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July 24, 2014

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Celebrating freedom through the fantastic at Electric Daisy Carnival

Event breaks down barriers through music, dance and art

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Steve Marcus

Fireworks explode over the Las Vegas Motor Speedway during the Electric Daisy Carnival Saturday morning June 25, 2011.

2011 Electric Daisy Carnival

Carnival rides spin show goers during the Electric Daisy Carnival at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Saturday morning June 25, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Scenes from EDC

Beyond the Sun

Midnight at the CosmicMeadow stage and Röyksopp, a nutty Norwegian electronic duo, has the crowd in a dancing thrall when the fun really starts, as acrobats in head-to-toe sparkly gold hit the trampoline in front of the stage.

A bit later, Richie Hawtin, aka Plastikman, directs a frenzy of music behind one of the most sophisticated light shows I’ve ever seen.

Furry boots matched with bikinis, bicycles transformed into monarch butterflies, snakes and bats, and of course, fist pumping big beats.

This is the Electric Daisy Carnival, a celebration of electronic music, art and all around weirdness. Though to these people, the straight world most of us live in, with its arbitrary rules and general lack of dance-ability, is abnormal, and I can’t say I don’t sympathize with this view.

For all recorded history, humans have been seeking the ecstatic experiences of altered consciousness, dance, music and art, and life sure is more interesting because of that instinct, even if we only observe it in others.

Caroline Miller of the Flaming Lotus Girls, a volunteer art collective in San Francisco, has been working at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for a week on the group’s metal sculpture, “Mutopia,” a series of what she called “spirals of mutating plant-animals.”

Also, they shoot fire.

“I’m all about propane,” she says with a laugh. She’s a scientist at a university in San Francisco when not working with the art collective.

They go through 1,000 gallons of propane each night, plus an additional amount of methanol for extra fire. Different salts give the flames their distinctive colors.

To get in the collective and play a role, “Just show up — that’s all it takes,” she says, a good life rule.

Nearby, Tiesto, the superstar DJ who has a regular Vegas gig at the Hard Rock Hotel, is playing to 40,000.

Katya Chpis is on stilts, covered in leaves, her face painted green, so that she’s like a walking tree. Though born in Kazakhstan, she served in the Marine Corps and now counsels veterans on getting a college education while also doing these performances twice a month or so. When not on stilts, she’s a fire dancer. Her life as a walking tree “is a treasure. Everybody wants to hug a tree,” she says.

As I’m writing this at 2:30 a.m. Saturday, there had been no major incidents here, and I’m grateful for that.

This week, critics questioned whether Las Vegas should have welcomed the event, which was plagued last year in Los Angeles with arrests, chaos and the death of an underage girl.

The debate, humorously likened to the movie “Footloose” about the town where dancing is illegal, felt a bit odd given the nature of our city, with our 24-hour access to alcohol and gambling and the wink-and-nod attitude about prostitution and drugs. How many people commit suicide because of these contributing factors? Last year, there were 400 in Clark County.

But somehow 85,000 young people — roughly the count expected Friday night — having fun and dancing was a dangerous risk.

Mayor Oscar Goodman’s response: "You do the best you can, but if people want to be idiots, you can't stop them." Callous and foolishly phrased, yes, but there’s an element of truth to what he’s saying — nearly 100,000 young people in the same place, and someone is bound to do something stupid, and there’s only so much we can do about it. And, he’s very nearly describing our city’s ethos.

At its best, that ethos is a celebration of freedom, and that’s what Electric Daisy Carnival is. But it’s completely different thing than the Strip. It’s a province of the psychedelic kingdom, described to me by one afficionado as “breaking down the us vs. them thing and believing in a higher pattern.” It’s not just “If it feels good, do it.”

A T-shirt at the event: “People white black brown red Christian Muslim Jewish Should just kick it.” And on the front: “Altogether now.”

Cheesy, yes, but authentic and genuinely felt, and a message our community could use to absorb.

Las Vegas has always been anathema to the aforementioned psychedelia. That’s the whole point of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” — Hunter S. Thompson is testing his ability to handle massive amounts of mind altering substances in a deeply hostile environment.

But a nice ancillary benefit of our massive nightclub industry is that we are now one of the electronic music capitals of world. We should embrace that identity, and with it, Electric Daisy Carnival.

As I walked the grounds and saw the collective energy that comes when a crowd is in sync with the music, I was reminded of Nietzsche describing humanity’s occasional urge to oneness with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and madness: “Dionysiac stirrings arise either through the influence of those narcotic potions of which all primitive races speak in their hymns, or through the powerful approach of spring, which penetrates with joy the whole frame of nature. So stirred, the individual forgets himself completely.”

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  1. Mr. Coolican...
    You'll never write for the R.J.
    :)

    "We're Gonna Get Hi Hi Hi,
    The Night Is Young.
    She'll Be My Funky Little Mama,
    Gonna Rock It And We've Only Just Begun.
    We're Gonna Get Hi Hi Hi
    With The Music On.
    Won't Say Bye-Bye Bye-Bye Bye-Bye Bye-Bye
    'Til The Night Is Gone."

    Paul McCartney/Wings

  2. Very nice read, Mr. Coolican. You took an event I had absolutely no interest in and made it interesting. Now that's the mark of a good writer. And the nod to Nietzsche referencing Greek mythology? Brilliant.

  3. Real Freedom would be when one can be 20 or 65 and attend EDC and not feel the utter contempt so common among all age groups these days.

    Where are people older than 30 at EDC? 40? besides most of the performers, how many people older than 30 attend these festivals? why is that? Tiesto is 41, Oakenfold is 47.

    Generational Gaps are probably the last frontier needing work if we ever want to be called a civilized society.

  4. I guess the Electric Daisy Carnival is the anti-thesis for the Burning Man Experience. You see more multi-generationals at Burning Man.

    If you are older than 50, you probably remember the phrase,"Don't trust anyone over 30." Many of us didn't think we'd live this long after all the livin' we did back then!

    We were perhaps, "Anti-establishment," or "Hippies," or "Flower Children" then. Now, "Baby Boomers," oh hell! what happened?

  5. Stephen,

    I choose not to attend EDC not because of my age or fear of feeling "utter contempt," but because a) electronic dance music is not in my top two favorite genres and, b) I just don't want to stand in line.

    Still, I think my children and my wife and I are equally civilized, gap or no gap in our tastes.

  6. Glad to see no one was hurt and the kids had a great time. Takes me back some years when we did the crazy. Make no mistake though this isn't Woodstock never will be. These days some guy spinning tunes named Tiesto is a celeb.

  7. Glad to see all has gone smooth. Vegas is the perfect place to hold this, and the revenue generated from this weekend is much needed.

    Nevada was founded on the premise of individual freedoms and personal choices and the responsibilities that come with those choices.

    Let's just hope things continue to go smoothly so they can bring this back every summer.

  8. FOOTLOOSE!

  9. thank you J. Patrick Coolican! finally a positive article from the media (sorry if that sounds cynical). and excellent vocabulary :) i agree with the Good-Man mayor. to the future! may we all evolve!!! <3

  10. Almost 45 years ago to the day I saw my first Dead show; peace, love, unity, respect? we've been trying for years, so I'm happy that many of this generation are following tradition of music as a bridge to understanding and respect. You folks have done a better job at the unity part than we ever did.

    Pay little attention to the grouches like Oscar G.....a stumbling display of the corrosive influence of booze, a mobbed-up lawyer preaching values little different than fundamentalists of any stripe.

    A masterful piece of writing Patrick C., you capture the intensity well.

  11. Las Vegas Electric Daisy Carnival is the biggest party in the World!

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