On June 24, concert producer Pasquale Rotella ordered two helicopters to fly over a crowd of 15,000 people during the Electric Daisy Carnival at San Bernardino’s NOS Events Center. Few folks on his staff at Insomniac Events knew what Rotella was up to, but they soon found out, as the copters showered five tons of daisies upon the cheering fans.
It might be hard to top that Aquarian Age stunt. Yet since Rotella is in the business of goosing crowds with new sensations, he must always be on the hunt for something unique and wild for his audience. He’d better think hard about what to next, because this weekend’s Nocturnal Wonderland, his other big electronic music fest, is something of an institution, even more so than Electric Daisy.
Nocturnal turns 12 this year, and it’s the oldest—perhaps biggest—electronic dance party in California. But for this year, Rotella’s big coup may be providing exactly what the crowd wants: simply a great show with their favorite musicians. Out of 29 acts scheduled for the fest, perhaps three-fourths have played enough of Rotella’s events that they might as well be considered a stable of his resident DJs.
Florida-based electronicistas Rabbit in The Moon have become a Nocturnal tradition. Their job always seems to be in creating a Halloween vibe, what with the pyrotechnic theatrics of front-man Bunny, the band’s otherworldly costumes, and Pink Floyd-esque take on electronic sounds. Los Angeles-based Christopher Lawrence will be another familiar face, and if he can’t be seen behind his turntables, his name should be easily recognized by any electronic fan. The blond DJ is one of the pillars of trance music, and he keeps a hectic global tour schedule. As with every major Rotella event, reggae DJs Aurelito & Shakespeare will spin classic island sounds from an ice cream truck named Destiny. They tricked out this jalopy and turned it into a mobile DJ station similar to the ones that rocked Jamaica in the 1960s and 1970s.
If Rotella has heard any complaints about this Greatest Nocturnal Hits package, he shrugs them off. Critics are simply missing the point of what electronic music festivals have been about since DJs were breaking into abandoned downtown Los Angeles warehouses and putting on all-night parties back in the late-‘80s: the party is about the crowd. The fan is the star, not the guy spinning records, says Rotella.
“I strive to make each one better,” Rotella says of his fests. “I make them spectacles. But the main goal is release. It’s where people can have a good time and be part of something.”
But with other music-centered movements like the mods or punks, that ideal—to be part of something—always hedges on acting in a particular moment in history. The current electronic scene may not have the giddy camaraderie of a decade ago when the world’s cultural mavens dubbed it the Next Big Thing. Still, the music has its die-hards, and there’ll be enough of a spectacle Saturday to give this wonderland a sense of place. A fireworks show will light up the sky at 9:45 p.m. Artwork will be posted around the concert area. Trapeze artists and fire performers should astound, and, yes, freak out passersby.
And what of the music? According to Q (born Timothy Wiles) of Fullerton-based electronic act Uberzone, the spirit of the performance isn’t manufactured by machines: it’s very human.
“Maybe you’ll see me screw up,” says Q. “There’s an element of danger during the performance. You can drop a drumstick. You can change the course of the set in bad way. People know that you’re on stage.”
Uberzone will be debuting tracks from its forthcoming album, Ideology, which may be released by an as-yet-unnamed label next March. Also on the bill are the Crystal Method, the LA-based electronic duo that hosts the Community Service show on 103.1 FM. They’re just beginning to wrap their minds around an album that should be out in 2007, says Methodman Scott Kirkland. But any visual excitement for their Nocturnal Wonderland DJ set will rest on one of the pair’s shoulders—or legs.
“One of us,” Kirkland says, “Probably me, will jump around the stage and probably kill himself trying to pump up the crowd.” Precautions mean the roadies will be instructing Kirkland on which speakers he can climb over without electrocuting himself, or shorting out the stage’s all-important electronic current.
However, the biggest thrill from performing at giant music festivals like this one may not be the paychecks (ahem!) or the cheering masses. According to San Francisco-based DJ Kaskade (born Ryan Raddon), the excitement is in passing the torch on to a younger crowd.
“Ninety percent of the audiences I play for are 21 or older,” Kaskade says. “Younger kids go to these shows and often hear my music for the first time. When I played last year, I met this kid who had all of my albums. I thought he had caught all of my shows. I asked him how old he was. He was 17. It was the first time he had seen one of my shows. He couldn’t get into the nightclubs I always play. Seeing someone like him was fantastic.”
NOCTURNAL WONDERLAND AT THE NOS EVENTS CENTER, 689 SOUTH E. ST., SAN BERNARDINO, (877) 714-7668; WWW.NOCTURNALWONDERLAND.COM. SAT., 4 P.M. TILL 4 A.M. $40 PRESALE, $45-$50 DAY-OF-SHOW.