EDC Las Vegas Hints at a Post-EDM Era In Its Biggest Year Ever


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EDC Las Vegas Hints at a Post-EDM Era In Its Biggest Year Ever

American dance culture, both the good and the bad, was on full display at the most massive massive of them all.

With another edition of EDC Las Vegas in the books, it's not hyperbole to say that Insomniac's crown jewel is the pinnacle of the post-millennial American rave experience. Even compared to other Insomniac massives, EDC is singular in the depth, scope, and imagination woven into the spectacle. Nothing else even comes close.

Still, with extreme temperatures all weekend at the all-night affair (overnight lows barely dropping to 90 degrees), tensions around health and safety issues were more heightened than usual. The close of the second night brought the news that a 24-year old man had died, allegedly from a combination of narcotics, lack of hydration, and the stifling heat of temperatures that were high even for Las Vegas in June.


In addition to the heat, chatter in the days prior to the festival focused on the design overhaul of every single stage. The fervor was well-warranted as production levels were elevated across the board to the point where every stage held the swagger of a main stage.

EDC from above, the KineticFIELD at the fore // Photo credit; Doug Van Sant

EDC's (official) main stage, the KineticFIELD, underwent one of the most celebrated main stage downsizings in festival history. Last year, the imposing, gothic-cathedral aesthetic of Kinetic threatened to suck up traffic flow with the sheer gravitational pull of its mass. There were thousands of kids who never even left that area as one big-room act after another tried their best to fit as many renditions of Calvin Harris' "Summer" into their set as possible.

In 2015, a slightly more reasonable setup centered around a gargantuan Maya/steampunk owl face with lightning eyes blinking ominously under furrowed brows (somewhat reminiscent of the steampunk motif at Tomorrowland 2014, it should be noted). Still a sight to behold, Insomniac's restraint in its production on the main stage is indicative of the promoter's preparation for a post-EDM world. Pasquale Rotella even admitted as much during EDMBiz. It's coming.

365 days can make a huge difference whether we're talking stage or music production. Last year, Oliver Heldens played so early at the KineticFIELD that nobody but the brunch-set and StaffPro crew saw him spin. On Friday night, the Dutch future house prodigy played to a packed field as he continued his mission to handhold EDM crowds on their way towards deeper terrain. Hearing anything resembling garage or deep house on the main stage, even in 2014, would have been blasphemous (the lone exception being Disclosure). Thanks to Heldens and a few others, this is now an evolution we can celebrate. Would you rather your kid sister listen to Oliver Heldens or Carnage?


In the biggest WTF moment of the weekend, the honor of pushing Above & Beyond's fabled button this year went to one of the less honorable characters in television history––Walter White AKA The Heisenberg AKA Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad." Although perhaps not quite a rave icon, his character is the namesake of an Above & Beyond track (and at least Cranston didn't vomit).

There's an irony in that, along with the bassPOD, the NeonGARDEN is the least neon place at the entire rave. The fest's traditional home for techno (and lots and lots of Carl Cox) NeonGARDEN was totally reconceptualized for 2015. Gone is the petite-n-steamy dome, now morphed into a big-top octagon with a massive chandelier of LED droplets as the centerpiece, flanked by spinning screens and blossoming flowers hanging from the ceiling showering light and color to the carpeted floor.

Dusky set the mood there early on Friday by roving nimbly between deeper, melodic house and driving techno—their new Ordinary World EP showcases the rare ability to seamlessly balance the two—and the duo's nimble genre-weaving worked well in the Garden space.

The NeonGARDEN, EDC's ode to techno // Photo credit: The Holy Mountain

Loco Dice played three Garden sets during the weekend. Somehow, the German minimal legend always finds a heavier kick than the one he just dropped as his roaring techno pulsations wash atop one another. His sets are hypnotic, even in their rigidity. Each element pulls you in a different direction, holding your focus with such a tension that even subtle changes seem like tectonic levels of shift. Dice's downright dastardly manipulation of vocal samples in relation to pressure drops is really something to behold and led to more than one "holy shit" moment.


Loco Dice's b2b partner during a five-hour marathon set, Carl Cox, hosted the Garden two nights in a row. The whole time, he looked as if he was riding a horse as he manned the decks, galloping along to Ibiza techno sets and grinning widely throughout.

Unfortunately, nobody seemed to catch on that Louis B, performing at the CosmicMEADOW on Saturday night, was an alias for Brodinski. The Bromance boss went from Cox-ian techno to gully-as-fuck hip-hop within the span of minutes before a thin crowd. Although his eye-popping visual display and unique command were undeniable, he seemed unenthused at the size of the audience. Hey, if you're gonna do an incognito set, maybe a tweet in advance would have helped, Bro.

