Maybe it was pure exhaustion, or maybe everyone's serotonin levels were finally returning to normal. But the final night of Electric Daisy Carnival had an almost dreamy glaze to it.
On Friday night, dudes pounded tequila shots and hoisted girlfriends new and old on their shoulders. On Sunday night, they crowded by the Las Vegas Motor Speedway's wall, the glint of a valedictory firework display reflecting in their glow-stick-sunglasses.
This might have been due to the relatively wistful sounds of the acts playing. On the Kinetic field, the trance trio Above & Beyond had perhaps the most purely tasteful major headline set of the weekend. They're scene veterans who have been active since the '90s, and over the years they've forged a sound that accomplishes all the legwork of big-field dance music but avoids most of its cliches.
The group is doubly relevant today, having founded the essential label Anjunabeats and its deep-house offshoot Anjunadeep. But their real power is still onstage, with a set full of ebbs and flows that felt both hypnotic and dramatic, with none of the jarring drops or dumb buildups of so many contemporaries. The church-inspired visuals of the Kinetic Field rarely had a more complementary act -- their set had the hope and melancholy of a dance-music devotional.
Immediately after them, the Swedish House Mafia alums Axwell /\ Ingrosso walked out to a reception reserved for old friends. SHM was one of the foundational acts of this wave of global EDM (the trio's third member, Steve Angello, also played the fest solo). Freed from the expectations of being in one of the globe's biggest bands, the duo's set was simultaneously more challenging and more playful than anything their previous project could do.
The recent SHM tour documentary "Leave the World Behind" found a band trying to wring every last drop of triumph from the shuttering of an institution. Axwell /\ Ingrosso's set, however, found them working out different ideas about tension and song craft. Over a half-dozen new tunes, they dipped into Daft Punk's crunchy robot rock, Dance Mania Records' so-blunt-it's-smart sense of repetition, and some exultant synths ripped from '70s prog.
One new tune, which fans have given a working title of "On My Way," felt like it had pop-hit potential with an immediately memorable chorus. But the long, well-spaced drum builds and crowd-teasing pacing felt entirely new for the duo.
EDC fans obviously still miss SHM and greeted cuts of the trio's tracks with pure, heaving energy. But now that Axwell and Ingrosso don't have to be arena-crushing megastars, perhaps they can become more interesting producers and DJs for it.
Other acts tapped a similar sense of loopy, dizzy pleasure. Maya Jane Coles, one of modern house music's few acts with an interest in full-length albums, wove her darkly gorgeous singles into a forceful live set in the Neon Garden. With peers including Jamie Jones, Art Department, Damian Lazarus and Jimmy Edgar booked alongside her, Sunday was perhaps the weekend's strongest night in the underground tent.
But heading into the late shift of EDC Sunday night, many fans were ready for one last fix. Holland's R3hab filled the Circuit Grounds tent with eager, hard house kicks. Across the field, the genre-smashing duo Zeds Dead parlayed their hip-hop inspired drum edits and dubstep sonics into one of the Cosmic Meadow's biggest crowds. If you were game to take once last blast of bass to the face at 3 a.m. on Sunday, you couldn't have asked for a more enthusiastic one.
As the night's big fireworks show rattled the sky, a few dozen fans crowded by the back gate to the taxi stand. Some looked very ready to leave; others just wanted a perfect view of the explosions. But whatever you were doing there, you stopped to watch. For a festival meant for fans to look at one another, finally everyone had the same view.