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Monday, November 05, 2012

Behind the Beats - A five month journey through electronic music and culture in Las Vegas

Goodness knows Onnoleigh Sweetman and I share a passion for electronic music and her thoughts and observations are a perfect glimpse into it. Here she returns to give us an account of the Electronic Music Scene in Las Vegas and beyond. 

PLUR... Peace Love Unity and Respect... The Ravers Motto...

"At the root of all power and motion, there is music and rhythm, the play of patterned frequencies against the matrix of time. We know that every particle in the physical universe takes its characteristics from the pitch and pattern and overtones of its particular frequencies, its singing. Before we make music, music makes us." Joachim-Ernst Berendt, The World is Sound 

Over the past year my hope for the electronic music scene that I have based my art and career in for so many years, had quite frankly started to diminish. A world which could once be considered a secret society of progressive, authentic music goers has become infiltrated with top 40 music and has taken over the clubs of Las Vegas. Tainted by remixes of Brittany Spears and other pop style tracks, the days of hearing true underground electronic music has been lost to the houses and bedrooms of real DJ’s across the globe. My scene had become “main stream”. These days, everyone and their mother is a DJ. The days of laying your hand over slick vinyl, listening ever so fervently to a house track on a head phone, patiently waiting for the beat to drop and matching beats to the current record seem to be long gone. Sorato, pre-recorded tracks, fist pumping, jersey shore socialites have infiltrated the scene. What once was an energetic exchange between a musical shaman and his disciples has at times; seem to have been forever lost to the greed of fast social climbers adhering to its popularity and fame. True rave culture as we know it might as well be a distant and fond memory of the past. What I once fought in a stellar battle to bring to the stages across the state of Nevada is now welcomed with open arms but not so much with open ears. And with the dismay, comes the call from the universe for hope. That all is not lost in the world of consumerism. That hope came in the form of none other than Pasquale Rotella.

Pasquale, “God of the Ravers”, as I like to call him, brought to Las Vegas once again the controversial Electric Daisy Carnival this past June. And with it, the first ever EDM (electronic dance music), business conference to the Cosmopolitan Hotel & Casino. Meshed in the mix was my favorite of them all, the first ever Discovery Project for unsigned producers of electronic music which proved to be the most exciting aspect of the 2012 EDC experience…

I first had the pleasure of meeting Pasquale at the 2011 Burning Man Arts festival in northern Nevada. Our camps and RV’s were side by side and I was nothing less than mesmerized by his Wide Awake dome and Art Car the entire week. Intrigued by his integration of business and electronic music culture, I made it a point to become more acquainted throughout the year with his work and ambitions. And, as raver luck would have it, as we neared EDC, I was asked personally by a local magazine to appear on their cover, circus style, with the God himself. Nothing says to your spirit you deserve it, after 12 years of dedication to the scene, than a moment like this moment. So with steadfast level of exhilaration, I rounded up the top performers of my group Nytronix Entertainment and spent three weeks prepping and preparing for the exciting adventure.

The girls and I spent an entire six hours donning everything from pink fluffers, silver sparkle bras, grinding guitars, whips, hoops, poi, staff and everything in between. The energy amongst the girls was an impeccable mix of gratitude and professionalism. What better way to spend a Monday afternoon than playing in a fairy land with the one man responsible for changing and evolving the history of electronic music and culture as we know it.

At first interaction with Pasquale, he radiates a quiet and almost intimidating business charm. Dressed to the nines in a black suit, with dark hair and piercing blue eyes, you almost wonder what’s going on inside that head of his. But once he warms up to you, Pasquale is passionate, inquisitive and nothing less than endearing. I had the opportunity to hear first hand Pasquale speak of his first rave experiences, his passion for safety at his events and where he would like to see the festival headed to in the future. With my recent ideals of the electronic music scene completely disheartened, it was as if the universe was reaching out to the corner of my soul that will always be a raver. As if to say, this (top 40 bullshit) too shall pass...

If I ever had questions of Pasquale’s authenticity of pure love for the music and the “experience” they were squashed first hand that evening. His demeanor was nothing less than passionate when he spoke of his first rave experience at 14. He said that he wanted others to experience that same feeling that he felt and that is why he does what he does. And there it was like a first time rave, the excitement and ambition to keep on keeping on. It reminded me of when I first started producing “rave style” dance productions. Recalling the inspiration that emanated from my very being, that nothing could be more pure than the truth and passion to bring the music to the unsuspecting public. The inspiration was contagious. I almost felt guilty for ever thinking at times that I wanted to quit or give up. But as I have said before, “Once a raver, always a raver”.

