric Daisy Carnival finally found a place where it can continue to thrive and grow properly for years to come. The world has never been a more exciting place for electronic music, so as we turn to Las Vegas in anticipation, we will all be watching, and dancing.