Raves are rarely built to last. But this weekend, more than 400,000 people are expected to jam the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the 20th anniversary of the nation's biggest dance music festival, Electric Daisy Carnival.
"I always knew I'd being doing this until I'm dead. But now the stakes have never been so high," said Pasquale Rotella, founder of the Insomniac concert firm that promotes EDC. "It started at such a micro level, when EDM wasn't even around. Now it's at a place that we've always dreamed of having it. But the dream keeps growing, and dance music is always thinking about what's next."
After two decades, EDC Las Vegas is the gold standard of raves in America. The festival routinely sells out before the lineup is announced and will soon expand to India, Japan and Mexico. Almost every notable EDM, dubstep and techno act plays the Las Vegas edition each year.
Top acts this weekend include Above & Beyond (who just headlined the Hollywood Bowl with an orchestra), Swedish House Mafia alums Axwell Ingrosso, pop crossovers the Chainsmokers and teen phenom Martin Garrix, along with dozens of other acts from all fringes of electronic music. This year, new attractions include a full-festival live-stream and a log-flume water ride that should be helpful in the estimated 108-degree heat.
But after welcoming the fest to Las Vegas in 2011, the Nevada state government is testing the relationship.
Last year, Nevada passed a 9% tax on tickets to live entertainment events, a move specifically meant to raise revenues from large raves like EDC and other events like Burning Man.
EDC sold out regardless (general admission tickets, including all taxes and fees, ran $429.99 this year), but Rotella worries that such taxes may eventually impede young fans from affording it.
"We don't want our crowd alienated, and we've been doing our best to represent their interests," Rotella said. He said they have no plans to leave Las Vegas yet, but he warned that Insomniac could "absolutely" consider moving if taxes ever put ticket prices too high.
Even the most devoted EDC fans may wonder how long they can hold on.
"I fell in love with my fiance at EDC, and we've spent our anniversary there for 11 years in a row," said Leah Schwersinske of Tucson. "But this year I turned 30, I have grown-up responsibilities at my new job, and it would have been three to five thousand dollars for us to go. It's a jaw-dropping production and my soul hurts from not being there, but last year I was definitely wondering, 'Am I kind of too old to be here?' "
San Bernardino's County government, by contrast, may want Insomniac to leave entirely.
Insomniac's Nocturnal Wonderland and Beyond Wonderland raves are currently held at the San Manuel Amphitheater, which is owned by the county. With a 65,000 capacity, it's America's largest outdoor music venue.
But its proximity to the small town of Devore, and its difficult entry and exit roads, make it a tough fit for Insomniac's late-night EDM crowds. San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford plans to introduce a measure soon that would cancel the amphitheater's contract with Insomniac's partner Live Nation.
"These are by far the largest events at the San Manuel Amphitheater, and the venue just gets crushed," said Scott Vanhorne, Rutherford's spokesman. "It can be a two-hour wait to leave the venue, and attendees are going to the bathroom in people's yards. It's untenable."
Rotella, for his part, said that "we've always had a great relationship with the county, and we're going to continue to work with their concerns. This is part of growing, and it's nothing new."
While it fights to retain its massive venues, Insomniac is also looking to its warehouse-party roots.
That's the idea behind Factory 93, an occasional series of smaller raves that made its debut in an industrial building in Chinatown last month.
In the wee hours one weekend, laser fans cut through an artificial fog while the U.K. house music producer Hot Since 82 played to heaving crowds. Late-twenty and thirtysomething fans milled within a glow-stick-toss of the Gold Line tracks. Many approved of the new aesthetic.
"I usually go to EDC, but this is a very cool, very different vibe," said Cat Kay of Orange County.
Downtown L.A. is full of similar (if semi-legal) parties where cutting-edge acts play to in-the-know crowds. It's the kind of scene that birthed EDC two decades ago, and it may be one inspiration for what comes next in the dance-music culture that Insomniac helped pioneer.
After 20 years, some Electric Daisy veterans may have aged out. But at least on this night, something in the air at Factory 93 made the promise of raving feel vital again.
"This is a very mature crowd, but it's also it's gotten more avant-garde over time," said one fan in a psychedelic goth getup who would only identify himself by his nom de club, Rocky Road. "This is all waking up the city again. I'm glad it's back."
MORE MUSIC NEWS