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July 31, 2014

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A midsummer night’s Daisy dream

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Erik Kabik/Retna/ErikKabik.com

The final night of the Electric Daisy Carnival at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on June 26, 2011.

I had the craziest dream last night. A city of lights had sprung up north of Las Vegas, challenging the Strip’s brightness with a barrage of glowing, pulsing screens and bulbs. People were flooding toward the city in cars, buses and taxis. They swarmed its walls and an invasion began. And yet, the invaders were smiling. Everyone was smiling.

Night 3 of Electric Daisy Carnival does feel like a dream, now that I’ve washed off the sweat and dust and returned to a reality where lasers don’t flash across the sky and most people aren’t stomping around with massive furry calves. I hate to admit it, but after spending a night in the Technicolor desert, everything feels a little … dull.

2011 EDC: Night 3

DJ Avicii during the final night of the Electric Daisy Carnival at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on June 26, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Electric Daisy Carnival Day 3

Carnival goers listen to music by Shiftee at the bassPOD during the Electric Daisy Carnival at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday June 26, 2011. Launch slideshow »

My first visit to EDC came on the last night of the weekend following two monster parties that had drawn 70,000-80,000 people each. When I arrived, a sparse crowd had begun to cluster around the various stages, filing in as the first artists of the night got to work building energy that would last till dawn. Even on the third marathon eve of EDC, festival-goers were dressed in their party people best—plastic beads, underwear, platform footwear and lots of glitter. The security people offered encouragement as we plodded past: “Night 3. Have fun and be safe.”

Before long I was in the throng as Irish DJ John O’Callaghan spun his brand of trance over the Circuit Grounds crowd. Incarnations of frat boys, hipster club folk and kandi kids danced in pairs or small clusters as he sent exultant highs radiating out from the stage where a collage of screens flashed with the music. To close his set, O’Callaghan unleashed his hit “Find Yourself,” and the floor erupted as Sarah Howells’ bewitching voice sang out, “You’ll find yourself, you’ll find yourself alone.” I looked around me at the twitching and bopping bodies in every direction. Alone? Not here.

Between the stages, the madness of the Carnival was in full effect. Stilt walkers on giant ostriches strode through the crowd while a twisted metal sculpture spit flames like the last efforts of an angry forest fire. A clown with a cowboy hat offered to hose down anyone who’d overheated, and at the water refill station attendants danced with their hoses, occasionally showering partiers with a fine, filtered rain. On all sides, carnival rides whipped their brightly and barely dressed guests into a spinning, rainbow-colored frenzy. If anyone was screaming, though, the voice was lost in the music.

As Ferry Corsten put on his show, I took a ride on the VIP Ferris wheel—yes, at EDC there was a separate ride for VIPs. At its peak, the Ferris wheel was the quietest spot I’d found amid this sensory overdose party—a welcome break from the joyous sweat and chaos below. I snapped a few pictures, caught my breath and then it was back into the fray, full steam ahead into the masses that had gathered for Sunday headliners Swedish House Mafia. As the hits flowed, the crowd rode the trio’s crests and valleys in an exhausting cycle of jump, dance, fist pump, sway, cheer and jump again. If people were third-day tired, I certainly couldn’t tell.

When it was time for a break, I danced my way out of the crush and stumbled upon a marching band drumming in a circle as a pair of bicyclists did tricks on cycles traced in light. It was a very Cirque-ian moment, like Love had snuck into the Speedway, dunked itself in neon paint and continued playing. I half expected a dancer to storm the circle in yellow rain boots.

And the wonderland seemed to spin outward and upward. A small plane made passes overhead with scrolling lettering on its belly, occasionally letting loose a handful of skydivers who plummeted toward the ground with kites attached, sending a spray of sparks in their wake before landing alongside the Circuit Grounds stage. On the far side of the festival an art installation welcomed guests to wander through a tunnel draped in tiny white lights while wearing disposable glasses that coated the whole world in rainbow prisms. When a carnival worker said, “Welcome to the rabbit hole,” she couldn’t have been more right.

As the clock struck 2, I found a bench to rest my feet and watch the fireworks explode overhead. Next to me sat a wide-eyed kid in black jeans, black and silver furry legwarmers and socks. His name was Vladimir, he said, and he’d come from San Diego for his first EDC. A pair of flimsy sneakers in front of him had been worn right through the soles, giant holes showing through where the balls of his feet hit the ground. It happened on Night 1, he said, then pointed to a pair of rubber soles with no shoes attached. “I found them in the parking lot, but they don’t fit.”

For a second I imagined Vlad dancing so furiously on the Speedway pavement that he burned right through the rubber, a stinky cloud of smoke rising from his hyperactive feet. He looked drained, ready to go home, but he was still smiling, offering cigarettes to anyone who looked his way and watching the flow of strangers in flowers and skin.

Exhausted and happy, he’d gotten lost in the Carnival. Hadn’t we all.

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