- Electric Daisy Carnival 2012, the crown jewel of American EDM massives, may have been the grand finale for Insomniac.
My brohamovich is gonna be bummed if this is true. Here is the story from EDMSnob.
) This year’s Electric Daisy Carnival may have been the last. With inner turmoil and outer pressure, Insomniac Events’ ability to put on large scale events may be damaged beyond repair. To understand why, we have to go back to the very roots of EDM, and see how the beauty that is EDC arose from those humble beginnings.
The American electronic dance music scene has a relatively short, yet tortured past. In the beginning, electronic dance music (EDM) was traditionally showcased at raves. Raves, in their purest and earliest form, were all-night dance parties held in remote and secret locations. Inherently countercultural, raves were initially met with the same mainstream disdain that all new forms of free expression are met with. In fact, the police backlash was so fierce that “[l]argely due to police crackdowns on these unlicensed and unregulated clandestine raves, the rave scene moved to large clubs in urban and suburban areas.”
Soon, though, the controlled environments of club raves presented new problems. First, the police had a lot less power to shut down events at legitimate businesses, and second, the clubs that held these events were a lot closer to home. These issues prompted two responses. Local governments started passing laws to make things difficult on clubs, like laws that made clubs close earlier
. The federal government also managed to sneak the RAVE Act into law
by including it in the very popular Amber Alert bill, allowing police to apply the “crack house” law to any venue promoting a rave, as the assumption was that these events were just a pretext for drug use. How cute. Anyway, the effect of this was that regular events in the same place over and over became more trouble than they were worth.
By 2003, the first generation of the American EDM scene was effectively dead. Fast forward to around 2008 (and past that god-awful era where we the person who was the fan of the most obscure band was the coolest of the group), and you see American EDM starting to make a comeback. I largely credit Deadmau5’s rise in popularity, but many urban areas were experiencing their own resurgence of EDM. At this point, people were starting to get sick of club raves. For one, they’re small, so ticket prices would have to be high to get big name artists to perform. So from 2008 through today, we see a huge increase in the number of large-scale festivals. These events represent the best of both worlds. Because of the huge amounts of money involved, these events are often completely swarming with security staff and have medical professionals available, putting the image of an out of control, hedonistic rave to rest. And, because, they occur once or perhaps twice a year, they are not the constant presence and annoyance to locals that club events are. As a result, small events have fallen by the wayside as people begin to plan more sparing outings to these massive music festivals where they can see all their favorite artists at once.
Now you’re probably asking, what does any of this have to do with Insomniac? Besides the fact that they have been throwing the biggest raves on this side of the planet since 1993 (at least until 1999, when they dropped the word “rave” after police had to use tear gas to disperse crowds)
, Insomniac represents an enormous profit and exposure potential for artists that get on their good side. As Island Def Jam Records Executive Andy Epstein describes in an interview with Capture Your Flag, record companies have been slammed over the last several years with a disastrous drop in revenue from selling music. People in the 18-25 age group simply do not buy much music anymore. If they do buy, they buy single songs that they have already heard from their friends, from illegal downloads, or from secondary sources like Youtube. As a result, booking fees from touring are not only huge revenue streams for artists, but record labels as well. This huge economic interest in concerts and shows has driven everyone in the music industry to look for their own way to get their money out of live events. Insomniac, with over 600 EDM concerts a year all over the country, and numerous music festivals (appropriately called “massives”), has taken a place as one of the major players in the industry.
Pasquale Rotella, CEO of Insomniac, is not blind to this trend. In fact, he has used this newfound power to try and get what all men with power want: more power. This year, the Electric Daisy Carnival was preceded by the three day, partying-meets-professionalism EDMbiz conference. Besides including actual EDM concerts on the agenda (included with registration), the conference hosted speakers such as immensely popular EDM producer Kaskade, LiveNation CEO Michael Rapino, and WME Music department head Marc Geiger. The message is clear: if you want to be somebody in the world of EDM, all roads lead through Insomniac. For a man who was hauling speakers to desert raves to make ends meet in the 90s, that’s not bad.
Unfortunately, the picture perfect new world order that Insomniac has created is beginning to come crashing spectacularly down. First, there’s the legal trouble. Rotella was recently formally indicted
in the Coliseum bribery scandal. The Los Angeles County DA then went after his assets, and got an order freezing $1.75 million
. It was only lifted after Rotella agreed to post a $2.625-million bond. I want to make something clear here. Pasquale Rotella was not just randomly and suddenly charged with a crime. He and five others were charged after a Grand Jury investigation, which means that a group of regular, presumably impartial people sat through hours and hours of testimony to investigate whether a crime occurred, and based on that information, they charged these people with crimes. The administrator at the Coliseum even admitted to being a paid consultant at the same time
he was supposed to be representing the interests of the State. For public officials to get extra money in exchange for favoritism is a big no-no, and everyone involved should have known that. Rotella could be being thrown under the bus for everyone to save their own skin, but regardless, there was seriously shady stuff going on here, and it seems very unlikely to me that you can operate that kind of business without knowing something is wrong.
Now, these issues are not unheard of for companies of this size that deal with this many different events. The company as a whole is not merely Pasquale Rotella, and even if there is legal trouble, it seems to be centered on Rotella personally rather than Insomniac as a company. However, this blog has been provided with information that simultaneous to the company’s legal trouble, there has been a max exodus of business partners, supporters, and even employees of Insomniac, threatening the company’s very existence as a future player in the EDM promotion world. George* an employee of another large-scale promotion company that frequently deals with Insomniac, tells the story of an internal civil war, which seems to have already been won—and not by Rotella.
