If you happened to catch our EDC preview a few weeks ago, you could feel the excitement and sky high expectations surrounding this larger-than-life event. After the spectacular success of last year's very first Vegas edition, we could only hope that part two of the infamous desert rave would be bigger and better - the largest thus far in North America. Sadly, for many seasoned festy-goers, the LV "sequel" left us frustrated and underwhelmed. It was a case of too much and not enough all at the same time.
The infamous EDC tagline mockingly promised us, "It's all about the experience," but this year the fundamental "experience" was a poorly disguised marketing ploy. With unprecedented ticket sales maxing out at 300K, it's obvious that Insomniac really did SELL OUT. Once again, America has had to learn it's lesson the hard way: bigger isn't always better, and quantity never trumps quality.
Each and every EDC attendee did have their very own unique experience, so of course many people still enjoyed themselves despite certain logistical and production-related challenges - but I'll just share with you what my personal experience was, alongside about 20 of my friends, all raver veterans.
With the backdrop of Las Vegas seeping excess and greed, it's not surprising that "PLUR", the sacred credo of rave culture, largely fell by the wayside amid the tidal wave of ticket-holders flooding Las Vegas Blvd for those three fated nights last weekend. Traveling just 15 miles from the sparkling strip to the Motor Speedway to access this star-crossed carnival took upwards of 3 hours if you made the mistake of leaving too late (meaning around 9 or 10pm, which is fairly early considering the music stopped around 5:30am each morning).
In an excruciating bumper to bumper crawl, it was clear that the city's infrastructure simply couldn't absorb the extra attendees, 60,000 more than in 2011. Taxi meters clocked about $200 for a one-way ride, nearly as much as the cost of a ticket itself. No one was expecting the volume to be so debilitating. Luckily the MacGyver in my group of friends figured out an alternate route for the next 2 days that helped us avoid taking the Boulevard most of the way, but even then it was about an hour and a half to get there.
Despite the battle of endurance just to reach our destination, we were determined to make the best of it once we finally stomped our way onto the dusty racetrack. Our initial reaction was how different the set-up seemed in comparison to last year. 2011's more moderate layout made it simple for a typically disoriented crowd to navigate themselves. With an added stage, more carnival rides, more art installations, more beer stands and bars, the overall atmosphere felt cluttered. But it would've been entirely manageable even with the added amenities except for the excessive amount of people swarming the vast wasteland. Not to mention, we suffered from bandwidth overload. Everyone was in a frenzy to communicate with separated friends, so cell phone service dragged at a staggeringly slow speed, with text messages taking nearly 30 minutes to send if at all. Needless to say, chaos beyond the usual parameters of a massive rave ensued.
Music-wise, there was a stellar spread of acts; however dubstep was clearly a huge focus during the entire event, even beyond the bassPOD stage (to the glee of many and the dismay of others). Every festival has it signature anthems, but the presence of top-40 type hits was a bit disconcerting (especially after hearing twenty different remixes of Goyte - not that anyone has gotten tired of that track!). On Friday "Afroki" gave their rather dumbfounding rendition of thrashing, house-influenced metal, playing to the tune of Afrojack and Steve Aoki's enormous dual egos. At the Cosmic Meadow, Steve Angello played on his "Size Matters" hosted stage, predictably rounding up the early morning hours by playing "one more record!" - "Save the World." Woomp woomp, Steve.
Hopeful for something edgier, we anticipated Erick Morillo's ascendance following Angello, but after only about twenty minutes on the decks his sound cut out and the legendary Dj/producer disappeared. Key Friday highlights were undoubtedly the big-gun closers, Fedde le Grand and Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike.
By Saturday many of us were wise to the traffic situation, but gridlock was still painfully inevitable. We were determined to have a better night, and this time we beat the rush to arrive in time to catch an explosive set from Bassnectar at the main KineticFIELD stage. And then for the coup de grâce - the almighty Calvin Harris, to be followed by Avicii and Tiesto. After getting everyone utterly hyped with what was shaping up to be a mind-blowing set, our worst nightmare suddenly became real.
