The Carnival King: Pasquale Rotella

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When Pasquale Rotella takes inthemix’€™s call, he’€™s at the hospital with his newborn baby. It is, to say the least, a busy time for the Insomniac founder and CEO. While financial suitors circle his coveted festival brand Electric Daisy Carnival, Rotella is forging ahead with ambitious plans for the 2013 experience at Las Vegas Speedway. As a figurehead for EDM in America, Rotella has seen it all -€“ the good and the bad. Here he tells inthemix about the Insomniac journey so far.

How was the Electric Daisy Carnival ride in 2012?
It was exciting. It was unbelievable to see, after 20 years, things just catapult like it has in the last three years. That’€™s enjoyable, but at the same time there were challenges, with so many people jumping into the space as it blows up quickly. I also saw lots of opportunity for growth, which was nice.

It’s been challenging to grow so quickly, at times, but we’€™ve been focused on building our infrastructure so we can continue. We’re in a good place right now. We’€™re still not done yet. We have to fine-tune. We have a budget allocated to hire more staff, but it’€™s going to be a great year, and that’€™s down to infrastructure.

So where do you stand on partnerships to help you grow? Do you want to do things independently?
We’€™re exploring partnerships, we have been for a year now. I’m not looking to sell the entirety of my company. If I can sell a percentage of my company and in exchange for that, I can be stronger and offer more to fans as part of a partnership, I’m definitely going to do that. But I’€™m yet to finalise a deal that totally makes sense.

Is there a risk that an investor ‘buying in’ compromises the integrity of the company you’ve built?
It depends on your definition. If I have a sponsor I want them to have event experience. Things like that I do care about. I’€™m not afraid of creating a partnership with a big company that is a commercial company that does pop events. As long as I can keep what I’€™m doing intact and protect it.

You’ve defined yourself as an ‘experience creator’, rather than just a promoter -€“ is that a philosophy you still hold to?
Absolutely. It always has been. It came from my early days of being a fan of shows and underground events I was going to. It’s my roots. It’€™s very important and it’s what I was brought up in, during the early ‘€˜90s. It’s a huge part of Insomniac.

Electric Daisy Carnival is a true spectacle in your new home of the Las Vegas Speedway. Is there room to step up the experience again in 2013?
Oh, absolutely. So much room. It’s exciting. We’€™ll be making some major changes this upcoming year actually; very different from what we’ve done in the past. Especially when you get into art. Art is limitless. You can keep doing unique things – attractions away from the stages, environments that people can walk through. What we’re doing this year is very different.

The environment will be completely different, because of the production that we’€™re doing. We looked at the festival season in Holland a lot; you have Extrema and Dance Valley. We’ve always focused on technology, LED screens and moving lights. The majority of our events have been about the most cutting-edge technology.

This year we saw the interest of our fan-base that wanted to check out set design and more theatrical shows on the Vegas Strip – so we’re going to meld those two worlds together. We want to bring set design to the table, but still also offer the technology side. We’€™re going to get real creative with the stages – we’€™re going to have art installations, additional art cars roaming the festival ground and a few surprises as well for when you get there.

At ADE in 2012, your colleague Carlos Correal was outspoken on the fact he joined Insomniac with the intention of bringing house and techno to a wider audience. He also talked about Insomniac’s plans to take underground music to a wider audience at EDC this year. Can you talk about that?
Yeah, we’€™re going to mix up the stages a bit. We’ll have dedicated genre stages, but we want to mix it up. Especially on our largest stage, we’re going to have everything from hardstyle to house to dubstep to trance to techno. It’€™s going to be different. We’€™re actually going to have a hardstyle act play on our mainstage, which has never been done in the United States. We’€™re going to experiment.

Something I’ve heard from veterans like Donnie Estopinal is that while now their efforts are really being validated, there was a long time of struggle. Were there times when you wondered if it was worth sticking with it?
It was always working for me. I’ve always got satisfaction and happiness from it. Financially, it wasn’t always working though. It was a struggle, for sure. It’s hard sometimes, looking around at people who are jumping into this now€“ from other countries, from different industries, from everywhere. Part of it’s cool, but when you’ve been at the forefront, in the trenches, through the ups and downs, you kind of want to say to these people, “Where have you been?”€ But then, I get it. People jump at opportunities, there’€™s nothing wrong with that. But when you put your heart and soul in, and you witness that stuff, you do remember.

Back in the ‘90s, the media perception of this music was very divided – you were seeing anti-rave scare stories in Rolling Stone. That all seems to have swung around, and while you get the occasional story like the one published in L.A. Times, it seems to be the exception this time around.
Absolutely, it’s definitely what has happened and there were people who got involved in the industry during these different spikes and the culture would get attacked by the media or political figures in cities or the Government. That would disappear, then pop up again. There was like a cleansing of the scene. Bad and good people, but some didn’t really survive the downs as well as the ups.

No one was really covering what we were doing, and when they did, they were bashing it. Music mags were debating whether it was even music to be respected. Now some of these people write positive things, maybe they didn’€™t hear it properly before now, or they’ve jumped on the bandwagon.

You’re pushing something that is still in many ways a counter-culture, so you inevitably become a target.
At times it motivates me. At other times, it’€™s hard of course, whenever there are legal troubles or back in the day, having a venue pulled away from me because of misinformation or politics that had nothing to do with the show itself. At the same thing, I believe so strongly in what I do and know how much good it brings to people, including what it’s done for my life. There are challenges to overcome, but passion keeps you going. I got through it€“ and will continue to, because there’s still stuff going on now.

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