The challenge facing its L.A.-based promoter, Insomniac, is how to balance the largesse of what has now become radio pop, with electronic dance music's underground roots.
In order to live so large, with one of the biggest festival stages in North America, the music has to be over-the-top. We're talking Steve Angello, Armin van Buuren, Martin Garrix, Hardwell, Afrojack. Unfortunately this is often ...
... just horrific music.
It's just the most base, push-button, finger-in-the-air tripe. What's worse, a lot of the main-stage acts you'll hear at contemporary EDM festivals try to pass themselves off as house DJs, which is an insult to house music.
With endless build-ups and temple-piercing synths, this bro-raver tunage is really just warmed-over trance with radio-friendly vocals.
The good news is that we spotted ravers streaming away from the stages when both Hardwell and Martin Garrix were playing. (By the way, of all the DJs who would make you want to have your ears filled with cement, Garrix is the one.)
There was plenty of solid, soulful dance music to be had and, despite the ultra-young demographic, the ravers were having it. Booka Shade electrified with a live set that included electronic drums. [This paragraph was changed after publication. See editor's note at story's end.]
Dubfire lived up to his name and played a smoldering, minimal take on Janet Jackson's "Go Deep." ("We be up all night. Until the early light. We go deep. And we don't get no sleep.")
Diplo was the star of the first night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this year. The L.A.-based cut-and-paste artist dazzled with his blend of hip-hop, bass, and ragga influences. Ice Cube's "Check Yo Self" even made an appearance.
The spinner brought along an Atlanta twerk team (one of the young women put a foot up on the DJ console and did a one-legged twerk). In fact, just about every female in the crowd seemed to be twerking.
They could have used more room: Fans spread out across the infield outside the boundaries of the Cosmic Meadow stage. "You're the most gangsta motherfuckers at EDC right now," Diplo told his acolytes.
Seeing a teen in fishnets and a tutu twerk is disconcerting, but it says everything about the scene right now: All that fluffy stuff being played on the main, Kinetic Field stage needs a dose of gangsta.
And despite all the exposure EDM has received in recent years, including Rolling Stone
covers (finally), there's still a sense of us
at EDC, as if the mainstream couldn't absorb all this if it wanted to.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly referenced a set by Luciano. He did not perform at this year's EDC. We regret the error.
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