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Q&A: EDC founder Pasquale Rotella looks beyond commercial EDM for inspiration

<p>Insomniac CEO/founder Pasquale Rotella (COURTESY: ERIK KABIK)</p>

Insomniac CEO/founder Pasquale Rotella (COURTESY: ERIK KABIK)

One expects to experience repetitive song fatigue with radio, maybe television and certainly in the Strip nightclubs. But it’s not expected at a music festival historically devoted to underground music. And yet, due to the stacked schedule of popular DJs all wanting to please the crowd with commercial dance hits — “Levels,” “Feels So Close,” various remixes of “Somebody That I Used To Know” — that’s what happened at the Kinetic Field main stage at last year’s Electric Daisy Carnival. And this did not escape discerning festival attendees, the press — or Insomniac Productions founder/CEO Pasquale Rotella.

Having already spoken out against the rising (and increasingly expensive) superstar-DJ culture, Rotella knew he couldn’t repeat such a transgression. One solution: Intersperse the EDM titans he’d be remiss to totally leave out of the festival with veterans and emerging talent outside of the electro-house and trance subgenres. And when 115,000 revelers descend onto the Las Vegas Motor Speedway each day of the June 21-23 EDC festival, they’ll hear songs and styles they likely wouldn’t have associated with the grounds’ largest stage.

With the programming tweaks and production additions Rotella spoke to CityLife about, EDC 2013 is shaping to be one of the most eclectic editions of the 16-year-old festival.

Why do you think these DJs play so many of the same songs?

They want to please the crowd and they feel like the familiarity of certain tracks will get them excited. With that being said, they just show up and play and leave, so they also don’t know what others are playing. There’s several reasons. One more: When they’ve made a hit song, or someone like Calvin Harris has made several, they’ll play [them], and so will others.

Back in the day, the DJs didn’t produce. They played for the crowd, but they wanted to find rare stuff. There was a lot of white labels. And the tracks [played] several times in the night, like [L.A. Style’s 1991 rave classic] “James Brown is Dead” … I know that DJs would change the words to “James Brown is Still Alive.” It really stood out and people freaked out, lip-synching the sample. There were different kinds of creativity and people were trying to outdo the [DJs] behind them and the ones about to go on … and it was more of a scene. People hung out. They weren’t doing two gigs a night. And the DJs were [often] local. I’m going back quite a few years.

Who do you have in mind to schedule for the main stage alongside the EDM superstars?

We have Knife Party, we have Richie Hawtin, we have Carl Cox. [Cox] is playing two sets: one on the Carl Cox and Friends stage on Saturday, and then playing on the big stage. Richie Hawtin is doing same thing. He has the Enter stage, and he’s playing the big stage. Another name unexpected for the main stage: Headhunterz is hard dance, and he’s playing on the big stage. And I hope to increase that [number].

Some of the guys I’ve mentioned are pretty minimal, not really hands-in-the-air kind of stuff. So we’ll see [laughs]. I don’t even know how many times … Richie Hawtin has played for this many people, for 75,000 or 80,000 people. I have hopes that people really get into it, and they’ll zone out and open their ears, so it’s not just the hits. I like the hits. I just don’t like hearing them all the time. I like variety. I hope people stick around and … don’t leave the stage. We have the production to support it. It’s not just the music; there’s the presentation and the environment and the people, and it can help open those ears up.

Do you take the Vegas DJ residencies in account when booking EDC, or does that not factor because so many of the passholders are from outside the state?

No, it doesn’t factor. We get a lot of people that don’t come to Vegas — [EDC] might be the one time they come — and we also count on the great DJs to play sets they wouldn’t normally play, because it’s EDC. Even the regulars should be entertained.

You’re collaborating with HARD Events, a successful competitor in L.A. You’ve done similar partnerships with rivals before; the former Together As One parties in L.A. come to mind. What’s your reason for reaching out to them, and is it usually easy to get them aboard?

I get excited with working with people. I’ve had tons of partners all over the country and now internationally, like working with [England’s] Creamfields, and I’m creating other partnerships overseas for 2014. It’s with the spirit of what we do, and the culture, to come together.

