The bright lights and big sounds of Las Vegas are about to get a whole lot brighter and much, much louder.
This weekend, Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) takes over Sin City, with 400,000 EDM fans painting the town neon. More than 200 acts, ranging from veterans Kaskade and Tiesto to rising stars Martin Garrix and Avicii, will be spread across eight stages at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Add firework displays, carnival rides, art installations, 500 theatrical performers, no-holds-barred stage production and lots of lights, and it’s a pretty sure bet that this three-day festival will be a buffet for the senses.
“I’ve been throwing dance parties for 20 years, and I’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” says Insomniac Events founder Pasquale Rotella, the mastermind behind EDC Las Vegas, New York City, London and Puerto Rico. “I’ve survived on Top Ramen and lived in places with rent control. But it all worked out.”
Since EDC arrived in Vegas in 2011, he’s generated more than $621 million for the local economy. In 2011, Mayor Oscar Goodman declared Electric Daisy Carnival Week, making the fest the first publicly sanctioned electronic dance event. Music industry pundit Bob Lefsetz put Rotella on his 2011 list of 10 most powerful people in music, ahead of Interscope co-founder Jimmy Iovine.
He’s worth $10 million, according to TheRichest.com, a site that tracks the one percent. In 2013, Rotella sold half of the company to concert giant Live Nation for $50 million.
He’s also happily married to Holly Madison, who starred in the Hugh Hefner reality show “The Girls Next Door.” They wed in Disneyland and have a daughter together, 15-month-old Rainbow Aurora.
Things haven’t always gone that well for Rotella. He got his start in the ‘90s, when EDM parties were known as raves and held illegally in abandoned warehouses. “I fell in love with the scene,” says Rotella, who turns 40 in August. “I loved the positive vibe and the music. It was very underground, but the more people talked about it, the more parties got busted.
“A party getting broken up at 4, 5, or 6 a.m. is fine, but sometimes it would happen before the party would even start. Plus, there was an influx of shady people and gangs started showing up. Then there were the L.A. riots and parties were canceled because of the 10 p.m. curfew. The scene just died.”
The solution, obviously, was to throw his own parties. “I was a teenager and I just wanted to have a good time,” he says. “Turns out that it’s actually a lot of work. I did weekly parties for a year, but it was really tiring to find a new location every week. Getting a legit location was hard because I was just this kid in baggy clothes and no one took me seriously.”
The first official Insomniac event took place over Halloween weekend in 1993 and attracted a crowd of 300. Today, his parties pull in 1 million people a year.
“He was really the pioneer of the EDM scene. He helped develop it from underground warehouses to the mainstream, where these events are held in huge football stadiums,” says Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar, which covers the concert industry. “He was quick to recognize that music is only part of the experience. Rotella creates that special social environment and that’s the key to his success.”
“Pasquale has had his pulse on what people wanted from an EDM event since the late ‘90s,” says Scott Henry, the DJ who shaped the electronic music scene in Washington and Baltimore and founded Buzzlife Productions, which produced raves such as Fever and Buzz. “His influence on the surge in EDM’s popularity in the U.S. over the last few years is undeniable.”
“It’s part of a generational zeitgeist; it’s becoming like Woodstock,” says Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Doug Elfman, who covers the Vegas club scene. “For people in their twenties, dance music is just part of their culture and language.”
Rotella’s rise to the top was a lengthy one. “The scene crashed four times. The last one was in 2001, when events went from 40,000 to 7,000 people attending,” he says. “There was a rave task force that kept busting up the parties. There was a crack house law that threatened event throwers with jail time and a lot of people dropped out. I kept going, though, and that’s why I’m still here.”
Liz Miller, general manager of Big Beat, Atlantic Records’ dance-music imprint, attended her first Insomniac event in the late ‘90s. “Even then, the production was large scale and it was the most impressive event,” she says . “He’s dedicated his whole life to EDM and never held back on his vision. His position is hard won and well deserved.”
Although “EDM” has replaced the term “rave” as a way of distancing the scene from its reputation as a drug culture, that notoriety continues to linger. “It’ll just take time,” says Rotella. “The dance scene has the same problems that rock ‘n’ roll did. Rock was called devil-worship music and also had drug associations — as it matured, that’s gone away. The same (thing) will happen. Although the dance scene has been around 20 years, commercially speaking, it’s been only five.”
With Rotella’s success came controversy. In 2010, a 15-year-old girl died of an overdose at EDC in Los Angeles, putting Insomniac at the center of a media firestorm. In 2011, he was accused of bribing officials to book raves at L.A.’s taxpayer-funded coliseum. The civil suit was dismissed for lack of evidence; the criminal case is still pending.
In the meantime, it’s business as usual. In the early days of the business, “I did all the booking, scouting, marketing, everything myself,” he says. “I had a car that I just loved, a ‘64 Ford Comet. I was on Melrose Avenue and parked in the yellow zone so I could run in this store to leave a stack of flyers. I had all these unpaid parking tickets that I couldn’t afford to pay and this tow truck took it to the impound lot.”
With 75 full-time staff members, Rotella doesn’t have to worry about being a one-man show anymore, at least professionally.
At home, “no day is the same, and it’s hard to even get enough sleep. I hope to find more of a routine,” he says. “But Sunday is family day. I have to keep those sacred for Holly and Rainbow.”
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