First, there were dancers dressed like strippers from the Roman Praetorian Guard. They strutted in imposing plumage and armor -- but little else -- while flames licked the Kinetic Field stage at the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Then, on a riser ascending from the deep center of the stage, the Dutch trance DJ Armin Van Buuren rose, arms extended like an emperor to greet his faithful. It was pretty absurd, but it was some real pageantry from this all-conquering music scene.
Finally, something happened onstage to rival the scene in the crowd at EDC.
On the second night of the festival, the various camps of dance music genres at EDC showed off their respective armies’ strengths. Big tent arena-trance, pop-friendly UK house and squelchy bass were all out in force, all fighting for territory amid the 130,000-plus fans.
Out on the main field, Van Buuren’s optimistic, high-octane trance found favor with a new generation (the DJ’s been at it since the early ‘90s). Now a major-venue star in the States, he understands the crowd-pleasing potency of his upbeat, long-form sound. In a scene where the idea of the “rock-star DJ” is an old trope, he actually had a bit of ‘70s arena pomp to him that played well here.
Before him, his younger countryman Hardwell asserted the ongoing primacy of the Dutch electro-house sound at EDC. Hardwell is one of the scene’s fastest-ascending acts, rising to the peak of DJ Magazine’s Top 100 list at 25. His tracks are big, blunt instruments and entirely attuned to the immediate needs of EDC-goers. Nobody at this peak level was pushing dance music forward, but they sure enjoyed marinating in its current successes.
A more exciting development was happening around the Speedway corner, where a couple of acts proved that the UK’s more grounded, soulful house-music culture could credibly translate as pop music in the U.S. Disclosure introduced the world to Sam Smith on “Latch,” and always seemed a few steps apart from the maw of EDC culture. They’re doing two nights at the Sports Arena in L.A. later this year, but the fact that they DJ’ed in the smaller underground tent at EDC suggested they know they have the power to help re-shape this scene from the inside out.
Duke Dumont, a multiple Grammy nominee with a similar vintage-inspired, vocal-centric house sound, was up to something similar on a nearby outdoor stage. Joined by a small live band (including a drummer, whose presence went a long way at a fest dominated by mixing consoles), songs like “Won’t Look back” had a musicality and zest missing from a lot of the pure club culture at EDC. He had a breakout year in 2014, and house music would be all the better if his winning streak continued.
Later in that same underground tent, Carl Cox joined old-guard peer Victor Calderone for another long block of mercurial house and techno. It was Cox’s second straight night holding court there, and it’s hard to tell if that’s the kind of generous, history-asserting gesture that makes EDC worth attending, or a little bit lazy from the bookers. But they still had the toughest, most evocative sounds of the fest, even as noisy acts like Excision and Carnage won big crowds nearby with hard-partying synth blasts, and Eric Prydz churned crowds with fizzy, almost prog-inspired arpeggios.
There were no big revelations about today's dance music to be had on Saturday night, but at this point, competence and dominance are enough to win the night at EDC. No leather-clad Roman warrior garb was required, though it was definitely welcome.
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