Electric Daisy Carnival is reliable onstage, more captivating off it

Electric Daisy Carnival is reliable onstage, more captivating off it
Onstage at Electric Daisy Carnival, the annual festival now held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Mark van der Aa / Insomniac)

Around 7 a.m. Saturday, as the pink and orange dawn ascended over Sunrise Mountain, two exhausted-looking bros walked out of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Shirtless, board-shorted and weary behind their aviator sunglasses, they'd made it through the first night of the Electric Daisy Carnival, the dance-music bacchanal that has become America's largest multiday music festival.


One guy turned to the other as they walked to their car in the dusty parking lot. "Bro," he said, "I don't know if EDC is ready for two more days of me."

True words, bro. Because therein lies the real pleasure of this sprawling, messy, neon-ravaged gathering of the tribes (state-school fratties, serious ravers, Burning Man casualties, tarted-up club girls). It all really does feel like it's meant to please an audience of one.

For the estimated 400,000 fans who attended the three-day event, EDC weekend is an occasion for good-natured, unstructured communal revelry. There is dance music, obviously -- established arena-fillers such as Tiësto, Avicii, Kaskade and Armin Van Buuren; the rising class of superstars like Hardwell, Arty and Alesso; and thoughtful, challenging mood-setters like Art Department, Carl Cox and Adam Beyer. But the attraction for most fans is simply existing among all those barely clad bodies and retina-popping visuals.

Not even a fatality early Saturday -- a 24-year-old California man whose cause of death is still under investigation -- seemed to affect fans gathered at the main stages.

Musical surprises were relatively few. Most of its top-tier headliners have played recent EDCs or other local fests like Coachella and Hard. (The folk-dabbling Avicii even played this year's KROQ Weenie Roast, a sign of EDM gentrifying nearly every neighborhood in pop music.)

The big-stage pleasures of the first two nights were reliably populist -- Van Buuren remixing the hook off "Let It Go" from Disney's "Frozen," Steve Aoki barely touching his mix console and instead chucking layer cakes at his fans. Tiësto took a hard turn into top-40 on his new album, "A Town Called Paradise," and its single "Wasted" has already achieved total ubiquity in both Vegas taxicab ads and on EDC's Kinetic Field (even if its seemingly party-hearty chorus lyric of "I like us better when we're wasted" had an uncommon touch of bleakness).

More interesting musical moments were humming on the side stages, or at the precipice of stardom. Russian producer Arty was an early signing to EDC promoter Insomniac's new major-label imprint with Interscope. LP sales are largely incidental to EDM success, but his mix of big-tent EDM sonics and moving songwriting could prove a potent force in pop. The beat-music provocateur 12th Planet inventively smashed hip-hop, trap, dubstep and noise into one adrenaline-soaked house party; L.A. duo Bixel Boys had a sporty swagger that felt true to EDC's moment of dudes hugging it out under candy-pink fluorescence.

The most compelling stretches took place in the underground-focused Neon Garden. Cox played multiple sets over the weekend, each time charging the night with muscular yet musical vintage house. Beyer took a noisier, sparser path to a similar place, while his peer Loco Dice plied reverbed-out moods punctuated with subsonic kick drums.

As fans, artists and even Insomniac founder Pasquale Rotella have noted, however, the music is -- if not a secondary concern -- mostly now just the backdrop.

Some in the crowd danced with pagan pleasure. One drunk couple got in a screaming fit and broke up beneath an incandescent snail sculpture. For some, the most memorable bit might have been the epic lines to get a taxi home at the end of the first night.

One reviewer, at close to a mental breaking point while in line for a taxi, was rescued by a carload of giddy ravers who let him ride with them back to the Vegas Strip.

It was a gesture of youthful trust that embodied EDC at its best. And if your moment of EDC bliss happened on Interstate 15 in a stranger's sedan, as a yearning Florence and the Machine remix welcomed the desert sunrise and home was finally in sight, well, then that was as real as anything happening on the field.

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