The first neon of EDC day three comes from a group of guys walking on the shoulder of the freeway, miles away from the Speedway. It may sound crazy, but they‘re outpacing the traffic. I meet an electrical engineer in line who’s here to “let it all go and just cut loose.” The diversity is beautiful, from the cubicle set to teen ravers to hating hipsters complaining about EDM sell-outs.
I hurry to the main stage to meet up with Dirty South. His team graciously invited me to shadow the Aussie prodigy for his sets at Marquee (pool party at the day club) and EDC—a whirlwind 36 hours I’ll chronicle shortly.
I stick around the main stage for Pretty Lights, whose set includes an unsurprisingly beautiful lights show. He mixes the iconic Etta James verse (that Avicii borrowed for Levels) over a dope old-school beat from Rappin 4 Tay’s “Player’s Club.” A few moments he drops Kanye West—“All of the Lights,” Pretty Lights dubstep remix. Cue adoring fans.
I decide to check out David Guetta’s set amid rumors of his imminent retirement. Sounds like a Jay-Z “retirement” to me. He comes out to “Titanium,” which offers an intriguing metaphor:
“I'm criticized, but all your bullets ricochet. You shoot me down, but I get up. I'm bulletproof, nothing to lose. Fire away, fire away. Ricochet, you take your aim fire away, fire away. You shoot me down, but I won't fall, I am titanium.”
David Guetta has been the target of much criticism. While he deserves substantial credit for EDM’s growing popularity, he’s vilified for doing so via mainstream radio. But those bullets ricochet—he's the biggest crossover act in the game and nothing less than a genre-defining DJ. We’ll see if he can ever regain his former street cred, but he’s smiling with a bulletproof vest made of cash.
“This is the biggest party on the planet right now,” Guetta rightfully declares. His live sets, depending on the venue, will raise your hair and surprise you, showing you his range, reach, and prolific ability in the genre while illustrating his pervasive ability to cross every taste level. But not tonight, as he plays a set of his radio hits and I leave a bit disappointed.
I go check out Noisia at basspod. These dub dudes are going hard. The three LED walls are pulsating. “F*ck ya, EDC!” they scream as 3-D laser show pumps in, bouncing off the smoke, as a giant mosh pit forms.
I join my friends over at Armin van Buuren, and it’s a mad house. I’d call this euphoric trance or trance-ballet. Wait, it’s an emotionally melodic outer space journey. Naked holographic bodies caress on the stage as the entire crowd pulsates to the beat. His entranced fans twirl LED gloves and spin light tops as they form personal circles of micro-light-shows—a rave version of a high school dance circle.
I overhear a funny Skrillex simile disparagingly comparing the artist to Taco Bell: always the same ingredients, wrapped up with slight differences.
We arrive at Carl Cox and I’m starting to slip toward a wonderfully delirious state of exhaustion. I’m half asleep lying on my back taking notes, kept awake by Carl Cox’s house-y trance life support. I let the experience surround me and feel the cliché sensory overload: the sound of the melodies, the feel of the bass vibrating my skin, the beautiful lights and all the costumes. The smell of all kinds of smoke and grass—freshly trimmed grass in the meadow, that is. Almost everyone around me is dancing. Carl is a legend and he proves it yet again tonight. If Armin is the emotion of EDC, Carl is the beat.
We watch the sunrise over a post-festival feast of McGriddles. Perfect.