June came with a fierceness and a glory like none other. The 2nd annual Las Vegas Electric Daisy Carnival was on its way and I had secured myself and four other friend’s a spot working the Info booth for the event. We headed out in true “burner” style from my apartment downtown. Back packs, camel backs, sturdy boots and stellar attitudes as we were prepared to rock the info booths and all the little raver bees to come. The first night came with it a little confusion, but nothing that could confound a group of burners that survive the harsh desert each year. It was an eclectic group of info staff and all became friendly right away. Our home base was the artist relations area and we headed out in groups of two with stacks of maps and walking info signs for the night. It was on. The track became filled with lights, music and adrenaline. And once again, in my second EDC year I was enamored to see the burning man art installations as a primary part of the experience at the event. The Flaming Lotus Girls were in high effect with countless local “burners” heading up the team as volunteers. I walked the track with my partner and our info booth sign while countless ravers came to us with questions. The most asked question? “What is the meaning of Life”? My favorite answer, “Ecstacy”. We made a pit stop around 10:00 pm to see one of my favorites “Gabriel & Dresden”, whom out of all the live sets I have ever heard in my existence in the history of electronic music hands down goes to this duo with their live set at WMC 2006 which one could only wish to auction off a limb to go back into time to experience the bliss for one’s self. This is definitely a duo that puts true progressive house music on the map and bitch slaps top 40 DJ’s and social climbers right in the face with a swift kick in the ass. Move over assholes, let the real gods play.

I found myself playing the role of raver mamma throughout the entire weekend. Checking on every little raver that I could, directing, hugging, and most importantly guiding them through their experience. At one point on Friday I found a girl dressed in daisy’s sitting outside the circuit grounds crying. She had lost her friends and her cell phone didn’t work. I guided her back to artist relations, where she was able to use my cell phone to contact her friends and sent her on a golf cart ride to meet her crew. To me, there was more to the info booth then just handing out maps and directing kids to the water refill stations. This was about the experience: P.L.U.R.R Peace, Love, Unity, Respect and most importantly RESPONSIBILITY. Responsibility to our fellow music goers for safety, guidance, and the ultimate connection of human spirit.

Another “Burner” on the same page as me was local fire dancer Shaun Abel. An ex-marine, he shared stories with me of his times over seas in the 90’s. When he would get leave, he would hit the clubs in Japan to see the likes of John Digweed. With so many kids not really knowing what true electronic music is, or its roots, we took it upon ourselves to guide the party goers to the what we know as the real deal. At Shaun’s info booth, Digweed had come to the rescue more than once over the weekend to assist. Shaun and I reveled in the fact that these kids had no idea they were being guided by the one of the Pioneers of electronic music. On Sunday night, two guys approached us at the info booth at The Recharge Station. It was their first rave. We looked them dead in the eyes and told them if they wanted the real experience to go see Carl Cox and John Digweed and report back to us. Hours later they came back to our info booth, eyes wide with a definitive change in their spirits. They thanked us and told us they had never experienced anything like it before. And there it was. The truth of the beats, the example of why I do what I do. Perform, Produce and Volunteer. To lead the people to the ultimate experience of the human spirit. A place where we all exist but at times have forgotten. A place that is our real reason for being. A place where the truth is re-awakened and love and human connection take precedent and wash away the delusions of grandeur that is society. And this experience can only be awakened through a shamanic DJ experience of the right and true kind of music of which was experienced that night in and through the likes of John Digweed and Carl Cox.

Another example of an authentic DJ experience was The Discovery Project with unsigned producers. My San Diego pals I met at Burning Man showed up and introduced me to Discovery Project winner Michael Badal. I checked out his set at the Discovery Stage and was highly impressed with his enthusiasm. So much pride and appreciation went into that set. He threw down hard and was grinning from ear to ear. A true example of being IN-SPIRIT hands down goes to Michael. A well deserved winner to take the stage for what I believe was the best part of the EDC Experience. A fantastic way to give back to the movers and shakers of the scene.

Another notable DJ mentions of the EDC experience hands down goes to my all time favorite DJ Tatiana Alvarez. Tatiana was all over EDC from the Recharge station to the Discovery stage. One of the few women to even play EDC, this dark haired beauty had no problem throwing down on the decks wherever she was. A scene dominated by men, Tatiana is the Cleopatra of Electronic Music. Strong and steadfast in her demeanor, her decks are her throne and she rules them with class, dignity and a mysterious magnetism that few can challenge. One of the best sets I have experienced in Las Vegas to date was Tati’s duo KillrKat during Halloween 2011. Donning the most bad ass pair of cat heads with laser eyes, this duo not only spins, but most importantly produces their own progressive house tracks. Now that is a true DJ. Two people mixing their own beats live. Proving herself time and time again, one can see why she was voted the Number 1 Female DJ in the World by a national DJ poll.

