In a heap of sweaty, screaming dancers, Cedric Gayon put his arms around Charlie Arrizon.
Lasers flashed into the crowd from the Electric Daisy Carnival main stage, Kinetic Field. Bursts of flames flooded the night sky as the bass bounced, shaking people in the front row.
But it was more than the music that entranced them.
Gayon closed his eyes, releasing himself to the music. He softly lifted his arms off Arrizon and held them up to the stars in the shape of a heart.
The two have been dating for almost three years, and electronic music is an integral part of their relationship. This is their third year together at EDC, the mecca of modern electronic dance music festivals.
“We’re home,” Arrizon said, his voice silent to anyone but Gayon as the music swallowed the crowd.
From underground to spotlight
Arrizon, 30, started raving as a teen during the culture’s pinnacle in the 1990s, when festivals weren’t riddled with vendor tents and raves happened spontaneously in abandoned warehouses and basements.
“Back in the day you actually had to search for them,” Arrizon said, describing huddling together with friends and comparing clues to locate the underground parties.
The teamwork and togetherness that brought about the original rave culture is reflected in the group atmosphere present today at EDC, now called the world’s largest electronic dance music festival.
“I think it’s funny how Pasquale (CEO of Insomniac Events and creator of EDC) makes it feel like it’s still a very tight-knit, family thing,” Arrizon said.
A few months after the couple started dating in 2012, the festival’s second year in the valley, Arrizon asked Gayon, 21, about attending. Gayon had never been, but he had listened to electronic dance music staples such as Daft Punk since childhood.
After careful consideration, Gayon purchased tickets.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said, “but I still couldn’t wait.”
Gayon remembers the rush he felt as he trekked through the EDC entrance tunnel for the first time in excitement.
He held his hands up to his cheeks, making quick, waving motions toward his face, replicating the feeling of the overwhelming bass that hits you over and over as you make your way toward the bleachers.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
“It very much gives you this feeling that you’re stepping into this portal,” Arrizon said. “That you’re stepping into this other world.”
Bring lots of ‘kandi’
A few days before the festival, Arrizon and Gayon scoured the EDC set list schedule with friends, highlighters in hand, and mapped out their three-day journey.
Strings of beads were strewn across their small apartment, remnants of the couple’s multicolored “kandi” creations, which are handmade bead bracelets. The iconic bracelets are often handed out to random ravers at dance music events such as EDC and serve as a symbol of the compassion that’s central to rave culture.
At an EDC planning party the couple hosted, the Electric Daisy Carnival Experience documentary played in the background as the group created more kandi. The living room lit up as bright flashes flew across the walls and heavy bass beats reverberated in sync.
One by one, each person reminisced on past raves and reiterated how excited they were for the festival.
“EDC brings everyone together on those three days, but it’s almost like we prepare ourselves to be together,” Gayon said of the many planning parties the couple throws throughout the month leading up to the local event. “We sit together and talk about our favorite artists and who we look forward to seeing.”
On Friday, the first day of this year’s festival, the pair painted their car with messages such as “So much love” and “EDC 2014.” Daisies were drawn on the windows and back windshield, and after the group packed into the small Volkswagen Jetta, they made their way out of their apartment complex, winding through torrential traffic en route to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
At the entrance checkpoint, security guards stopped people and searched bags for banned items such as drug paraphernalia and illegal substances.
Though raves are often riddled with drug use, Gayon said drugs have never really appealed to him.
Regardless of whether people use substances such as the common club drug “molly” or not, Arrizon and Gayon said people go to the festival for the music.
“I feel like it’s part of rave culture’s history, but the issue I have with it now is when people automatically assume, ‘Oh you’re going to this, you’re going to be taking drugs,’ ” Gayon said. “There’s lots of people I know that go to EDC and have an amazing experience without taking any.”
‘Time doesn’t matter’
As the last of the night’s DJ sets came to a close, ravers slowly made their way out of the speedway, visibly exhausted after dancing from dusk until dawn. Outfits that once glittered with color were covered in desert dust and dried sweat.
They drudged through the parking lot, looking for their cars. As groups loaded into their vehicles, traffic bottlenecked at each exit and stood still for almost two hours.
But the mood was one of elation. The tired EDC patrons laughed with friends despite the delayed exit and reminisced on their first night at the festival.
“When you’re there you don’t even check the time,” Arrizon said.
“Time doesn’t matter,” Gayon said, clarifying. “Your time is the sun setting and the sun rising, and when the sun comes up, it’s time for us ‘Insomniacs’ to go to sleep.”
And after the exit traffic, sleep isn’t a far drive for Gayon and Arrizon. The couple said EDC is always a special experience, but that there’s something to be said about having it in your “backyard.”
“We’re at the epicenter,” Arrizon said, describing counting down the days at work as festivalgoers from other states and other countries make the musical pilgrimage to the valley.
“When everyone isn’t there yet, we all still have our own story,” Arrizon said, “but once we get there, we all have that same collective feeling.
“There’s no experience like the EDC experience — you cannot go to a club, walk down the Strip or go to a day club and compare it,” he said. “You cannot experience the same thing as EDC.”
Contact Rachel Crosby at email@example.com or 702-387-5290. Find her on Twitter: @rachelacrosby.