How Pasquale Rotella Built His Rave Empire 

The man behind EDC is not going away, felony charges be damned

Thursday, Sep 12 2013
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By 2012 Gerami's parties were essentially finished in L.A.

"Reza's demise was his own doing," Rotella says. "He wasn't able to find venues after the Sports Arena."

For his part, Gerami says, "I don't think it's personal, where he elbowed me out. Business is business, and competition is competition."

click to flip through (5) PHOTO BY ERIK KABIK - Pasquale Rotella at Burning Man
  • Pasquale Rotella at Burning Man

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In recent years, Rotella has embarked on a steady takeover of L.A.'s EDM club scene, wringing its neck like a boa constrictor. The expansion includes one-off DJ concerts at the Hollywood Palladium, a partnership with SBE Entertainment Group's new super-club Create, and regular weekend bookings at downtown club Exchange Los Angeles. One promoter, who asked not to be identified for fear of invoking the wrath of EDM's king, reports that the only way he can book big-name DJs is with Rotella's blessing.

Another promoter, who also declined to be identified, says that Rotella reached out to metaphorically slap his hand for handing out a competitor's fliers at one of Insomniac's SoCal parties this summer. A no-no in '92 is still a no-no in the corporate world of festivals today. And Rotella is not afraid to be a micromanager.

"I don't like when people attack me," Rotella says. "I can be fierce."

He adds, "I don't like confrontation. But I am never going to stop what I'm doing when my life is on the line. I do have business sense. It's because of my upbringing. I wasn't given toys. I grew up with parents who had nothing and wanted to start businesses. I'm very strategic. I want to protect what I do."

Rotella denies any attempt to dominate the local market, saying he only does the local shows because they "just kind of fall into my lap." Underlings handle those bookings, Rotella says, while he focuses on EDC.

He describes his company's signature event as "fulfilling people's fantasies." To that end, he says the Live Nation deal won't change his events — he retains creative control. "I have some big things I want to accomplish. I'm not even close yet."

For Rotella, the party is the attraction. Always was. Forget the $250,000-per-gig superstar DJs and the same old lineups featuring Avicii, Afrojack and Tiesto on a permanent loop. At this year's EDC in Vegas, the stage was noticeably more concentrated, with DJs barely discernible inside the belly of Rotella's hallmark, a massive, "wide awake" night owl. (Insomniac's motto is "Wide Awake Since 1993," a nod to the drug-fueled, party-till-dawn raving of the early days.)

The ideal party for Rotella would be "10 percent music, 10 percent DJ names" — with a much bigger focus on the lighting, the costumed guests, the art. For him, it's about the whole experience, not just the names on the marquee: "I want to have the best theatrics and art and people coming for many reasons. The biggest thing is trying to get people to connect."

In Vegas for EDC, Rotella commands a motorcade of golf carts that shuttles his retinue from the helicopter landing area to his trailer next to the main stage. As the conga line reaches a gate, however, an assistant refuses security's command to slow down. One of the guards steps right in front of the first vehicle and is almost flattened.

"Do you know who we're with?" doesn't seem to cut it. The security guards, now aided by local police, grow suspicious and start searching people. James Frey's backpack gets a worse reaming than Oprah ever gave him, and even Madison's little clutch is not immune from the TSA treatment.

Rotella and Madison, who's dressed in a long, butterfly-print skirt, sit in back of the first cart, facing the rear. As the carts get the green light and begin to meander through the crowds, with a sweating bodyguard jogging on the ground behind the couple, ravers run up to say hi and take pictures. Rotella gets recognized 2-to-1 over Madison, the Playboy beauty, reality TV star and tabloid fave. The raver kids point and shout, "That's Pasquale!"

"That's the biggest success," Rotella says later. "I have the best, most loyal crowds in the world."

Later that night, Rotella meets up with his mom at his row of VIP tables. She's wearing a sparkling black top hat and oversized, heart-shaped sunglasses. As a way of greeting, she slaps a reporter's cheeks as only an Italian grandmother could.

At Rotella's VIP corral above the main stage, vodka flows and childhood friends who have never left his side enjoy the fruits of a bro's labor.

Rotella is a true believer that raves are a force for good, presenting a great equalizer in the form of the dance floor, even if he now observes the festivities like royalty, from a couple stories above.

"There are people," he says, for whom "the rave scene was good. I'm one of them."

Reach the writer at dennisjromero@gmail.com

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