Twenty years after rave culture first entered the American mainstream, the success of a festival like Electric Daisy Carnival begs the question: Can electronic dance music retain its authenticity, warehouse roots and peace, love, unity and respect (PLUR)?
EDC, whose organizers claim they sold out this year's event in Las Vegas with a three-day audience of 300,000, has taken EDM to levels previously unseen in the United States.
Massive stages, booming sound systems, and DJs who are now studio A-listers (David Guetta) and arena rock stars (Kaskade) in their own right beg the question of whether this has indeed become a mainstream showcase, as its promoters argued before raves were shut out from the L.A. Coliseum last year and EDC moved to Vegas.
If they were right, and maybe they were, EDC has taken rave culture beyond its edge and into the predictable realm of a stage show.
Where DJs once wove a night's narrative based on whim and their own sense of the crowd, EDC is a KROQ Weenie Roast of electronic music, a place where you can see your favorite heroes play your favorite songs from the radio.
Kaskade's performance Friday during the opening night of EDC at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, while electrifying in all its megawatt glory, was the usual rundown of his hits. If you ever asked what would become of the electronic music veteran — would he play Vegas like a veteran torch singer? — the answer is yes. He'll play all your faves.
The main stage was framed by wall-to-wall supergraphics and light screens that blasted the words to Kaskade's songs, so you could sing along to the call-and-response.
Also scheduled for EDC Saturday (but cancelled as a result of wind): Avicii, whose “Levels” is a track so played out that it inspired an internet meme (a photo of a gun-toting Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction with the words, “Play Levels Again … “), has become a caricature of the superstar DJ.
On Friday, DJ Afrojack played his own style of synth-stabbed torture. With an MC pumping people up with classic lines like, “After this I'm going to go get fucked up,” Afrojack played a set of audacious tracks that sounded like a brigade of fire trucks was en route.
Calvin Harris played his own tunes on Saturday. He's a singer. He didn't sing.
This is dance music today: A press-play parade of millionaires going through the motions.
It's not EDC's fault. The organizers booked some excellent talent, including Danny Tenaglia, Richie Hawtin and John Digweed.
But what we saw Friday and some of Saturday (before the plug was pulled) were the most-popular dance artists in the world, sans only a few folks (Deadmau5, Skrillex), giving us what we could have gotten by buying a CD or downloading a mix.
If EDC is truly electric, it's because its crowds are amazing. Coachella, frankly, has nothing on 90,000 or so kids bouncing to Kaskade as he rocks the main stage.
But back to that question. Is it authentic? The lineup had us wondering what was going on inside the clubs on the strip. Where's the underground action at?