The CosmicMEADOW, viewed from the bleachers // Photo credit: aLive

Disclosure, as expected by now, is still perfect. Everything the brothers Lawrence do is magic. Their unlikely home at the relatively petite NeonGARDEN was sweltering and packed for their set, the most it was all weekend, as the duo roved between groovy, garage-influenced house with flourishes of soul and tech. For many kids, Disclosure was their first venture to that stage. May it not be their last.

From last year to this, the CircuitGROUNDS has swelled into an overwhelming blitzkrieg of lasers and strobes and screens, all housed under one of the largest dome setups the world may have ever seen. It looks like Coachella's Sahara Tent on acid and growth hormone at the same time. Word from the production crew was that Sahara could easily fit inside the Circuit structure, fueling a belief that Insomniac was laughing off a challenge from Goldenvoice by dwarfing its biggest production with ease.


This thing makes it look like you could pitch a Sahara Tent by yourself // Photo credit: Marc Van Der Aa

Fittingly, it would take a legend to fill that space. On Friday night, Fatboy Slim segued from a Talking Heads sample to a twenty minute acid house freakout to Aoki/Lake/Tujamo's festival classic "Boneless." (That I got down to Aoki like I never had before is a testament to Fatboy Slim's ability to recontextualize music according to his own, twisted, smiley vision.)

Eric Prydz was the highlight of the CircuitGROUNDS on Saturday night. His penchant for pairing uplifting, progressive house with ominously-tinged electro filled the stage's grandiose setting as the crowd spilled far beyond the stage's expanse.

In space, nobody can see your gunfingers. The BassPOD. // Photo credit: Freedom Film LLC

The home to all things subwoofer, EDC's BassPOD is no longer a pod at all, but rather a cauldron surrounded by industrial-looking satellites with LED screens and the frequent bouts of pyrotechnics. Festival favorite Andy C gave the skank-happy crowd what they needed on Saturday night, amidst what was quite impressive staging. Earlier, Trollphace b2b Getter had blown out the stage's electricity, but the POD recovered and kept it so heavy that the ground would shake from hundreds of feet out.

Black Sun Empire b2b State of Mind closed out the BassPOD on Saturday. The vibe was straight-up tear-out drum and bass at 100mph for the entirety as they performed well past sunrise. Watching kids, somewhere between comatose and cracked out, doing their valiant best to skank while having very little control over their motor functions was a lesson in both physics and humanity. It was a set that seemed more appropriate to end the apocalypse rather than start a new day.


Dystopia at 160bpm, WasteLAND housed all the hardstyle // Photo credit: aLive

Even though my tolerance for hardstyle is such that I can't handle it in more than 3 second doses, The WasteLAND (nee Basscon) maintains the dystopian aesthetic that hardstyle at EDC has favored. Totaled cars flanked a felled Statue of Liberty that neared life-size and DJs performed nothing but relentless, breakneck pounding 4x4 beats In the flame of her severed beacon.

The art car game remained strong again this year, with surprise sets by Kaskade, Dada Life, and Tommie Sunshine mingling amongst up-and-comers like weirdo-house proponent Ghostea and Fritz Carlton and LA techno basher Modus. The cars, often in motion, provide a refreshing degree of spontaneity when held in comparison with the to-the-second level of organization and production required to maintain the spectacle of the main stages.

Kaskade performed atop the Mayan Art Car at 5AM Sunday Morning // Photo credit: Mikey McNulty

The newly-minted FunkHOUSE stage seemed like a rager in a Cali backyard blasting K-Day with the bass on max. There, Z-Trip performed three nights in a row of open format sets alongside acts like DJ Jazzy Jeff and Soul Clap that whipped from Snoop Dogg to Toto with a totally unabashed commitment to crowd-pleasers. Whatever scene you're into, the free-wheeling, fast-moving collection of bassed-up pop classics was undeniably fun and an unpretentious palate cleanser amidst almost 36 hours of all-electronic thumping. Adding to its California-ness, the HOUSE is made from 100% recycled materials.


Still, the carbon footprint of EDC Las Vegas must be akin to that of a baby nuclear explosion. Even in extreme heat, pretty much every structure on the grounds blasts pyrotechnic displays, the nightly (and incredible) fireworks shows leave enough sulphur in the air to choke out entire species of avian life, and despite the western US drought and the fact that Nevada is a desert, one side of the KineticFIELD featured three massive fucking waterfalls, flowing nonstop all weekend. If Insomniac tries to pull that shit in the Golden State for Nocturnal Wonderland this fall, Jerry Brown will have some stern words for Pasquale Rotella.

