Picture every student enrolled at the University of Tampa. Now multiply that by four and a half. That’s 31,000 millennials. Pack all those crazy teens into Orlando’s Tinker Field with every glowstick and strobe light accessory available, throw in 60 EDM (Electronic Dance Music) performers, three stages, four carnival rides and two days to do it all. What do you get out of all that? The Electric Daisy Carnival. This year the production company Insomniac hosted one of the world’s biggest parties in Orlando, and I was lucky enough to get invited.
By the time Meg, Casey and I crawled out of bed and into the waffle house next door to our hotel, mid-afternoon had already arrived. After a couple hours of getting dressed, slapping on makeup and meeting up with the rest of our group, we were finally ready. While traditional rave-wear usually involves as little clothing as possible, I was not about to prance around in neon undies in the sunless 60 degree chill. I sported leggings and Asics under my short sky blue overalls, which matched my rhinestone-dotted eyes. We faced Tinker Field at 6:00 p.m.
Almost every inch of grass and curb outside the street was filled with cars. We pulled up to an officer directing traffic and Meg asked where parking was. “Uh, anywhere you can, Ma’am,” he said. It was a free-for-all. We gave a nice couple in a local house a block down the road $10 to park in their driveway.
Anxious ravers swarmed around us like salmon in thongs, tutus and light up bras all rushing upstream towards security. Today there were over 32,000 people on the field; EDC had completely sold out for the weekend.
After walking a few blocks we finally reached security. For many EDC attendees this stop is pivotal in determining their experience. Despite the fact that Insomniac caters almost exclusively to ravers, and most ravers being drug users, EDC has a strict no drug policy. This also includes anything affiliated with drugs including light gloves, massagers, laser pointers, air horns, and Vicks Vaporub. Anything that can stimulate the senses for those who roll are not permitted, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make it in. Before entering the event attendees are sorted into lines separating genders. A large stumpy woman patted me down and checked my bag. I was one of the lucky girls to not be felt up under the underwire of my bra, despite the fact that my shoes weren’t checked at all.
By the time we got past security, the sun had set. The main stage, dubbed the Kinetic Cathedral, glowed and shot lasers into the night. A ferris wheel lit up red and white as it spun next to a zipline and screaming eagle ride. Across a man-made lake a swing ride could be seen whirling festival-goers around while the third stage pulsed to its own beat.
With 32,000 glowing zombies wandering around there’s only one way we could have found the rest of our group: totems. While these look simply like funny signs to hold above the crowd, totems are actually essential for big groups at a festival this large. A totem can be seen from almost any point in a crowd, giving a small glimmer of hope to those separated from friends. Most totems glowed, flashed and sported internet memes. Among the many seen bouncing around the crowd there was a Hello Kitty doll dressed as Skrillex, emoji monkeys and cats, the Reddit logo, a stuffed Molly from the “Big Comfy Couch” TV show sporting a “Molly” t-shirt and a cardboard Dave Chappelle that featured glowing eyes and the words, “I’M RICK JAMES BITCH.” Several blow up sex dolls had been attached to poles as makeshift totems and along with blown up versions of every cat meme imaginable. The group we met up with actually had three totems, each a different letter, “E,” “D” and “C” covered in glitter and laced with neon LED lights.
Our friends Christie and George had taken out all the stops for their EDC experience. The couple was dressed up as Nintendo’s Mario and Princess Peach. George’s Mario costume was spot on and even included a fake mustache. Princess Peach, however, was a bit skimpier than the original. Along with a tutu and crown, Christie wore a bra she had decorated with pink and white silky frills and gold and pearl beads. If you think just making costumes and totems took time and money for the couple, consider this: Christie and George paid roughly $175 each for their EDC tickets and a hotel room cost $110 for two nights. This is not even considered remotely expensive in the grand scheme of EDC costs, as Christie and George got their tickets and hotel at early bird prices as soon as the festival was announced. Not to mention they were only general admission. VIP tickets went as high as $5,000 a pop. Tack on the price of transportation, food, and drugs (for the many that wished to partake) and EDC becomes one of the many high-profit events of Orlando.
The influx of money being spent not only on EDC but at EDC is simply astounding (picture 32,000 people all buying tshirts, pizza, and beer). Instead of handling at least millions of dollars in cash, the event was run using a system of “Daisy Dollars.” Attendees were given a cloth wristband to grant them access to the event, and attached to this wristband was a small chip covered in plastic. By downloading the EDC Orlando app attendees could register their wristbands and add Daisy Dollars, making EDC a cash and card free event, save the top-up stations which refilled attendees’ Daisy Dollars. This made spending money entirely hassle free, and perhaps even encouraged spending. Instead of fumbling for my wallet inside my bag and searching through cards all I had to do was press my band to a screen and “BLOOP” I now had chicken tenders and lemonade. I didn’t even need to think about the fact that I had just spent $8 on three chicken tenders and $5 on about 8 ounces of lemonade until I received an email at the end of the night.
However, I didn’t go to EDC to investigate economics or eat chicken tenders. Like everyone else, I was there to dance. Casey and I split away from Meg, Mario, Peach and the rest of the group and headed to the second stage, Neon Garden. Decorated to mimic a Buddhist temple the stage included dancers dressed as monks and an enormous golden Buddha behind the DJ. A tiny girl in Victoria’s Secret cheekster underwear danced next to me. A few minutes later she was lifted on to the shoulders of the guy she was dancing with. Her bare butt bounced along with the beat as she flailed above the crowd.