“You know Donnie, right? Disco Donnie? They had a massive falling out. Donnie is going his own way and he’s taking over.”
When reached for comment, Disco Donnie had this to say, “yikes. publicist…whats that..:) what do you need to know….no comment..:).” No, I’m not kidding. That’s a direct quote.
James D. Estopinal, Jr., or as he is popularly known, “Disco Donnie”, has reportedly left Insomniac, and has taken the vast majority of Insomniac’s local partners with him. Despite being listed on Insomniac’s website at one point as “book[ing] high-capacity festivals for event promoter Insomniac, including Puerto Rico and Orlando, Fla. editions of its signature Electric Daisy Carnival, as well as Nocturnal Wonderland in Texas,” it appears that Donnie is now going his own direction and flying his own flag. To fully understand the impact of these events, this blog conducted research into exactly what is changing.
According to research conducted by this blog, Insomniac hosted, co-hosted, or promoted approximately 653 events with EDM headliners. Frank*, an owner of a production company that has worked with Insomniac, explains how this kind of volume is possible:
“You think they have their shit together? They don’t, they really don’t. All they do is screw and take advantage of their local promoters. They make the money and the locals do all the work. So are they good at doing that? Yeah, sure.”
This blog has gone through all available information for Insomniac concerts going back to September 2010. Of these, 80% were done with one of approximately 16 local partners, representing various areas of the US such as Houston, San Antonio, Orlando, Tampa, Charlotte, Phoenix, Portland, Columbus, Seattle, St. Louis, New Orleans, etc. The only places where Insomniac seems to do events on their own are California and Las Vegas. Of these local partners, near all of them have gone from booking their events through Insomniac to booking their events through a new company: “Disco Donnie Presents”, seemingly overnight. We have been unable to find any events announced after May 1st of this year that Insomniac is hosting with their former local partners. Asked whether this was going to hurt his business, Carl*, an owner of one of Insomniac’s former local partners answered, “[it’s] positive in every way, actually.” Calls to Insomniac’s Director of Communications, Erika Raney, for comment were not returned.
So what does this mean for the future of Insomniac as a company? Only time will tell. Robert*, the CEO of a large-scale EDM promotion company that frequently tours multiple artists, explained that this will have a detrimental effect on Insomniac’s ability to bully high-level talent into taking reduced booking fees, thereby making EDC profitable.
“The way it works is you tour these artists all over the place, and it drives down the price for each stop. You might make a little money on the shows but you get the brand out there to all these markets, then you kill it on the festivals because you can say, ‘Hey man I gave you all this money and exposure for these shows, you have to give me a good price so I can make my money now that I’ve made you big’, and when you can say that to an artist, you have him by the balls. Then people will pay a ton because you have all these great artists there, and you’ve gotten a discount on all of them. A few of those a year and you’re set, man.”
In essence, unless this new union of promoters is under the auspices of Insomniac, it seems unlikely that the Electric Daisy Carnival will be able to develop the financial model needed to make it profitable in the future. Now, the situation may not be as simple as we present it, because there is evidence that Mr. Estopinal had a financial interest in Insomniac at one point, and was not merely an employee, so this split may be slightly mutual because both sides are currently making money together. Still, the fact remains that many in the industry have been dissatisfied with the status quo, and this total revolution in booking power may have permanently shifted the balance of power out of Insomniac’s hands.
As a lifelong fan of EDM, I am saddened by the way this has all played out. Insomniac was on the way to becoming the hub for EDM in the US. It could have been ideally positioned to make this type of music more popular and mainstream by promoting the genre itself. If it was the power broker, then it could capitalize on this and would probably have done a lot to improve the standing that EDM has in Mainstream America. Instead, Pasquale Rotella and Insomniac have fallen victim to the stereotypes of the genre, ruining their chance to take up the banner and lead EDM into the future. Perhaps it is fitting that, four days before its largest event was due to begin, Insomniac reached a $175,000 settlement with the family of Sasha Rodriguez
, a teen that overdosed at the 2010 Electric Daisy Carnival. This year’s EDC was plagued with similar bad publicity
For the last few years, I had hope that EDM was starting to really be recognized as a legitimate form of music, past the eyeroll-inducing “but it all sounds like the same beeping over and over” comments of the past. Maybe Disco Donnie will be the one to get it there. Maybe someone else will pop up out of the chaos to take the genre to new heights. This year, over 100,000 people attended Electric Daisy Carnival or related events in Las Vegas. As Pasquale Rotella once wrote, “What started in the underground is now mainstream.” Finally, I thought, EDM can proudly raise its head a legitimate genre of music.
I can only pray that when EDC 2012 closed on Sunday, June 10th, that we were seeing the end of the beginning, and not the beginning of the end. I’ve seen far too many happy chapters in this story be followed by sad ones, and I’ve always dreamed of an ending to this story that I can look back on and tell my grandchildren, “I was there. We made a difference.”
I guess it’s ironic; I thought Insomniac cared about a dream. For those tens of thousands of happy, tired people that walked out of the Electric Daisy Carnival with their lives changed:
I hope that when you left that three-day long paradise after making lifelong friends and dancing yourselves into nirvana, it wasn’t for the last time.
*Author’s Note: These sources spoke on the condition of anonymity. Names were changed to protect the identities of those involved.
**The 2002 U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services report on “Rave Parties” has a comprehensive analysis of police anti-rave tactics up to that point, and is highly enlightening in the scope of examining how EDM events have progressed from place to place.