On any given Labor Day Weekend, the sheer number of live music events taking place makes it difficult to decide how to spend your time – but this year, a few dozen partygoers found themselves exactly where they needed to be.
On a moonlit meadow bordered by tents on a crisp hilltop, swirls of light patterns illuminated the matted grass blades beneath their feet, save for the pitch-black cutouts of their sensually twisting silhouettes. A nondescript figure stood a story above them behind a set of turntables with a handful more bodies in motion behind him, bobbing his head to the rhythms of a classic house record while painstakingly planning a transition into an obscure hip-hop B-side.
In case you haven’t already guessed it, this wasn’t the kind of crowd that would be caught dead so much as murmuring the term “EDM.” The old school aficionados gracing these grounds hailed from an era during which electronic music was still fringe, and reflecting in their blissful eyes was just the mixture of innocence and anguish necessary to enshroud them in the hazy mystique of the underground.
The sounds reverberating from the speaker stacks bordering the DJ booth bore the rudimentary hallmarks of a bygone musical era: arpeggiated analogue synth melodies that somehow simultaneously sounded like they were from both the past and the future. Above all else, though, the groove was paramount. For heads like these, little else in the world mattered
It might come as a surprise that the stage billed as Upside-Down Room that played host to such an unorthodox gathering was but one of five at the latest edition of Nocturnal Wonderland, one of the SoCal scene’s most popular fall massives. As detailed in our own coverage of the event, the 20th anniversary edition bumped up to three days for the first time and featured an entertainment roster that catered as much to the main stage crowd as fans of genre du jours like future house, bass house and dubstep – as well as everything else in between.
Even though the behemoth that is Electric Daisy Carnival has become Insomniac Events’ flagship festival, the Nocturnal Wonderland brand predates it by roughly a year – and with 85,000 revellers in attendance this time around, it made for a memorable occasion no matter what artists you showed up to see.
However, Nocturnal Wonderland’s 20th anniversary ended up coinciding with a dubious phase in dance music history. Of all the instances during which the music industry’s inside minds have attempted to predict an “EDM bubble,” recent events have made such a turn of events more likely than ever before.
SFX Entertainment, the EDM industry conglomerate which has bought out companies like Beatport, Disco Donnie Presents and ID&T since its 2013 inception, has found its name in the wrong kind of headlines over the past several months. Most recently, a class-action lawsuit has been filed against its founder, Robert Sillerman, for allegations that he misled its shareholders in the wake of his company’s catastrophic nose dive in stock value.
To look at it philosophically, by its very definition what Billboard dubbed “the EDM arms race” in 2012 was bound to have winners and losers. What few would have expected was that Sillerman, the entertainment mogul who did everything in his power to come across as the Bond villain of the electronic music world during his cover shoot for the very Billboard issue in question, would crash and burn so dramatically – while Insomniac Events’ co-founder Pasquale Rotella, an entertainment entrepreneur of infinitely more humble presence, would continue to expand his own company’s sphere of influence at an impressive rate.
Unless you’re fully embroiled in the convoluted goings on of electronic music’s highest echelon, it might appear that Rotella owes his success to little more than fortunate circumstances – and perhaps isn’t even all that different from Sillerman, if his own track record for attracting high-profile lawsuits is any indication. However, conversations with key figures close to Rotella suggest that litigation aside a purity of heart unique to the beloved rave scene veteran is largely responsible for his prominence.