The Electric Daisy Carnival Experience
A Documentary Crew Tackles The Largest Music Festival in North America
In an early scene of “The Electric Daisy Carnival Experience,” a bearded, potbellied man wearing nothing but gold lame leggings is smearing the inside of his bellybutton with glue. Obviously, it’s so he could attach a red blinking light within it. With the light attached, matching the two lights already on his nipples, he pranced away into the festival grounds. If the film, a documentary about the largest music gathering in North America, could be encapsulated in one moment, this dancing man voguing and grinding with absolute commitment would be it.
Well, this and the music. From MSTRKRFT to Kaskade, and Moby to Deadmaus, last year’s Electric Daisy Carnival packed its two-day roster with the leading lights of the dance music world. The film, directed by veteran music video director Kevin Kerslake, intercuts concert footage with interviews with musicians and performers, as well as with scenes from the artists’ lives as they prepare for the festival.
The two-hour film, screened simultaneously across the country for one night, had to fill a tall order — be a yearbook of sorts for the people who were there, catch up the fans who weren’t, explain to outsiders what the scene is, give a behind-the-scenes look at how such a concert is put together, and provide exclusive looks inside artists’ lives. Understandably, the documentary was kind of a hodge podge, but the overriding theme was straightforward — for these people, electronic dance music is everything. As three girls in miniskirts interviewed by the filmmaker at the festival say, “We feel the love. It’s all about music.” The fact that these girls are deaf gives a sense of how powerful this scene is.
In 2010, the year the movie covers, the Electric Daisy Carnival packed 185,000 people into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum over two days. As festival CEO Pasquale Rotelle proudly notes, “the underground is bigger than the surface.” While mainstream music dies a slow death, the number of people flocking annually to the World Music Conference grows every year. Why? DJs, audience members, and musicians try to keep telling us throughout the movie, and the answer turns out to be kind of spiritual. As a KCRW DJ mentions, when you discover dance culture you “feel like you’re plugged into this universal groove and everyone’s on it.”
Structurally, the movie is actually several intertwined narratives at once. First, there’s simply the beginning-middle-end of going to the concert. “Experience” in the title of the movie is the operative word — what we’re getting is the “feel.” Although it seems to take place seamlessly, the concert footage was actually put together from many shows performed on different stages over two nights, and shown out of order.
One highlight was electro house performer Steve Aoki. After almost missing the performance because he got stuck in LA traffic, the long-haired DJ spent his set climbing up scaffolding, jumping off the DJ platform, and spraying champagne into the audience, all while blasting beats. The result was a surge of kids in neon climbing over security railings, or at least trying to. Benny Benassi, Trvs x A-Trak, Moby, and MSTRKRFT were also standouts.
The most anticipated performance of the night was DeadMaus, who started getting shout outs from the live audience an hour before we eventually saw him. But when we did, it was fireworks (literally and figuratively). Wearing giant mouse head lit up with moving LEDs, he spun beeps, wobbles, and surprisingly sweet melodies, all with an ’80s beat underneath. Flashed on the giant screens both behind and next to him, his mouse head (maus head?) switched from a smiling face to a glowing orb and back again. Towards the end of the set, he took off his mask, and there was a sweet smiling kid underneath. House music, in the end, seems to attract nice people.
The movie also followed two performers from the beginning to the end of the film — DJ Kaskade, a DJ known among other things for writing his own, life-affirming lyrics, and a go-go girl named Annie. We visit their homes and meet their families, and we find that real life is hard. Kaskade travels 300 days out of the year, he said, and has probably slept more at the O’Hare airport during layovers than in his own bed. Meanwhile Annie is in the closet with her family, and struggling to make a life out of being a performer.
So back to the question of what electronic dance music is about. As DJ Kaskade’s uplifting songs lead the audience to a transcendent high at the end of his set, a million white balloons are released into the audience, creating a canopy of white. “Music is a spiritual thing,” according to Kaskade, who’s also a Mormon. It might be the purity of his music that draws his fans.
The movie also suggests that dance music is also ultimately about embracing simplicity. In a world fractured by a thousand conflicts, “four-on-the-floor represents same-pageness,” as Will.I.Am put it.
Or maybe the answer is simpler. Judging from the film, these guys know how to tap a console and build a bass beat so tight that 100,000 people can’t help but go crazy.