Pasquale Rotella woke up one recent morning to find he was the last promoter standing.
It wasn’t like this wavy-haired guy recruited a team of thugs and ran every competitor out of business. No, Rotella’s the one who drank a fool’s cocktail of luck and adopted a never-say-die-ethos to become one of the last people (and heading up one of the last few companies) to promote massive electronic music festivals in Southern California.
In their ‘90s heyday, these fests rivaled arena rock in popularity, what with their lure of superstar DJs, fireworks, art installations, dancing girls, and, typically, more than 20,000 music fans hell-bent on raving their brains out.
Yet, like a love affair with the foxiest person in the world, these high times for massives didn’t last. A firestorm of trouble with the law, changing trends and a nasty milestone called adulthood shuttered such once-mega raves as How Sweet It Is and Nocturnal Wonderland.
But no one told Rotella that the glow-sticks were going to be extinguished, or that player-haters were starting to dismiss these parties as unhip. Instead, he and his LA-based Insomniac Events are going to party like its 1996 this Saturday at San Bernardino’s NOS Events Center, when an estimated crowd of 15,000 will celebrate the 10th annual Electronic Daisy Carnival. And if some of the cool kids think it’s uncool, so much the better.
“Dance music almost went through a cleansing when it was uncool, but you got the riff-raff out of the scene,” the 31-year-old Rotella says of the genre’s 2001-2003 lean years, a period when few electronic music acts crossed over into the mainstream. “But it was the best thing for our industry. Things are more professional now.”
Promoters for major music festivals spend from $600,000 to more than $1 million to ensure concert-goers will be protected from riots and apocalyptic disasters (it also costs plenty to book name DJs who can fill major venues). This year’s Carnival is no exception. With five stages of music, highlights will include Dutch superstar DJ Ferry Corsten, who’ll give electronic fans a taste of his new dance-chart-climbing album L.E.F., with its mix of trance, electro, pop and house. And LA DJs Aurelito and Shakespeare will be spinning classic reggae from an ice cream truck called Destiny (they tricked out this jalopy into a mobile DJ station similar to ones that rocked Jamaica in the ‘60s and ‘70s). Their friends Umoja Sound System, featuring hip-hop icon Cokni O’Dwyer, will reunite to perform on the truck.
Of course, being the last doesn’t mean it gets easy. The NOS Events Center weathered a shitstorm of controversy in March when a riot broke out at the British Invasion 2K6 punk rock fest, causing some $500,000 in damages around neighboring businesses. Those hijinks mean that the San Bernardino police and the NOS will increase security to watch over what’s typically a peace-loving subculture. San Bernadino Police Lt. Ernie Lemos says that a squad of cops—probably less than 10—will patrol the venue along with Black Hawk, the company that provides NOS security. If the crowd turns ugly, they’ll call the department’s 60-man rapid response team to control them.
Security worries should just be static for the 32-year-old Corsten. Though he’ll be focusing his Saturday set with debuting music from his new album, he still won’t be able to completely ignore the heightened precautions.
“(Police) are more strict in America,” Corsten says. “There’s police at (European parties), but they’re tapping their feet and nodding their head to the music. They’re not seen as a threat.”
The bigger threat to the crowd could actually come from the performers—or at least Los Angeles-based music/art troupe the Mutaytor. Founder Matty Nash figures the fractured family morals, which are part of the ambiance of his 30-member ensemble, should spark a contact high with the audience. The Mutaytor features a guitar that shoots flames 20 feet into the air, flame mortars that shoot fire 30 feet into the air, and, if you’re feeling a tad chilly, there’s an onstage firewall, too. At least remember to wear an asbestos-packed jacket to the gig.
“We have some real safety issues in the show,” Nash says. “We trust our lives to each other. The trust and bonding involves good human values. It’s not typical of the entertainment world that’s often dog-eat-dog.”
But will there be an 11th Electric Daisy Carnival? Rotella says there’ll be a 20th and a 30th, and he’ll do them as long as he can. The new sounds coming up, more visual delights and the steadfastness of Rotella just might give SoCal’s electronic scene a second wind, says Ron D Core, owner of Orange County’s Dr. Freecloud’s Electronic Boutique, and a DJ who’s played past Carnivals.
“Sometimes it seems that this music is on its last legs,” Core says. “But I think it’s just looking for a way to reinvent itself.”
THE ELECTRIC DAISY CARNIVAL AT THE NOS EVENTS CENTER, 689 S. E ST., SAN BERNARDINO, (877) 714-7668; WWW.ELECTRICDAISYCARNIVAL.COM. SAT., 4 P.M.-4 A.M. $40-$50.