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Electric Daisy Carnival: Bigger, brighter and all grown up

Is there an age at which you're too old for Electric Daisy Carnival? Just ask Abby Bujack and her Aunt Lynette. 

Abby, 20, would seem the ideal carnival-goer: a wide-eyed dance music fan from Illinois at her first EDC, soaking in the sea of neon, the strobe lights and the relentless kick of big-room house music Friday night. 

Around her, 150,000 like-minded fans hit peak rave hour about 2 a.m., twirling across the asphalt of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “It’s so easy to make friends here,” Bujack said, blown away by the spectacle. “You can just walk up and talk to anyone.”

But going to EDC actually was the idea of Bujack’s 66-year-old aunt.

“I invited her to come here,” said Lynette, who declined to give her last name. “I saw it on the news and thought, ‘That would be neat for us to go to.’ ”

EDC as family bonding — who knew? 

Generations of fans and artists alike have grown up alongside the festival, which started in Los Angeles 20 years ago.

“When we first played EDC in L.A., that was the first time I felt like America had these big crowds, this music and this production. It was the birth of the whole thing,” said Sebastian Ingrosso, part of the headlining house music duo Axwell Ingrosso. “It’s been great being a part of the EDC journey and this culture.” 

 

The two former members of EDM giant Swedish House Mafia were aiming for something more than just size. They headlined the festival’s Kinetic Field on Sunday morning, and crowds of about 70,000 worked up a fizzy joy at singles like “Thinking About You” and “Something New.” 

“We must take time to calm down, to have moments of love,” Axwell said while resting in their hotel before their show and explaining how they're trying to do more complex work.

“Right, we want people to really feel something,” Ingrosso added. 

“And then they can rage,” Axwell said.

The festival, which started under the aegis of rave promoter Insomniac, moved to Las Vegas in 2011. After more than a decade of growth almost unmatched in the American music festival scene, a natural question is: Who is this blowout really for in 2016?

Teenagers embarking on a rite of rave passage? Seasoned techno-heads settling into their 30s but still wanting to cut loose for a weekend? What about those who have some salt-and-pepper in their neon-dyed hair, or those who don’t quite squeeze into those gold-lame hot pants like they used to?

By the time EDC had launched into its home stretch Sunday, the festival had proved it was still for everyone. 

“It is weird being the senior here,” said Al Elrom, a 46-year-old from L.A. at his first EDC. “But the atmosphere here, it’s almost like a fantasy world. We’re going to go to Burning Man next, so we wanted to prepare.”

Behind Elrom and his wife, Katrina Lalo, 45, the splash and shrieks of concertgoers on a log-flume ride punctuated the drum-and-bass breakdown from a nearby stage. With the temperature still hovering at 90 at night, the water ride looked inviting to many.

“It’s definitely not just for kids here,” Lalo said.

Amid the revelry, some reminders of real life did break the spell. 

On Saturday night, a pyrotechnic feature caught fire at the BassPOD stage, sending fans scrambling. Insomniac released a statement saying that the fire had been “fully extinguished within minutes” and that no attendees  had been injured. Music on the stage, Insomniac said, “resumed within an hour.”

At other points in the festival, concertgoers held signs alluding to the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando  last week and the need to overcome LGBT prejudice. “Love more hate less,” read one rainbow sign thrust above the crowd at the Circuit Grounds stage. Gay men with neon-colored beards, women in matching “Sailor Moon” suits and others in the mixed crowd kissed and danced, seemingly as a rebuttal to the violence in Florida.

Club-music culture finally looked to be settling into adulthood, even while EDC maintained its sheer size and the youth of its music.  

“Look around. These people are all from the suburbs, getting up and going to work or working on a college degree,” said Franklin Jen, an underground rave promoter from the Bay Area. “This is their first time getting to go out with no restrictions, no club bouncer telling you to put away your vape, and getting to see a music culture where you can pretty much do what you want.”

For a genre that’s rooted in friendly anarchy, the scene at Electric Daisy Carnival has been surprisingly consistent. EDM staples such as Kaskade and Hardwell still fill the main stages; dubstep dudes such as GTA and Knife Party send the shirtless Muscle Milk crowd into high-kicking reverie; and the likes of Hot Since 82, J. Phlip and Maya Jane Coles please veteran festival-goers trying to stay above the fray. 

Fans build yearly travel plans around EDC, and the festival has been a gateway into dance music culture for two decades. It’s a workout to be up until 5 a.m. for three straight nights, but 26-year-old Kenia Estrella said it wasn’t so exhausting that she felt the need to move on.

“No way,” said Estrella, an Oklahoman sporting a formidable blue-green Mohawk for her second EDC. “I’m here for life,” she added, making a little fist-pound gesture to underscore the point.

A few hours later, in the on-site the wedding chapel, a young couple was getting hitched with the thump of trap music in the background. The bride wore a white fairy outfit; the groom a pixilated cat T-shirt screen-printed  with “Meowy Me.”

As a photographer snapped the nuptials, one onlooker, 22-year-old Steve Stafsholt from Park City, Utah, was a bit awed. Shirtless, save for a white tie, he said this was the first wedding he’d seen in person.

“This is giving me a whole new sense of perspective,” he said as the bride and groom shared their first kiss on the Cosmic Meadow. “Seeing this collective force of the people here, it’s life-changing.”

august.brown@latimes.com

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