At EDC, everything has pyrotechnics, even the port-a-potties // Photo credit: Jake West

Given the proximity of Las Vegas to California, it's no surprise the state reps big at EDC. The most commonly worn flags at west coast dance festivals are almost always Canadian and Coloradan. But by far the most visible contingency this year was that of recent NBA Champions, The Golden State Warriors. Their proud fans were caught up in near-constant bouts of big-uppery as they passed one another. Sports is cool and all, but because you can't dance to basketball isn't it a pretty much a useless endeavor?

The rides and art installations this year were more surreal and creative than ever. Every turn seemed to house a new interactive adventure. A team of Jellyfish roved the festival each night, lighting up audiences in a glow of white. A 20 foot, spinning globe made of interwoven iron bars served as an adult jungle gym for many (and we're sure, a legal liability for others), an adult-sized ballpit had grown men giggling like boys. Even the inhabitable teapots on stilts from Burning Man and Lightning in a Bottle made an appearance.


THUMP was not injured on this structure, although they did get kinda dizzy // Photo credit: Curious Josh

Still, by night three, it wasn't just fried-out partiers who felt the fatigue. Back on the strip, I overheard a crotchety old lady and a bike cop at a taxi stand lamenting how their weekend had been ruined by the deluge of Pasquale's kandi-clad army. "They should be gone by tomorrow," said the cop dismissively. We'll give you your town back in a second, guy, but not before one last boogie.

Kudos to the Stage 7 for being less of a garish activation nightmare than it was last year. The programming, although even better in 2015, was never in question, but anything would have been an improvement compared to the seizure-inducing 7 Up over-branding of last year, during which every time a flashing 7 Up logo appeared it was as if the entire crowd felt an overwhelming urge to enjoy a Sierra Mist.

"Now when I say "Acti" you say "vation!" // Photo credit: aLive

On Sunday night, Stage 7 hosted AC Slater's Night Bass, and with him a stacked lineup of house, bass, and garage acts like Chris Lorenzo, the beating heart of Brummie bassline, garage legend DJ EZ, and fidget-bass champions Jack Beats.

Lorenzo in particular seemed to be auditioning for a role on a bigger stage, dropping remixes of Deadmau5, Steve Aoki and Chris Isaak at points. Not quite speed garage, sure, but for a guy who has spent a lot of his career giving other people's music its signature touch, you can excuse a bit of hamminess when the big stage comes calling.

Jack Beats somehow manage to consistently push boundaries while being too much fucking fun for most people to even notice. The Scottish duo were relentless with the delivery of rubbery fidget basslines and off-kilter whomp, although they recycled much of their material when they played their second set of the night at the CosmicMEADOW later on, where they undertook the unenviable task of following up the energy of Bassnectar leading into a gathering of Flosstradamus' black-and-white army.


EDC, all of it // Photo credit: Doug Van Sant

The weekend rounded out with Claude VonStroke and Green Velvet's collaborative Get Real project. Having had some time to gel, the duo lived up to their name, playing techno with old-school affinities as filtered through a Dirtybird palate. Afterwards, Hot Since 82 closed out with a surprise set, landing in Vegas after kidnapping a bunch of people the night before.

EDC is the only major festival in which you still see kids trading kandi. Whereas many distance themselves from the connotations of "rave," Insomniac has embraced it and thus has grown into the role of cultural gatekeeper, a position strengthened by the brand's staunch commitment to championing niche genres like drum and bass, hardstyle, and trance on the stages bigger than any other they get on this side of the pond.

In doing so, EDC walks the tightrope of holding on to the past while always forging onwards. It is, without doubt, the last bastion of stateside rave culture and a champion of EDM, but the de-emphasis of the main stage, previously the fest's golden egg, is a major and necessary move to push mainstream-facing American dance music forward.

Angello and Garrix, a Swede and a Dutchman, getting all patriotic for 'Murrcah // Photo credit: Freedom Film LLC

Artists from Disclosure to Flume to Oliver Heldens suggest that mainstream-to-mainstream-adjacent audiences are capable of expecting more from the music they consume. Does that mean Aphex Twin is gonna headline the KineticFIELD next year? Probably not, but every kandi kid who hiked to the NeonGARDEN for Disclosure took one step closer to the promised land of underground dance culture (even if they rudely shoved past you on the way there).

This is the dominant narrative of EDC Las Vegas, even dance music as a whole in America, 2015. Dance, electronic, rave, and club music may all fly their own banners, but as electronic music continues to grow into an essential node of American culture and the stateside palate matures and morphs at such pace, it is all-encompassing events like EDC that serve as the center points around which we converge, offering both context and perspective to this culture of ours while also being an absolutely fucking epic rager of unfathomably galactic proportions.