LAS VEGAS — If time-lapse photos existed to illustrate the movements of the crowd during the first two nights of the Electric Daisy Carnival this past weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a bird's-eye view would show clusters of human ants, an estimated 80,000 for each of the three days of the annual electronic music festival, moving in packs within the grounds of the 1,200-acre complex as if by mysterious force.
Zoom in, and patterns would begin to emerge. Within the facility's 1.5-mile oval track, home on most weekends to racing events like the Kobalt Tools 400, thousands of bobbing heads gathered in darkness around five booming, crystal clear sound systems, bouncing among carnival rides and strobing lights to the sounds of some of the world's most popular DJs -- including Benny Benassi, DJ Tiesto, David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia, and Skrillex -- and some of the genre's most innovative and forward-thinking masterminds, such as Richie Hawtin, Green Velvet and Rusko.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, June 29, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Electric Daisy Carnival: In the June 27 Calendar section, a Critic's Notebook on the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas misidentified the promoter as Insomnia. The name of the company is Insomniac Events.
Focus on just one of the event's many stages -- Guetta's 1:30 a.m. Sunday set -- and witness party trains snaking through the crowd, rolling in time to a 128-beat-per-minute metronomic thump. Notice one fivesome, holding hands; boys musclebound and shirtless; bikini-top girls wearing matching panties that say "booty" on the bottom; faces lost in music; Mona Lisa smiles.
Welcome to the first Sin City installment of the biggest dance music festival in America, one that seems to have found its natural home in Nevada. Previous West Coast versions of the Daisy Carnival have taken place at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum in downtown Los Angeles, but partly as a result of last summer's death of a 15-year-old girl who had attended the party and the ensuing scrutiny, the company that produced the 14 previous events, Insomnia, moved the carnival to the biggest, most secure outdoor space in Vegas. If there's one city that can handle this crowd, it's Vegas, whose public safety officers deal with adrenaline addicts all day, every day.
The scale was massive: a dance party as county fair, with Ferris wheels, a funhouse and many swirling spinning devices. You could find corn dogs and hamburgers, lemonade and beer. From a proper distance (and with earplugs in), one could imagine it was REO Speedwagon and LeAnn Rimes sharing the showbill.
But EDC draws a subculture that has little overlap with NASCAR dads, even if their children are no doubt here in droves: teenagers and twentysomethings in love with house music and all its myriad forms, swollen with energy and desire. It's a demographic that the Vegas casinos are chasing hard these days. Many of the weekend's headliners are resident DJs at clubs along the Strip; and at the city's hottest new hotel, the Cosmopolitan, gamblers shoot craps while the casino-wide sound system shuffles a playlist that includes Radiohead, Talking Heads and Hot Chip.
And yet, more than two decades after rave culture first sprouted in England, participants have come to accept that their particular passion for electronic music and gathering outdoors in a large, communal mass to dance all night long still confuses and frightens parents reared on the guitar and not the sampler/computer. It continues to be the sonic crux of a generation gap.
The DJs that performed here are ruling the pop charts in 2011: Italian DJ Benny Benassi's collaboration with Chris Brown, "Beautiful People," was a top 10 smash, and Frenchman Guetta's "Love Is Gone" had thousands screaming every word on Saturday night. DJ Tiesto makes as much money as a pop star. But not having risen out of rock 'n' roll, or country, blues, or classic pop music, the notion of gathering large volumes of people to watch DJs throw their hands in the air doesn't really register with the verse-chorus-verse crowd or the media seeking to understand the allure.
There were two fatalities at the rock-oriented Bonnaroo music festival this month, but this news was greeted with relative indifference and little fear-mongering. News of two deaths at the Dallas installment of EDC in early June, however, was treated much more ominously, as though there were trouble lurking inside the music and the structure of its presentation rather than inside every curious teenager faced with the temptation of experimenting with illegal drugs, be it an organic fungus or a synthetic drop of Ecstasy.
Ecstasy? It's a word whose original meaning gets eclipsed by its pharmaceutical one. But ecstasy was everywhere at Electric Daisy Carnival, the kind created by -- zoom in further, into the mind -- firing neurons racing in the region of the brain devoted to reward, motivation and arousal, where naturally occurring opioids fill the pleasure centers, whether you're on drugs or not.