ELECTRIC DAISY KINGPIN: THE MAN WHO TURNED MUSIC FESTIVALS INTO CARNIVALS
This past Saturday, 45,000 costume-wearing 18-and-up young adults descended on San Bernandino, Calif. for a festival featuring fully staffed haunted houses, 3D mazes, and performance artists crawling festival grounds dressed as sexy (?) bloodied rabbits and glowing angler fish—the largest Halloween celebration in
Oh, also, music: Calvin Harris, who produced a chart-topping radio hit for Rihanna, and Martin Solveig, whose song "Hello" was used to entice you into buying some Trident gum, played along with a host of other electronic dance music (EDM) artists. But they weren't really the focus. At the bottom of each and every Escape From Wonderland banner (featuring a demonic Alice, bloody white apron, glowing pair of cat eyes, and a gnarled tree) "YOU" was listed as the "most important headliner of all."
"I don't want to say [these shows go] 'against'—that's the wrong word—but it is very different from what a traditional concert is," says Pasquale Rotella, the founder and chief executive of Insomniac Events, the company behind the Escape for Wonderland festival. "I think there are great bands, and we want the best bands and DJs and what have you, but it's not the only reason to go to a large gathering. There are beautiful people to meet, there is amazing art, there's production that is advancing constantly that makes these events so much more. Music isn't the only thing that is cool."
Music isn't the only thing that's cool: It's a both successful and curious philosophy for Rotella, whose company has grown to be one of the most influential promoters of music festivals in the world. Insomniac's Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) is the largest musical event in North America, growing from a 5,000-person Los Angeles rave in 1998 to a 320,000-person temporary city for its 2012 incarnation at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Insomniac has said that this year's extravaganza generated a record $207 million to the state of Nevada and created more than 2,000 jobs). His company's rise has accelerated along with—and contributed to—the boom in popularity for electronic dance in America over the past few years. But Insomniac's dozens of dance events across the world, like Escape From Wonderland, are also succeeding in spreading the Rotella gospel of music-comes-second across the industry.
"The DJ line-up is a percentage of making it 100 percent," Rotella says of his events. "But it's not like what a concert is. A concert is like 90 percent the act; that's one of the main reasons people are there. We're about the whole experience."