There's a name synonymous with dance music festivals, one known by industry insiders and attendees alike. That name is Pasquale Rotella, founder and CEO of Insomnaic Events and one of dance music's most fervent evangelists. Before 2010, Rotella enjoyed an inconspicuous role in crafting what was steadily becoming a multimillion dollar, year-round venture. However controversy surrounding the 2010 Electric Daisy Carnival in Los Angeles, which courts recently dismissed, thrust Rotella into the spotlight, a position that surprisingly suited the normally low-profile leader, placing him even closer to adoring attendees and allowing him to spread the true meaning of his events: creating an unforgettable, transformative experience for fans.
Four years later, Insomniac now spans the globe with events ranging from the multi-genre, heavily-produced EDC London to the hard dance-centered minimality of Basscon in Southern California. What hasn't changed, however, is Rotella's determination to do things right by dance music and its fans, which has become even more apparent in the company's preparations for the third inaugural EDC New York. Held on May 24th and 25th of Memorial Day weekend, the 2-day festival takes over MetLife Stadium for the second time, filled with the talent, artistry, and careful execution that has become Insomniac's hallmark. 2014 will also see an expansion of the Discovery Project into new, uncharted territories, as the DJ-centric search has grown to include Installation Art, Stage Design, and Costume Design. Get your tickets to the festival below and read on for an exclusive interview with Rotella about his first dance event, EDC New York preparations, and throwing a festival on the moon.
EARMILK: You better than anyone may be able to answer this: why dance music and why now? It wasn’t too long ago that people would have laughed if you said, I’m going to throw a 3-day dance music event for 400,000 people.
Pasquale Rotella: It starts from people who are really passionate who have been pushing it for so long. You know, that's been a big part of the culture and the music growing. That's from going way back. Then I think that there were collaborations that took place, people like David Guetta and Black Eyed Peas that made it more pop. Then there was the growth of events from those things, but it definitely didn't happen overnight. It's been over 20 years that we have been pushing this. I think that the music got better, production got better. It was a long road but with the interest of the public we were able to spend more on the live aspect of the show and make the productions really spectacular and create experiences that are very unique. It just took off from there. I think that makes it sound a lot simpler than the journey was, but those were some key points.
EM: For you personally, when did it click that, “this is what I want to do with my life?”. Most teenagers are still dreaming of being professional athletes or movie stars but you started at 15.
PR: The second that I walked into my first underground event is when I knew that I found my calling. I found something that I loved and I couldn't stop going out every chance I got and I never stopped. But it started very, very young. The event was called "Willy Wonka" in a warehouse. You had to climb through this hole to even get into the warehouse. The wall was busted open and the party was inside. It was amazing because it felt like something that nobody else knew was going on and it was mind-blowing.
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EM: In the last few months, many charges surrounding EDC and the LA Coliseum have been dropped. What’s the biggest lesson you learned from this controversy?
PR: I used to be someone who was behind the scenes – I was not a public figure. And then I got a PR firm involved to help me get through a lot of what was going on, unfair things that were happening at the time and being targeted in an unfair fashion. They helped me respond to that. One thing they said when they met me was, "Wow you're a loving guy. You're really care about what you're doing and about the well-being of the people attending your events. You need to come out from behind the current and show people who you are and what this is all about."
That's when I got my first Twitter account and started to interact with the media. I always shied away from them before, not because I was hiding anything, but because I didn't really care about the media. They never had anything nice to say and they didn't understand what I did and why I did it. They ignored what I said and ran with their own story anyway. But it was really inspiring once I did become more visible, especially because I was able to interact with the fans more and answer questions. I learned how to be a public figure, and even though my favorite thing was just walking around an event and seeing the people enjoy it, it was an important thing for me to learn.
We can provide a safe environment and do everything we can to educate but at the end of the day we can't bubblewrap every single person who comes to a festival. We care and we do everything we can to make sure people are safe and we love every one of those people who comes through our doors.
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EM: I’ve noticed a recurring tag recently on some of your marketing materials #backtothebasics? Can you talk about that?