Together as One was an event where I reached out to someone. We previously ran two yearly parties against each other, which I thought was ridiculous and crazy. I called him up after the dust was settled and said, this is dumb, and he was up for [a joint event].

We’re willing to work with a lot of different people because we have the largest and most amount of festivals in the States, and maybe in all genres? The willingness is there. Now, I have a feeling if someone of the people that I have work with us, if they were in my place, I don’t know they’d do the same thing because I can tell [laughs]. But I’m not intimidated by that. It’s about the fans and making them happy, and making things eclectic and different and innovative, and keeping it interesting.

I’m not saying it always works out, and Together As One is an example. But I do my best to make it work.

Speaking of collaborations: Have you tried to reunite separated dance acts like Coachella does with bands?

[Acts like] Gabriel and Dresden or Deep Dish or Sasha and John Digweed … I’ve actually considered doing that with them, and had those conversations. But the amount of money they wanted, it just didn’t add up. There wouldn’t be enough people interested. I’m not saying I would never do it, I would love to. But the kind of money they wanted didn’t make sense. If they were a band, like the kinds Coachella has brought together, that money would make sense. Bands last the test of time. Dance music is always evolving and moves so quickly. Tracks from four years ago now sound so outdated … dance music is weird like that. It’s very much about the now. And when you do go classic or old school, it’s like it seems like the audience is limited. They either stopped going out or it’s a small crowd. I’m thinking about this out loud with you right now, but it’s just very different.

One would be worth the money: Swedish House Mafia. They had their last tour, right? They would be someone for like a Coachella-type thing. Maybe over time, there will be another [act worth reuniting].

[Pause] Hey, I am doing it right now! I have Altern 8 playing! I’m a big fan. They were massive. And because I’m a fan, and because I want to mix things up, I booked them and put them on the HARD stage. And Gary [Richards of HARD] was excited about it because he was around back then. Now how many people will know Altern 8? I’m figuring it out myself.

With the Discovery stage — where undiscovered DJs submitted for performance slots — do you feel a certain responsibility to expose this huge dance crowd to upcoming talents and what might be the future of the genre?

It’s very important, and I didn’t realize it [then], but what I was trying to get across last year at EDMBiz [conference] is that the superstar thing is just not what we’re going to focus on. We need to change things up. We need to give other genres of music some [exposure], and the up-and-coming guys attention. I didn’t know that two years ago, but I feel that now that it’s part of our responsibility, to keep things interesting and fresh and not redundant — hence the playing of the same tracks over and over again.

I know EDC had some Burning Man-type art cars last year, but it seems there will be more. Are you a burner yourself, or just inspired by our other huge, dance-friendly festival?

I’m a huge Burning Man fan, I’ve been going for 10 years. But I am an artist fan. Burning Man is organized and produced by the attendees — not the logistics, like bathrooms and stuff like that, but the art there is produced by the fans. So whatever form it might be in — music, graffiti art, sculpting, fire, art cars — if I see something that’s amazing out there … I will go after it. I want to have the best event I can. I want it to be memorable and incredible. And when I see something amazing, I’ll want to create our version of what it is.

The art car thing is one of my favorite things. At Burning Man, I have three art cars of my own, and it’s like, do I want to do an art installation that stays in one spot, or do I want to build cars? I built three art cars. So I myself am a participant.

With EDC selling out before the lineup reveal these days, is there less pressure to book certain acts, or do you see the curation of the festival having to be spectacular enough to ensure next year’s sellout?

Everything is important. To make 100 percent of what EDC is, it might be 10 percent production, 10 percent DJs, 10 percent venues, 10 percent brand, 10 percent how was it last year … y’know? To get to 100 percent, you’ve got to cover all bases. The reason why we sell so well is because people trust us. We have a relationship with our fans and we’ll bring it, and bring it all. And even if they don’t know all the names on [the schedule], we want to get more into having the newer guys. There’s a lot of the general public that doesn’t know who Richie [Hawtin] is yet, believe it or not, or any of the Discovery stage [performers] … who are billed just like everyone else. Everyone’s on the same level, in alphabetical order. They’re all coming together to do this together, all these artists. So it’s everything.

ELECTRIC DAISY CARNIVAL Friday-Sunday, June 21-23; Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 7000 Las Vegas Blvd. North,, sold out.