EDM: From The Warehouse To The Racetrack

In the first session of Production Live! experts in the fields of lighting, production and design recalled the rise of EDM over the past 20-odd years.

To do so, moderator Jake Berry (Jake Berry Productions) welcomed Randy Mayer (Screenworks NEP), Brian Karol (Felix Lighting), Elliott Dunwody (Vita Motus Design Studio), Stephen Lieberman (SJ Lighting Inc.), Forrest Hunt and Pasquale Rotella (both Insomniac) on stage.

Lieberman started out in New York in 1990, in what was then known as “the rave scene.”

Jason Squires
– Production Live! EDM

“Obviously you don’t call it that anymore, but deep down in my heart I know that’s what it’s all based on,” he said.

He moved to California in 2001, where met Rotella and Hunt, with whom he still works to this day, lighting up the world’s biggest dance events such as the various EDC festivals.

Lieberman remembered transporting the lights for his first events to the venue himself.

“They weren’t hung up or anything, they were set on stage, and there were orange extension cords plugged in wherever we could get them. It really started off very underground, and very much a subculture.”

Added Rotella: “We didn’t hire anyone to do lights. I had bought some lights for my own events, a strobe light and some moving lights. And I used to truck them out to the warehouses every week.”

Questioned about the biggest changes since then, Rotella said “it would be easier to say what hasn’t changed: the core values of the culture, the movement. To get together, dance, listen to music, connect with other people and have a memorable experience. That’s what stayed intact.

“But everything else has changed: the scale, the professionalism, the people involved, the artists, the availability of venues, everything.”

Asked if he had ever envisioned the EDM genre growing to its current size, Rotella replied: “I didn’t know how big in terms of numbers. But I did envision the crowds just being endless, as far as the eye could see. That was the idea in my head. So yes.”

Rotella has made it a habit of calling the visitors to his festivals headliners instead of fans.

Berry, who was full of praise for the way Insomniac works, said: “Even if you don’t like the music, go. Just for the fan experience. It’s amazing and it will blow you all away.”

He specifically applauded Insomniac’s attention to detail: How do fans get from a to b, how are they treated, why should they have to walk that far to the bathrooms?”

Rotella said he thinks other-genre festivals have been inspired by rave culture, leading them to spend money on the experience rather than just the lineup. There are many different EDM genres, and they determine how a stage will be designed – from a 100-foot-tall tree of life and other mystical elements to a raw and industrial production stage.

Berry wanted to know from the vendors on the panel how they kept up with the ever changing designs, equipment needs and constant budget limitations, to which Karol replied: “We have ongoing discussions with Steve [Lieberman] and Elliott [Dunwody] about what they’ve got in the pipe, what they like and what we can use to achieve a certain effect on a certain stage.”

Daring a look into the future, Dunwody said that, on the design level, “What everybody is looking for is this wholly immersive experience. I think VR is really pushing what is possible on an experience level.”

“I think it’s going to keep growing,” Rotella said. “I’ve heard about this bubble that was going to pop a couple of years ago. But our events got larger in that time period. Where will it go? It’ll keep evolving. We’re fans. The dance floor is where we started. We get bored before our fans do. So we’re already on to the next thing. Where we are today will be different from where we’ll be in a year.”

Lieberman added: “When I started with Pasquale in the early 2000s, the budget that we spent to produce seven stages was not even half the budget of one stage for current shows. There’s more headliners coming to these event, there’s a broader demographic, the population is growing. So it’s proportional, simple supply and demand.”

Berry recalled The Edge from U2 once suggesting to use one of the band’s 360 stages for one of his EDM shows, to which Berry replied: “It really isn’t big enough.

“If you think that the U2 360 was the largest touring stage, with 30-odd trucks of steel and 45 trucks of production, and you’re telling the guy that paid for it that it isn’t big enough, that’s ballsy. But it’s the truth.”