Pasquale Rotella has 20 minutes to spare. The live music tycoon and founder of Insomniac Events, one of dance music’s most powerful brands - encompassing international multi-media events, nightclubs and over a dozen festivals (Electric Daisy Carnival, Nocturnal Wonderland, Beyond Wonderland, Electric Forest, to name a few) has just hopped off a plane. After spending a week scouting “new areas and meeting with property owners to talk future festivals,” he’s now back in his Los Angeles office where phones are ringing off the hook. Insomniac staffers – or “Night Owls” - buzz about excitedly between meetings, everyone appearing in need of “just five minutes!” of Rotella’s time.
“It’s never boring… one day I’m acting as an attorney, one day I’m the production guy, another day [it’s] talent booking.” The original Night Owl is mild-mannered, seemingly unfazed by his daunting list of duties. “All those departments are so different, but I try to touch everything,” adds Rotella, more calmly than a dolphin on Xanax. Within moments of our initial chat, it’s clear that for Pasquale Rotella, the job is no job at all – it’s his passion.
This notion, looming in the air long before it’s ever said aloud appears key to Insomniac’s runaway success: “Finding a good team, finding amazing people that are passionate about the company - it’s exciting!” But it’s more than just enthusiasm that keeps Insomniac’s magnate a track ahead of the millions of EDM biz clingers-on. He sticks to his guns, too. “There are things that I implement because I listen to [the masses], then there are things I personally believe in that most people don’t get. I push those forward too, because I believe it’s positive for the culture and for our events.
“Don’t count on anyone else,” Rotella advises to anyone trying to crack the market. “If you want to throw events, or create your own thing... just go out there and do it. Go throw a 100-person event! If you want to DJ, throw an event to create your own crowd, create your own thing. People are working hard to succeed and just do their thing, and you just have to make it happen for yourself.”
Thankfully, there is a little help out there. Folks have the chance to gain more insight into the business of dance music at Rotella’s EDMBiz conference that takes place on the Strip, the week before EDC Las Vegas, at the Cosmopolitan Hotel & Casino. Even the man himself, after having been in the business over 20 years, “learns new things” with each installment. “If I’m someone that benefits from going then I know other people in the industry certainly could have the same experience.” Now in its third year, EDMBiz is made up of panels featuring industry principals, ranging from agents to media members to event production teams to DJs, and beyond. “It covers all the different aspects of the business. You have the opportunities to ask questions and rub shoulders with people who are industry leaders. If you’re trying to break in, you can save a lot of time learning new things.”
As Insomniac’s premier annual event, EDC Las Vegas is the largest multi-day music festival in North America, and attracted more than 345,000 fans over one weekend in June of 2013. To say Electric Daisy Carnival has come a long way since its 1997 inception at the Shrine Expo Hall in Los Angeles is a gross understatement. “What’s kind of a trip,” Rotella says, is that “EDC wasn’t my largest event. For over 10 years Nocturnal Wonderland was the largest dance event for Insomniac and the largest dance music event in the country, and I feel like it flipped when I moved the date because I wanted to go to Burning Man one year. That was the biggest change internally that I’ve seen.”
At any rate Sin City can be eternally grateful to Pasquale Rotella (and Burning Man) for the billions of dollars his festival brings in year after year. In part, because to keep those clams - and fans - coming back to EDC Las Vegas takes dogged prowess. There’s been an evolution too: “The whole culture is so different,” says Rotella. “Being able to fly the sound. The speaker stacks used to be on the ground and people used to dance facing the speakers versus the DJ. The styles have changed, the girls used to dress like boys, now they dress like girls, there’s a whole influx of people that are kind of trained to behave like they’re at a rock show versus a dance music event, not everybody but a percentage.” EDC’s scale exceeds even Rotella’s own wildest dreams.
“The production value has gone up immensely and the crowd size is larger than I ever imagined. I imagined in my head there would be a sea of people, but I never thought 140,000 people at one time, being in one place.”
Even after two decades in the business, Pasquale Rotella is humbled by the sheer magnitude of EDC Las Vegas. He spends many sleepless months working on the details such as, “what the stage is going to look like, where exactly its going to be placed, the art installation, the whole thing being built.” He humbly reveals, “The month prior [to EDC Las Vegas], witnessing the festival come together,” hasn’t lost its ability to cause “butterflies in my stomach.” But nothing beats the feeling Rotella gets “when we open the doors and people see it for the first time.”
Meanwhile, Insomniac continues to expand its empire. Improving the festival experience remains at the forefront: “I want it to be VIP on every level for everyone. I want the production to be double what it is now. We’re going to be on top of the evolution and technology. We’re all looking for innovative ways to take the whole thing to a different level. I don’t even know if it would be in the same place. Did you know that people are taking trips up to space right now?” His mind wanders off, literally to outer space, as the options confound him. In-house operations at Insomniac are also upping its ante. “We’re launching the new website. [It’s] something I’m really excited about.” The fervor he has for a new website is audibly equal to that of his festivals. This further proves Rotella’s tirelessness actually lives up to his brand’s namesake.
Still, the specter of overheads and risk never quite goes: “I’ve seen five or six times when there’s a big crash and people disappear and it’s been difficult and quite the rollercoaster ride,” he reflects. “That’s something I’m most proud of and most grateful for - still being here in the industry.”
Rotella has to bolt. His next Insomniac call of duty is waiting and there aren’t enough hours in the day. “Maybe I’m a cat and I have nine lives,” he says before jetting. The Night Owl is indeed like a cat - and for the sake of dance music’s boundless and bright future, he will continue to land on his feet