PR: Yeah, would love to talk about that. We do these events, and you can't get any more confetti, you can't get any more pyro. We've created the biggest stage in the world that's ever been built. We felt like the most important thing, even at big events, is the people and the vibe, and we wanted to do a series of events that were back to the basics. Good music, good enough production – bigger is not always better. It's not bare-bones (it's never been bare-bones, even when people couldn't afford anything we always made it happen), but it is more intimate, more about the vibe and the DJs. Everything we do is minimal and people can come and have a good time. We want to foster the scene because we do these big events, we do parties, and we do concerts, and we just wanted to achieve something different with this.
EM: Would this be events like Basscon and Audio On The Bay?
PR: Yeah, Basscon is very specific, very niche. Audio on the bay is a a downsized version of Audiotistic, where we focus on the talent. Energy would be a good example of back to the basics show that we do at NOS. We couldn't do big festivals there anymore, so that's when we came up with the back to the basics idea, going back to the old, underground warehouse vibe.
EM: How is it tailoring a sprawling festival like EDC Las Vegas to a confined space like the Met Life stadium, making sure that sound between stages stays clear and that foot traffic flow is safe and manageable?
PR: Every venue that we use has different challenges. It's harder when you're in a big lot and there's no trees or grass to create an immersive environment during the day. The Las Vegas Speedway is the same exact things as Met Life Stadium, but when the sun goes down it can operate from sundown to sunup and the ground disappears. So, what we are doing this year is something we have never done before. We are changing what we've done in the past years at New York to really make it epic and transform it, where you're not walking into a lot but you're walking into a whole new world. You don't feel like you're at Met Life Stadium. There's always a challenge wherever you are, but our goal is to always make it that you are stepping into a different place, especially when people have been there before for other public gatherings. We want it to be unique, and with different landscapes and different hours – whether the sun is up or down during the show – we do our best to completely transform the site, so people are really impressed and wowed when they walk in.
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EM: Can you give any specifics about how you are going to transform it or the new production going For the NYC location, what's the most exciting new production you've got lined up?
PR: I'm really excited that we are bringing the Owl. It was our mainstage, iconic piece for EDC Las Vegas and then he flew over to Mexico and appeared there and now he is flying to New York. But we are also adding a new floor around him and dressing the ground with some greenery and making it a comfortable environment, so people have that feeling.
EM: EDC is home to some of the biggest acts and favorable newcomers. Where did the Discovery Project originate and what is the process to select the final acts?
PR: I'm really excited about the Discovery Project right now because it's not just limited to producers and new music talent. We're also for the first time having a Discovery Project for art installations and the winner, we pay for the entire construction for their vision and their labor and everything. All they have to do is be there to make sure all the pieces go in the right place and put it together. We're also doing that for costumes for the theatrical performers. We're going to find two winners to be the king and queen of Electric Daisy Carnival. That's a separate competition, but if you become King and Queen of EDC, we will shuttle you around the festival on a golf cart, take you back stage, treat you like a king and queen of the festival. The costume contest will win based off creating costumes for the King and Queen, who will wear the costumes at the festival. And you'll be seeing some of this for the first time at EDC New York.
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EM: If you had to plan a few thousand-person event just for yourself, what would it look like?
PR: On a very small island, I would want all the headliners to be there, the fans. I would want them to be be there because I feed off that energy. Or on the moon would be nice! They're making trips to space now, Virgin Galactic is one of the companies, and I'd want to throw an EDC or Beyond Wonderland up there.
EM: Finally what is your world view and how has this shaped Insomniac?
PR: There's a lot of violence in the world, a lot of hate in the world. There's politics, there's stress. Life is hard in general, and the world is a hard place, no matter where you are, and it's much harder in some places than others. I've always wanted to create environments where people leave all that stress at the door. We bring happiness, and people can come here and enjoy themselves and free themselves of all that goes on in their lives. I believe they leave with some of the event with them and that they hold onto it and carry it. It's important and it makes a big difference in people's lives. It's spreading and it's a beautiful thing.
- Tickets to EDC New York
- EDC New York Website
- EDC on Facebook
- Pasquale Rotella on Facebook
- Pasquale Rotella on Twitter