Barely midway into his performance, the music stopped abruptly and Calvin himself got on the mic to warn us that our safety was at stake. High winds whipped across the flat land, creating a dramatic but potentially dangerous atmosphere, as the main stage visibly shook from the furious gusts. Officials repeatedly asked us to "back away from the stage….for your safety" and as the crowd dispersed towards other stages, we realized that this "temporary halt" as Insomniac called it was going to last indefinitely and ruin the entire night. Other stages stopped the music, and all the huge lights lining the stands were turned on. What should've been the peak of the event became a mass exodus for those of us who had actually made it inside, and for the many who were late or stuck in traffic, the night ended before it had even begun.
The parking lot was a madhouse, and for many it took several hours just to reach the exit to the main road. In a push for optimism and solidarity, disenchanted ravers danced to the EDC livestream playing from their radios, with several ringleaders darting from car to car telling us to dial into the station and crank the volume. A few extra-inebriated individuals decided to jump and dance all over their rental cars. Surely this was the definition of a s%*t show.
It's a rare occurrence for an event of this size to be shut down, but Insomniac had to make a decision that would protect them from potential lawsuits and liabilities. Below is the statement they released that night - never actually admitting that day 2 was in fact cancelled:
So not only did we miss the latter half of Calvin Harris, Avicii, Tiesto and the anticipated Steve Aoki/Blue Man Group collab, Dubfire, Richie Hawtin, Loco Dice, MSTRKFT and Jack Beats, among many more never even got to grace the stages. There was no salvaging our shattered expectations for Saturday. Ironically, the heat issue we anticipated that was so extreme last year was moot because this year the event had been scheduled 3 weeks earlier in June, before the extreme heat of summer had fully settled. But who would've thought that the unpredictable desert winds would take such a frustrating toll?
By Sunday evening, spirits still dwindled but it was our last chance to get our money's worth. Twenty minutes of fireworks and sparkler-spraying parachuters provided the backdrop to a killer set from Laidback Luke. Then, Carl Cox, the golden god of techno himself, absolutely rocked us for 2-hours in the cosmicMEADOW. As the wee morning hours crept in, we migrated back to the main stage for Porter Robinson, who delivered arguably one of the best sets of the entire festival. But the climatic moment that washed away all of the negative residue from our previous trials and tribulations was Dada Life's sunrise set from 4 - 5am. At one point they bellowed, "EDC! This is intense!" to a ragged but ever rowdy clump of die-hards. The best moment of their set was undoubtedly when they transitioned into Duck Sauce's "Big Bad Wolf" with a haunting, primal howl echoing all around us as we raved for the last few hours we had left below the icy half moon.
Leaving the racetrack at sunrise felt a lot like abandoning a battleground littered with carnage and trash. As a beautiful pastel sunrise peeked over the dry mountain ranges in the distance, we escaped back to the real world, bidding farewell to an insane weekend. As we cut around the line of cars forming to exit the lot (lesson learned from the previous day's lack of aggressive driving) we turned back to see a huge black billow of smoke rising from the rave, like a mysterious burnt offering to the gods of music.
Moral of this epic story: if you've been to your fair share of massives and prefer less mainstream-influenced music, EDC may not be the event for you to attend in 2013. Insomniac still made a relatively valiant effort to out-do themselves, but it will be interesting to see how many tickets they see fit to sell next year. In comparison, the "less is more" standard proved extremely effective for Ultra Music Festival 2012 back in March, drawing a crowd of about 165K with tickets priced higher than EDC, trumping Insomniac's commercialized "bigger is better" mentality. It would be a lie to say that I didn't have any fun at EDC 2012, but maybe I'm just a bit jaded and spoiled. Either way, it will be a very long time before I dare to set foot in the cultural cesspool that is Las Vegas.