EDC 2016: How to age gracefully at the rave

Alexandre and Jessica Montes kiss during as they are married during the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas on June 17.
Alexandre and Jessica Montes kiss during as they are married during the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas on June 17.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Is aging out of EDC inevitable? Ask Abby Bujack and her aunt, Lynette.

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

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

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But this was actually the idea of her 66-year old aunt.

“I invited her to come here,” said Lynette, who politely declined to give a 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?

The festival, which started in L.A. under the aegis of the rave promoter Insomniac and moved to Las Vegas in 2011, turns 20 this year. After a more than decade of almost unmatched growth in the American festival scene, it seems fair to ask who this blowout of all-night overload is really for in 2016.

Teenagers embarking on a rite of ravey passage, learning the ropes of club-music culture? The seasoned techno heads settling into thirtysomething dotage who can still cut loose for a weekend?

If there’s some salt-and-pepper in your neon-dyed hair, or maybe you don’t quite squeeze into those gold-lame hot pants like you used to, fear not. Twenty years in, EDC is definitely still for everyone.

“It is weird being the senior here,” said Al Elrom, a 46-year-old from L.A. who was also 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.”


The atmosphere here, it’s almost like a fantasy world.

— Al Elrom, a 46-year-old from L.A. attending his first EDC

Behind Elrom and his wife, 45-year-old Katrina Lalo, a giant splash and shrieks of concertgoers on a log-flume ride punctuated the drum-and-bass breakdown from a nearby stage.“It’s definitely not just for kids here,” Lalo said. They’d been there a while, and in the 90-degree heat in the dead of night, the water ride looked pretty inviting for anybody.

But as club-music culture in L.A. finally looks to be settling into something like reasonable adulthood, EDC is still an anomaly for the sheer size, scale and young populism of its music.

For a genre that’s rooted in change, it’s kind of remarkable how consistent the general scene is at Electric Daisy Carnival. EDM staples such as Kaskade and Hardwell still fill the main stages with fizzy, triumphant house music; dubstep dudes such as GTA and Knife Party send the shirtless Muscle Milk set into high-kicking reveries; salty old veterans try to stay above the fray with Hot Since 82, J. Phlip and Maya Jane Coles.

If EDC is an escape, it’s also a way to stop time. Fans build yearly travel plans around it, and EDC has been a gateway into dance music culture for two decades.

It’s no vacation -- it’s a bodily workout to be there and stay up until the requisite 5 a.m. for three straight nights. But is it ever existentially exhausting? As in, is EDC meant for a particular time in your life and you someday have to move on?


“No way,” said 26-year-old Kenia Estrella, an Oklahoman with a formidable blue-green Mohawk. This was her second EDC, and she maintained it would be far from her last. “I’m here for life,” she said, making a little fist-pound gesture to underscore the point.

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

As the photographer snapped their nuptials, 22-year-old Steve Stafsholt from Park City, Utah, looked on, a bit awed. He was shirtless, save for a white tie, and this was the first wedding he’d even been to.

“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.”


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