Raves Give Rise to Electronica Fests

USA Today: In the early '90s, in abandoned warehouses scattered across the USA, the walls shook with the sounds of dance music. Inside, a small community of enthusiasts, who called themselves ravers, usually wearing wide-legged pants and neon colors, gathered to dance to the thumping basslines until well after the sun rose.

Fast-forward to now. That underground culture has burst into the open, glow sticks proudly in hand, with multimillion-dollar production budgets and massive venues.

This weekend's Electric Daisy Carnival (June 24-26) at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is just the first in a string of summer dance-music festivals, including Electric Zoo and North Coast Music Festival. Lollapalooza, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, is including Deadmau5 as one of its headliners, a first in the electronic music world.

"It was an underground scene for years, making its way from small dance tents at festivals to now being the events themselves," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the touring trade publication Pollstar. "When you're selling out stadiums and making $100,000 in ticket sales, you can't really call electronica underground anymore."

Electric Daisy, making its move to Vegas after a 14-year run in Los Angeles, is expected to draw 200,000 revelers to take in 200-plus musicians, dancers, fire twirlers, aerialists and stilt walkers. "That's what Vegas is all about," Mayor Oscar Goodman proclaimed of the event at a June press conference at City Hall.

The carnival was booted from L.A. (satellite events have been held in Orlando, Denver, Dallas and Puerto Rico) after a 15-year-old girl died from a drug overdose in 2010, but Goodman stands behind his endorsement. "You do the best you can, but if people want to be idiots, you can't stop them," he says. "You can't make people necessarily behave by telling them to behave."

Getting an official blessing is a big change for the rebranded raves. "The drug connotation with electronic music often meant politicians stayed away from any association," says Bongiovanni. "That a public official is speaking on its behalf speaks to electronic music festivals as a growing trend."

Live Nation has invested in the IDentity Festival, the first electronica-focused tour boasting names like Kaskade and Pete Tong. The celebrations kick off on Aug. 11 in Noblesville, Ind., and wrap up on Sept. 10 in George, Wash.

"Electronica is bigger than it's ever been in America," says Scott Henry, the DJ who shaped the electronic music scene in Washington and Baltimore and founded Buzzlife Productions, which produced early U.S. raves such as Fever and Buzz. "Buzz started out in a loft space in Baltimore in the early '90s, with a 500-person capacity. We were inspired by the acid-house rave scene in England, where it all began. Now, you've got big-scale events like Electric Daisy and IDentity. It's very interesting to see the changing of the guard."

Despite its growing popularity, electronica is still a subculture at heart. "Even at big festivals like Electric Daisy, there are only two or three of us that are signed to major (record) labels," says Kaskade (aka Ryan Raddon), who is a headliner at IDentity Fest. "And it's not like you can just get into your car and hear it on the radio. You have to really dig to find the music.

"At its core, it's still an underground culture."


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