After a ride on the ferris wheel Casey and I blooped in more daisy dollars for pizza and sat by the lake. Fireworks shot out from the Kinetic Cathedral as we ate. We were exhausted. There was just no way to keep up with the energy level without being under some sort of influence. An olive skinned boy with rhinestones on the outside corners of his eyes plopped behind us as if he had known us forever. “It’s so cold,” he whispered as he threw his arms around our shoulders. We shot each other confused looks simultaneously. The boy introduced himself as Sayon while awkwardly rubbing our shoulders. His pupils were saucers. Casey and I quickly peeled him off of us.
“You guys are so shy,” he teased.
“No…” Casey replied, “We just don’t like snuggling with strangers.”
“Are you guys rolling?” he asked.
We shook our heads no and asked how he got his drugs in.
“I taped them to my balls,” he replied. He told us one of his friends had taped a baggie of weed on the underside of his penis, and a girl he knew had even gone so far as to saran wrap her molly inside a tampon to smuggle in inside of her.
Finally after a few more minutes of enduring the overly cuddly Sayon, Casey and I made our escape. We danced in the crowd outside the second stage, the Neon Garden, to songs we had already heard throughout the day. You’d think with 60 different DJ’s there would be a larger variety of remixes, yet the crowd went crazy every time Coldplay’s “A Sky Full of Stars” or Bastille’s “Pompeii” started up again.
Casey and I danced our way through thousands of people to the front of the Kinetic Cathedral. I felt something touching the back of my drawstring bag. I turned around to see a guy with dark hair in a gteen striped Freddy Krueger style sweater. He was wearing reflective aviators, but the look he gave me still struck me as odd. I assumed he had been trying to dance or was drugged up, but something just didn’t seem right. I took my bag off to have a look after the next song. “Oh no, I ripped Meg’s bag,” I thought. There was a four-inch slice where my phone had been. My heartbeat pulsed in my ears, clashing with the beat of the DJ as I searched my bag. A wallet, a sweatshirt, a phone charger, but no phone.
My head spun faster than the totems that surrounded me as I looked for Freddy Krueger, but he was gone. A boy wearing a shirt with cut off sleves tried offer me some comfort. He held a Bud Light in his hand as he said, “Listen. I lost my phone yesterday. It sucks but there’s nothing you can do about it. Have a fun night.” Having a fun night was the least of my worries, so Casey and I searched for someone to report the theft to. Behind the gates security guards, medics and volunteers huddled around a collapsed body wearing a pair of black converse, which stuck out like that of the Wicked Witch of the East’s ruby red slippers. A fire marshall told Casey and I there was just too much going on and that nothing could be done right now. It was hopeless. I slumped in front of the gate, not even listening to the performer onstage. A few tears rolled down my face, taking some eyeshadow and a rhinestone with them. I glanced over at the converse sticking out of the security huddle. It could always be worse.
By the time Casey and I shuffled through the crowd and made our way over to customer service to report the theft, the woman taking reports said that they’d caught “the guy stealing phones” and that everything was at lost and found. The catch: lost and found is outside the entrance, and once you leave there’s no re-entry.
This was where the Bud Light boy was right. All I could do was enjoy the last few hours and hope my phone would be waiting for me at the end of the night. This came just in time for the one performer I knew, Steve Aoki. Casey and I shuffled through the maze of ravers and made our way to the front of the Kinetic Cathedral within the first few songs. I danced next to a tall guy in a black shirt. “You wanna go up?” he asked me. He squatted down on the ground in front of me. “We gotta get caked by Steve Aoki!” he shouted. “Oh God,” I thought to myself, “I might crush this kid.” I wobbled and bounced on his shoulders as I looked out into the crowd. I could have high-fived the Hello Kitty Skrillex totem.
I got off of the guy’s shoulders before I could see what he meant by “caked.” To thank him, I pointed towards my wrist, asking to exchange Kandi. Kandi are beaded bracelets that usually spell out words, made for trading at festivals. This goes along with the rave moto: PLUR (Peace Love Unity Respect). We connected the tips of our fingers which made peace signs, created a heart between the curve of our thumb and four-fingers, and finally laced our hands as we traded bracelets between the connection. At this point Casey needted to leave the crowd to get photos.With the amazing spot we had scored there was no way the two of us could fight the crowd again to get it back. “Stay here,” she shouted. “I’ll be back in like 15 minutes.” I danced on without her, inching closer and closer to the gates, phoneless and totemless. “There’s no way she’s going to find me again,” I thought.
Steve Aoiki emerged from his booth and took to the stage. “EDC,” he roared into the microphone. “MY NAME IS FUCKING STEVE AOKI.” This was when “getting caked” made sense. The crowd went insane as someone handed Steve Aoki a huge sheet cake, which he slung into the writhing, screaming teens. After about 10 cakes it was time for the last song of the set. As Steve Aoki’s “Pursuit of Happiness” remix played I didn’t have care in the world. Everything that shines ain’t always gonna be gold, hey. I’ll be fine, once I get it. I’ll be good.
Now was time for the final headliner, Knife Party. Rain had begun to drizzle down into the lasers, but that certainly wasn’t stopping anyone from having a good time. The scent of weed, smoke, and dust filled my lungs. “Just keep dancing,” I thought. After about 15 more minutes I began to look back into the crowd. There was no way Casey could find me here. Just before I had begun to worry, or at least figure out an escape plan, Casey appeared. She squeezed and struggled, sliding between dancers as I pulled her up next to me. We laughed and hugged, both soaking wet.
Strobes flashed, fireworks exploded, Kife Party’s infamous remix, “Bonfire,” glitched and blared as we jumped up and down with everything we had. All weekend I had taken up sobriety as my cross to bear, when in reality, I could be high in the moment. Nothing could ruin this. Forget your phone. Forget school. Forget life. Just shut up and dance.
*All names have been changed asside from Casey’s and my own.
Photos by Casey Budd.
Selene San Felice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org