The difference between a campy warehouse rave lit with a single disco ball and EDC Las Vegas isn’t just in the numbers. When I entered Las Vegas Motor Speedway Friday for the kick-off of EDC Las Vegas 2015 which housed over 400,000 ravers, I was greeted by awe-inspiring design and live, interactive art that took Insomniac Group, founder of EDC, over a year to get ready and prepare.
“We start planning next year’s EDC Las Vegas literally the week after it ends,” Pasquale Rotella, founder and creator of Insomniac, told me over the phone. “We go over the things we want to be better for next year. We want it to be perfect.”
With eight larger-than-life stages, interactive neon art, carefully constructed light and video shows and colorful, strange creatures at every corner, the design puts you in some sort of intense dream that you’re unable to escape for three day.
And to be honest, that’s a really damn good thing.
The beat had just dropped during German trance duo Cosmic Gate’s EDC set at Circuit Grounds, a covered stage in the heart of the festival that holds nearly 40,000 people. While everyone else in the steamy crowd had their eyes toward the DJ booth, I was transfixed on a pair of hands that made everything about the show come to life.
Head of SJ lighting Steve Lieberman worked the stage lights like it was a sixth sense. Regarded as a “fucking legend” by someone I spoke with backstage Sunday night, Lieberman took a thirty-second break and quickly swigged a shot of Jameson with me. “How do you remember which button is which?” I asked, my throat burning from the whiskey. “I mean it’s easy, I’m the one who programmed this entire thing,” Lieberman said over the heart-thumping music.
Looking at the control board, you’d think you’re in the cockpit of a damn airplane.
“Here, push this button every time you hear the bass drop,” he said putting my hand on a key. “And then push this one, and this one every once in a while.”
I watched as the lights changed and glowed every time I touched a key, and sweat quickly built up at the back of my neck as I realized I was controlling a live show. Lieberman laughed at my obvious reaction and took back over the lighting board.
I saw first-hand lighting a live show and making sure 40,000 people are having the time of their lives isn’t just as easy as pushing the play button.
Lieberman devoted all his energy to two stages for this year’s EDC Las Vegas, including Cosmic Meadow which saw the likes of big names such as Moby, Pretty Lights and Flosstradamus. But Circuit Grounds is where he spent most of his time at the festival, putting all of his energy into making all 31 performances fucking insane.
“This is my baby,” he said talking about Circuit Grounds. “This is a club on steroids.”
In fact, Lieberman and his company, SJ Lighting, have been the brain behind all the lighting and video at EDC for the past 15 years. He’s also mastered ULTRA Music Festival for 16 years, and has pretty much been involved in the creation of every single Vegas hot spot. From Marquee to Drai’s beach and nightclub, I began to understand why Lieberman is a rave and nightclub legend.
When it comes to design documentation and development at EDC, Lieberman is the one deciding it all. And when I asked him if artists use his light show or pre-program their own, he said about 80 percent of artists use his show. And after you catch one of them he’s manning, you can see why.
“I design every detail. I design it all,” Lieberman said.
Combined with the stage lighting and intense firework shows, the eight stages that inhabit EDC Las Vegas are more than insane. Spread out all over the festival and intertwined between carnival rides, merchandise booths and vendors, I was still unable to make it to all of them despite me walking 6 miles in one day (intense, I know.)
To put the absurd stage design in perspective, just the main stage, lovingly known as Kinetic Field, is an insane 440’ wide and 85’ tall, has over 30 lasers, 6,500 video tiles, 1.35 million pounds of scaffolding and truss, 1,000 lighting fixtures and 15 confetti blowers. It takes over 2.5 million watts of power to power up the entire stage during each performance. This isn’t just some small carnival—this is one of the largest dance festivals in North America for a reason.
“I love finding people that have something unique going on an pairing them up with someone else who is doing something cool and creating unique art and stages for EDC,” Rotella says about the design of the festival. “Design is everything.”
This is what Kinetic Field looks like before the masses enter Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
And this is what it looks like during peak performance. Insane, I know. Try being in the pit of Kinetic Field during a Benny Bennasi performance when the music is so loud you feel like you heart is going to jump out of your body.
Even though Kinetic Field is the ultimate stage for artists to perform at, there were 7 other stages scattered throughout the grounds that literally took my breath away. From the 7 UP Stage to Cosmic Meadow, here’s an insider’s look at some of the stages I was able to scope out.
And to top it off, every single performance you were guaranteed to see something new and mind-blowing from the stage. Insider tip though for press: Don’t stand too close to the confetti blowers. That shit hurts at full-force.
THE ART AND THE PERFORMERS
Even when I was walking around the carnival far away from any of the artist performances going on, I was still getting a ridiculous show. It’s not everyday you walk straight into hand-crafted creatures walking around on stilts, dance and jump around with girls dressed as glittering butterflies and join painters as they create cool murals during the festival.
There were even beautifully designed light-infused busses equipped with basically their own stages. The rolling sound stages housed everyone from Kaskade to The Bingo Players. So if a performance was too crowded and you missed out, you could catch your favorite act driving around the festival performing right in front of you.
The interactive aspect of the festival was probably one of my favorite parts about the design. You weren’t just standing there watching performances, you were actually taking part and influencing a community that Insomniac hand-crafted for festival goers.
“I find inspiration everywhere,” Rotella said about the design. And after seeing his creation first-hand, you can tell Rotella does nothing short every year of creating the ultimate dream world for adults-only.
Nicole Theodore is an editorial assistant at Playboy.com. Follow her on Twitter.