Since touching down in Sin City in 2011, Insomniac's Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas has grown to an enormous size, boasting eight stages of jaw-dropping production, theatrical performers, carnival rides and more. Insomniac takes it one step further by introducing a variety of experiential and interactive art. This has taken the form of installations in various styles, but the pieces that have stood out the most have been the art cars that roam the festival.
While they are impressive and magical in their own right today, the concept of art cars actually began more than a half-century ago. The counterculture movements of the '60s and '70s saw the creation of airbrushed lowriders and hippie-themed VW vans, where artists could show off their unique DNA through the vehicles they drove. These cars became the backbone of an entire art car scene that flourishes to this day, with different subsets branching off to create their own styles.
Nowhere has this movement been more active than at Burning Man. Seen at the festival since its earliest years, art cars of all shapes and sizes have made their way to the Playa to lay their tracks in the dust and show off the work of their creators. It wasn't long before engineers began pushing their concepts even further, bolstering their cars' strong, singular appearance with production elements and high-wattage sound systems that effectively turned them into mobile stages.
Insomniac founder-CEO Pasquale Rotella is a longtime burner who doesn't hide his admiration for the art and the artists of Black Rock City. As someone who continues to show the world through his festivals and events that art is a powerful medium, it made perfect sense that these beat-pumping behemoths began to make their way into Insomniac's shows.
Insomniac's relationship with art cars began more than a decade ago, when Stefano Novelli's Space Wench, a Burning Man fixture, was brought to EDC Los Angeles in 2009. Insomniac's original iconic ride, the Wide Awake Art Car, debuted at Burning Man in 2011 and quickly became a favorite, winning “Best in Show” that year. The signature metallic owl atop the car's mast brought the car to perfection.
It wasn't until EDC 2012 that attendees began to take notice of how epic these mobile stages could be. High winds shut down the festival on Saturday, leaving many ravers waiting in the grandstands at the cosmicMEADOW. After a while, the Wide Awake Art Car made its way over to act as a makeshift stage for DJs Markus Schulz and Steve Aoki, who were still on-site. Broadcasting to a small but impassioned crowd, the Wide Awake Art Car helped spark a moment that proved even Mother Nature couldn't break the spirit of the rave.
Another high-water mark came at EDC Las Vegas 2014, as Kaskade took to the Mayan Warrior Art Car to play a secret “redux” set immediately following his performance at kineticFIELD, EDC Las Vegas' biggest stage. Spinning a two-hour set of his classics while in the middle of one of the world's largest festivals, the DJ gave fans an intimate experience they'd never forget.
The buzz surrounding this moment was infectious, spreading like a wave across social media and making it clear that these special sets were not to be missed. The following year brought another performance by Kaskade and other artists, including a notable old-school hip-hop set by Hardwell that left fans stunned.
As time progressed, the popularity of art cars only flourished. Recently they have featured takeovers by collectives and labels such as Moontribe, Desert Hearts, Brownies & Lemonade and Monstercat, all which have brought lineups stocked full of special guests to perform under EDC's “Electric Sky.”
Other high-profile art cars have made their way to Las Vegas, like Heathen, Kalliope and El Pulpo Mecanico, and Insomniac is ever ready to add more to the mix. “We're always looking for new friends to join our art car parade,” says Insomniac's Geoff Godfrey. “We do a parade all three nights of EDC Vegas and it's great that we can include art cars from the community.”
Once they arrive at the festival, the cars are handled by a dedicated team that makes sure they comply with all safety regulations and, where applicable, are ready to travel through the crowd. “At our events, it takes a four-person Art Ops crew to build and operate the cars, not including Parliament, which demands a six-person build team,” Godfrey explains. “It takes one driver and a crew on the ground to guide them. You can imagine how exhilarating it might be to drive these art cars through crowds of 150,000-plus people.”
Insomniac's art car fleet includes the Wench and Pushing Daisies, but few have been as prominent as the Boombox and Wide Awake. Originally dubbed the Rockbox, the Boombox began as the creation of Derek Wunder. As one of the first art cars to pump out sound at Burning Man in 2007, after years of service it was purchased in 2012 by Insomniac and transformed into the current ghetto blaster that graces venues today. The Boombox has been so popular that there are now multiple editions that have been featured everywhere from Mexico to Asia.
Insomniac's latest mobile creation, its most ambitious yet, debuted in 2017. Dreamed up and designed by Rotella himself, Parliament features four flame cannons, a 55-foot mobile dance floor and a 16-foot Guardian Owl with fully articulated wings and head that watches over dancers from its LED nest. Like Wide Awake, it boasts a fully customized Funktion One sound system.
Between the two art cars there are 30 21-inch drivers and eight 32-inch subwoofers set to achieve tremendous low-frequency sound pressure. Wide Awake has 30 channels of 1.5kW each, while Parliament features an epic 72 channels of 2kW each, bringing a true mobile concert sound system that rocks ravers to the core.
Whether you've seen them from afar, caught the parade up close on Rainbow Road at EDC Las Vegas, or danced atop one as the sun rose in the desert, there is no denying that these art cars provide a unique yet vital ingredient in EDC's multifarious color palette.
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