I Survived My First EDM Festival and Did Not Dance, or Thoughts on a Generation Undefined
Electric Daisy Carnival attendees at EDC New York 2015
Jena Cumbo for the Village Voice
If you want to experience a true sense of detachment from your fellow millennials, wear a collared shirt and khakis to the Electric Daisy Carnival. I did, and for two days I waded through the grounds feeling a tad out of place among the floral ensembles and beaded accessories. This was all done with intent: Electronic dance music (or EDM, if you want to reduce a style of music into a three-letter initialism) is something that I've obviously been aware of, and I've followed its infiltration into mainstream pop throughout the past decade or so. And even though I don't enjoy this technical music, I should make this clear: My personal opinions on this matter are unnecessary and irrelevant. What counts are the sounds I heard, the people who spoke with me, the irregularities I bore witness to, and the hundreds of observations I sketched into my little black notebook throughout the Memorial Day weekend.
"You need to blend in — you look like the police," says a college-aged woman sucking on a pacifier. She reaches to unbutton my shirt, reiterating, "You need to relax and act your age." This is coming from a gal a few years my junior, and when I ask about the Binky she's sharing with her friends, her response is that it helps enhance the MDMA experience.
I'm willing to bet that if the sanitation department in charge of the hundreds of Porta-Potties were to conduct tests on the sewage, they'd discover this wasn't the only case of drug usage at EDC NY. I noticed an increase in indications as the sun began to set where festival patrons smacked lips, gnawed cheeks, and flaunted dilated, nocturnal eyes. But that's a given. (It should be noted that amnesty boxes were available at the festival entrance for EDC-goers to chuck their drugs before heading inside.) And while it's aspects like this that make headlines, it's a fairly exhausted topic and doesn't warrant more than a few sentences of observation. What does merit a detailed examination is the reason why 100,000 people — or, to borrow from the vernacular, "headliners" — flocked to the New Jersey meadows. (I should insert here that not one DJ I encountered gave the appropriate location when they hollered into the microphone, "Hello, New York!")
"This brings cultural demographics together," says EDC attendee Marcos Rios. "From the gamer to the jock — look around." He points to a scrawny dude in a monkey outfit a few feet away from an insanely muscled man. "It's all about the music."
Upon arriving at the festival gates on Saturday, I notice a group of young twentyish-year-olds tailgating on the back of a rented U-Haul pickup. "This is how you EDC on a budget!" exclaims its renter, Parker Klorczyk, who's visiting from the University of Connecticut. "You get a truck that's not yours and pay nothing for it — it's character!" The group pass around plastic bottles of pomegranate Burnett's Vodka and Four Lokos. I relate by telling them that when I was in college — which was eleven months ago, mind you — I used to refer to that brand of vodka as "Bur-nasty." They cheer. Before I leave, the men and women make their Greek affiliations known: The girls are with sorority Gamma Phi, the guys Zeta Beta Tau brothers.
EDC New York 2015 occupied a massive chunk of MetLife Stadium's eastern parking lot. To counteract the openness and sun exposure, there were mini oases scattered about, offering shade along with various carnival rides and attractions, Ferris wheel included. Various corporations have seen the potential of this scene and capitalized any way they could, be it tapping DJs for their spokesman potential or blasting dubstep in a commercial. While Coca-Cola has dominated other musical markets, Pepsi commandeered this one, appropriately solidifying itself as the choice for the new generation. 7 Up was in abundance, and on the can's 16-oz. label were two of the festival performers: Martin Garrix and Tiësto.
Hordes of attendees swarmed the parking lot decked out in apparel that ranged from the absurd (greenman skin suits) to the casual (blue jeans). "Every time I go to a festival I dress as something — just cuz," says Chris Ramirez, who's donned a dragon costume. Ben Valentine is visiting from Schenectady, and today he mimics a parrot, wings and all. "I'm actually here for the parrot convention," he laughs before informing me of tomorrow's getup: He plans on adopting a Native American look, headdress included. "[To me] it symbolizes unity and leadership," he says of the choice to rock a war bonnet. "We need more positive leaders, and the Natives were into leading — we need to go back."