On Saturday night, I chose the recharge station specifically for the fact that DJ Tatiana was slated to play to the wee hours of the morning. The winds were strong and at one point I saw debris falling. I tried to pull the rest down as to not hit anyone. I made it back to my disco info booth, thoroughly enjoying the energy of the evening when all of a sudden the lights came up and thousands upon thousands of party goers rushed the recharge area. That’s when on my walkie talkie, I was told the festival was shut down due to the high winds. A decision made by the fire marshal and good call if I ever saw one. The party goers filled in one by one and you could barely walk or move. The entire festival was on my side of the track. That’s when Denver DJ Casey Stongle started busting out some tracks with DJ Tatiana dancing alongside him. The party goers cheered and danced. This party wasn’t going down without a fight. And that is when a young man rushed to me with worry at the Info booth. “I need your help” he said. “I think my friend is having an overdose”. I tried to barrel through the crowd, hopping over people huddled in piles. I grabbed a blanket and some water and a friendly burner I had met earlier offered his help. I called for paramedics and was worried how they were going to get through the crowd. This was all going down right in front of the DJ booth. The young man was on the ground half hyper and half lethargic. I calmly held his hand and whispered in his hear to calm him down. One of the paramedics looked at me and said “you are amazing”. “I’m just an old school raver” I replied. We have all seen this before and a situation like this called for calm, calm and more calm. Once the situation was under control I headed back to my info booth which was being held down by two local burners John and Meesh. And that’s when the idea hit me of what EDC needed for its events. Like that of Burning Man, where there are Black Rock Rangers, EDC needed some Rangers as well. A non threatening group of experienced ravers designed to patrol the premises to aid and help countless participants in whatever needs possible.

With Sunday upon us the last night of EDC was underway. Once again I choose the recharge station for my info booth set up. On this night I felt dialed in and I felt that I had found my calling. Versus just being a party goer, I found that my true purpose was to work the info booth. Where I could interact, guide and give the best of me to the participants. I found complete joy in this equation. When it came time for my break, that’s when my reward for the hard work of the week was realized. Shaun and I ventured out for a two hour interactive adventure. Our first stop was the Ferris Wheel. I was in complete amazement at the vast amount of people, lights and music that was experienced in the sky above the magic land. And that’s exactly what EDC is. Magic. Magic of the music and magic of the soul. Pasquale has taken an emotion felt at 14 years old, and it expanded into an experience for thousands to experience. Any judgments over his possible jail time are nothing but a witch hunt by those with a mediocre mind set. You see, with Pasquale and Insomniac Productions, he is breaking major barriers in the consciousness of our world as we know it. It is easier for people to conform and people are afraid of that which they do not know. Pasquale opens people to worlds of the imagination, of possibility. This can be a threat to those that adhere to control. What would we do with a world where people believed and experienced infinite possibilities? A scary thought for those that like to keep the hope of the world contained.

As we ventured from the Ferris Wheel, I heard beats that had me completely mesmerized. My sound, my taste, my style in full effect was happening on The Wide Awake Art Car by a duo called Prince Club. I grabbed my poi and starting dancing on the vehicle which was blasting its’ sound from Funktion 1 speakers. Just then, I saw one of my dancers and dear friends swinging her poi as well. Georgia Curringa, a salsa dancer turned rave goddess extraordinaire, had followed the beats as well. We danced upon the art car for some time when I stopped and took everything in that was going on around me. I looked out across the grounds. Art cars, people, music, laughter, screams, joy. It was all happening around me and it was mesmerizing. I emphatically took it all in basking in the joy of the celebration. If there ever was a meaning of life, this was it, right here, right now and I was “wide awake” and loving every single minute of it.

From the Art Car we all ventured for a set that would define my EDC musical experience. None other than the pioneer himself, Mr. John Digweed. Having production passes, Shaun, Lilah and I were able to stand on stage with the man himself. It was amazing seeing the crowd through the eyes of Digweed. Carl Cox hung around backstage as well and I flashed him my happy raver smile as he walked around, shook hands, and hugged a few onlookers. Digweed’s set was progressive and hard core. True electronic beats emanating from a huge sound system with the crowd going crazy. If there ever was a set to “experience” this was the one. And if you don’t know who John Digweed is, rent the fucking movie “Groove” and get on with it.

Digweed, known for his up to 12 hour sets, is in my mind, a legend. After we left the stage area, a tear trickled down my face. I looked at Shaun and he shook his head in complete understanding. We were there in the 90’s in the beginning of the magic, of truth being blasted and exposed through a new form of music and evolution. Where the secret society of music goers used electronic music and shamanism as an evolution of the mind and soul to recognize the truth of our very own existence. It was a moment of vast respect and gratitude to be in the presence of an electronic legend.

And so with my second EDC under my belt a new appreciation for the scene emerges. From what once was a stellar fight in my world of performance art, is now taking a new lead of acceptance and exposure across the country. That there will still be others to take form to not only keep the true underground alive, but expose and inspire others to take creative forms of action, to build community, to improve spirit, and to lead all other beings out of the realms of a mundane and controlled society and existence and into the infinite possibilities of creativity, freedom, love, art, and most importantly, Truth.

-Onnoleigh Sweetman

*Keep posted as Onnoleigh shares her experiences over the past five months with “Community”, “The Pure House Music Festival”, The LV Glow Run & After Party, and the Burning Man DJ group and interactive dance experience “The Dancetronauts”.*

Brian Paco Alvarez enculturating Las Vegas into the millennium...

posted by Brian Paco Alvarez, Curator and Chronicler of Culture at


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