The best moments of Electric Daisy Carnival, the electronic music festival held in the New York City area for the first time this year in the parking lot of Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, happen about 500 feet back from the main stage. This is where the crowd starts to thin out – people stand around talking in groups, using their phones, drinking. But it’s still close enough to the stage to be incredibly loud, and so when an act like Bassnectar drops a big beat, something amazing happens: everyone stops whatever they’re doing and starts dancing like crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it.
As someone with limited exposure to EDM (electronic dance music) culture, I found EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival) packed with oddities I've never seen before. For example: teams of women in leather bikinis and gas masks, a man in a suit made entirely of mirrors, a 50-foot statue that shoots fire and more people on molly (slang for MDMA or ecstasy) than may have ever gathered in one place in America before. But more than anything, EDC was tens of thousands of dancing kids packed into a parking lot outside of a stadium in New Jersey: Welcome to the most enormous, craziest party I’ve ever been to.
The first thing I noticed at EDC is that roughly 30% of festivalgoers are 90% naked. Even though the loudspeaker at the entrance gate announces, “All guests are expected to wear an appropriate amount of clothing due to the public nature of this event,” about a quarter of the women are wearing only bras as tops, decorated with Day-Glo paint and little flowers, and a lot of the dudes aren’t wearing shirts (a shockingly high percentage of the dudes who are wearing shirts are wearing ones that say “PARTY WITH SLUTS” in neon). It gets cool at night, so the mostly naked people crowd around a 50-foot metal statue that shoots fire, and you can feel the heat on the ground from about 100 feet away on all sides.
A lot of people are in costume, so you can watch a guy dressed like Fred Flintstone dance with women dressed like butterflies, or a group of women dressed like geishas raving with kids dressed like they go to Hogwarts. On Saturday afternoon, I saw a woman walking between stages who I guess had gotten tired of being a butterfly so she threw her butterfly wings on the ground, and another girl who didn’t have a costume picked them up off the ground five seconds later and put them on.
There's a hippieish atmosphere to the festival: everyone’s smiling, everyone’s dancing together and I suspect drugs are abundant. Based on all the guys in shirts that said, “F**k b****es, get molly,” “WANT MOLLY,” “Please help me find molly,” and, “MOLLY… I TAKE THAT,” it seems like molly was pretty popular, but a guy offered me K (ketamine) on the hot dog line, so I suppose there were a lot of drugs of all kinds.
Almost everyone is dancing almost all of the time. People dance in the parking lot on the way in, near the lockers, with huge burritos in their hands, on the lines for food, on the lines for the bathrooms and on the lines for the carnival rides (there are many, like the awesome Ferris wheel). On Friday night, a guy was walking and pumping his fist and typing on his iPhone with the other hand, and he bumped into me. At EDC Dancing is more important than anything, including personal navigation. So watch out!
You also have to watch out for people on stilts, groups of women in red leather bikinis who have limited peripheral vision because they’re wearing gas masks, people staggering through the dance floor by themselves in drug hazes who don’t see you and people who are passed out on the ground who you shouldn’t trip over. A man who dances on stage wearing a suit made entirely of mirrors has to watch out for you – as he walks through the festival to get from stage to stage, everyone tries to take a picture with him, so he walks really fast.
You also have to watch out for the sun! There’s almost no shade around the festival, so EDC provides these golf carts with mushroom statues on them for people to sit under, and in the middle of the festival there’s a field of mushroom golf carts with people crowded under them, taking dance breaks.
But beyond all the wild costumes, the crazy dancing, the ecstatic atmosphere and the extravagant/fire-spitting sculptures, the best part EDC is the music. By the time midday hits and the big league DJ’s are on stage, every song sounds almost scientifically perfect: the beat drops, the bass drops a few seconds later, thousands of people go nuts. It works every time.
So it seems like there’s a recognizable formula for why EDM is as instantly agreeable as it is. In a magazine article in March, the president of Roc Nation, speaking about Top 40, said, “It’s not enough to have one hook anymore. You’ve got to have a hook in the intro, a hook in the pre-chorus, a hook in the chorus, and a hook in the bridge.” This is because “people on average give a song seven seconds on the radio before they change the channel, and you got to hook them.”
The EDM (Avicii, Afrojack, Fatboy Slim, Manufactured Superstars, Borgore) I heard this weekend seemed to follow a simple formula: every moment of the song is part of a hook that plays for a short period of time, and then morphs into a slightly different hook, which itself plays for a little while and then morphs again. It could be a synth note or a horn blast or a pattern of bass hits, but whatever it is, the song is all hook. Every song is catchy because ten different hooks within that song are catchy on a smaller scale, and they’re all in tune with one another, so the whole thing sounds variable but unified. That’s why the best EDM that I heard at EDC had the same relationship to Top 40 that vodka does to beer.
Because security has a pretty strict list of things you’re not allowed to bring into the festival, as you leave Electric Daisy Carnival you see all the stuff that security has confiscated. It’s mostly Jolly Ranchers. Mountains of bags of Jolly Ranchers litter the security area next to open packs of cigarettes, water bottles, eye drops and pacifiers. They'll let you grab some of the Jolly Ranchers on the way out so you can have a sweet ride home!