The front row at EDC NY 2015
Jena Cumbo for the Village Voice
Speaking of Americana: I play a game where I try and go five seconds without seeing clothing bearing the stars and stripes of the flag. I never win. EDC NY, it seems, knows how to commemorate Memorial Day.
It also evinces a knack for practical innovation. A rather brilliant method of keeping one's friends close, I discover, is through use of a totem, a bedazzled sign often employing pop-culture references, such as (in one case) a picture of a sobbing Kim Kardashian. Victor Urquilla acts as his group's standard-bearer, holding aloft a banner that reads "IDK you...But music unites us" on a shiny display. This is his seventh festival (signs used for previous outings blared "1,000,000 strangers, we move as one"), and as he's explaining this to me, his friend and fellow sign-creator barges over and offers her unsolicited Instagram handle (it's @aleagos).
A Kim Kardashian West totem at EDC NY 2015
Jena Cumbo for the Village Voice
Indeed, social media, the internet, and EDM are entwined in a way that's truly marvelous. Snapchat users who were not in attendance had an opportunity to catch glimpses throughout the weekend via the active New York City Story, and GoPros, EDC-centric phone apps, and enough personal photos to briefly gag Getty Images abounded. Never have I seen so many selfie sticks outside of the Brooklyn Bridge area.
In preparation for EDC NY, I read Michaelangelo Matos's recent The Underground Is Massive, which details the history and rise of EDM. Toward the end of Underground, in what I considered its thesis, Matos states, "Live music had become a bigger, more reliable profit center than the recording business." This dumbfounded me at EDC NY, as its validity proved itself multiple times throughout the weekend.
EDC NY is at its core a music festival, and while the music is clearly not the only draw, that doesn't belittle the stunning effect these DJs, producers, and stages have on the masses. There were more than a hundred performers at EDC NY, spanning from risers to tastemakers. The DJ sets — helmed by mostly males — melted into one another in a way I've never experienced at a festival before. Since there's no soundchecking or instrumental tuning involved, the next DJ can take over in mere seconds. I once waited 45 minutes in between sets for Pearl Jam at Outside Lands, and that definitely wasn't the case at EDC, which rarely saw a break between beat drops. The fluidity at EDC NY was unparalleled.
It must be tougher than not to distinguish yourself as a DJ, and some have found their own methods in doing so. Sister act Krewella incorporated a live guitarist and drummer into their explosive set, and Andrew Rayel (hailing from Chișinău, Moldova) designed his performance as the biggest aerobics class I've ever seen: He'd jump up on the DJ panel waving his arms to the side, only to have the gesture immediately mirrored by thousands.
As the festival drew to a close on Sunday night and Tiësto worked the main stage, I caught an amusing sight off on the backstage side — a moment of generational appropriation and camaraderie, if you will. A middle-aged man with side-combed hair and a tucked-in shirt began dancing in the same fashion as the ravers in the crowd, frantically, goofily, and offering the I don't give a fuck ethos. Sweat rolled down his face and he took occasional breathers, but the baby boomer turned heads and was accepted by his surrounding twentysomethings. This side attraction instantly inspired gawkers to whip out their phones and hit record. It was a moment of community — an honest testament to EDC NY. Be you older, heavyset, wheelchair-bound, or underage: You have a place in between the E, D, and C.
But then, no more than five minutes later, this crowd fizzled away, turning its attention to something else more dazzling, leaving our dancing man alone to make scuffle circles with the confetti at his feet.
This brief moment, to me, stood as a summation of the whole weekend: It was a momentary celebration of the bizarre, featuring universal acceptance accompanied by big bass. EDC NY is a carnival of stimulations where attendees hop from one attraction to another. The tail-end of each stage's audience is a revolving door of incomers and departing seekers.
As I boarded the bus heading east, I concluded that it didn't matter that I personally didn't partake in any of the dancing, fashion trends, or other elements commonly found in the festival. There was enough enjoyment from the sidelines for this khaki-wearing visitor.
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