Since 1996, the Electric Daisy Carnival has morphed and spread from a Southern California party to a multi-venue conglomeration of parties that have now gone global (Puerto Rico's Carnival is August 28 this year -- plenty of time to buy tickets...). The Denver branch of the EDC did not disappoint this year; still I didn't hear any sets (or group of sets) destined to go down in history like the 2008 EDC's Mark Farina/Colette combo.
At 10 p.m., driving into the carnival, there was a line of cars waiting to park that took a good 45 minutes to navigate, wrapping around the fairgrounds to a muddy field. Pulling closer to the lot about a half-hour later, I heard Benny Benassi at the Kinetic Field mixing in Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" with his always-popular electro-house undertones.
Pete Smalls was throwing down a solid set on the Cosmic Meadow (aka beer garden) stage, emitting dirty and utterly danceable tunes from his turntables; there was some plywood laid down on top of the mud so people could still dance.
Oh, yes, speaking of mud -- there was a lot of it. The Fairgrounds got rained on all day long, and the misting drizzle continued at night, so it was a little bit cold outside, and very messy. The whole vibe of the night reminded me of a filthy warehouse rave mated with a carnival, with rides and cute girls in clown getups (including a clown-pirate with her own human-sized parrot in a suit following her around) and art festival (a walk-through, see-through spiral tunnel and the field of neon light-up donuts upon which you could stand).
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I got to the Neon Garden stage just in time to catch the very end of Jonas Tempel's set, and I was immediately sorry I didn't get there sooner. He was mixing in Fatboy Slim's "Praise You" as I walked in, and shortly after that, Tempel put on his last record to make room for AC Slater, an electro DJ with a heavy house influence. Slater used sirens, video-game rat-a-tats and percussion like a drum majorette, moving from high, quick maracas with a pounding lower bassline to slow, hard, dirty electro, building up the energy to release it into a dark, syncopated, fast beat.
Slater's set, which mixed in samples from Dizzee Rascal, was solid overall. The clown-girl dancers gyrated on stage to his beats, and he kept it deep and dirty when it mattered most and fast and hard when it mattered most. The trick to switching back and forth from slow, almost plodding interludes to frantic, pounding climaxes, is that you have to keep the energy focused and the crowd engaged.
Slater managed to do that about 80 to 90 percent of the time. Sometimes, during his more downtempo moments, he'd lose the momentum and have to build it back up before he could unleash the tunes after reining them in for just a tad too long. Still: Very impressive.
Next door in the Bass Pod, Shimon came on at midnight with a very typical, signature down-and-dirty UK-style drum-and-bass, complete with MC. Now, there are times when a fast-spitting MC can supplement a set, but for those times to align correctly with the stars, you must be able to a) hear the MC and b) what he's saying. Otherwise, a muffled sort of rhyming human undertone to the speeding drums and ominous bass is nothing but a distraction. It would have been nice to hear what the man was spitting (his mike needed some serious adjustment.)
At 12:30, after some initial technical difficulties, DJ Craze took the stage back in the Neon Garden area. The man behind the mike did well at keeping the crowd hyped by drawing out Craze's introduction as long as possible -- three-time DMC world champion, one of his all-time favorite DJs, etc. Craze started out with slow, deep, dark beats, then moving into some hard, nasty breaks, the better to showcase his scratching skills, which are formidable.
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He threw in his usual unusual range of samples -- my favorite was the theme from Beverly Hills Cop -- breaking them up and mixing them together in a patchwork of sound, moving from Robin S's dance-floor classic "You've Got to Show Me Love" to Quad City DJ's "C'mon N' Ride It (The Train)" seamlessly. Not too many DJs exist who can do that.
Both AC Slater and Craze were tuned into the atmosphere of the night; they gave this crowd, packed into a dirty warehouse-like building, the sort of dirty-warehouse music you'd expect to hear at a party. That said -- and as a Craze fan and someone who catches him every chance she gets, it really hurts me to say this -- I don't feel like the man was in tip-top form at the Electric Daisy Carnival.
While Craze was good -- even excellent -- after leaving most of his sets, I'm energized and hyper, still dancing from the memory of the music burned into my brain, and completely blown away and wowed by the whole experience, this time, he didn't really measure up.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I heart electro, and I heart drum-and-bass, and I heart Craze, so there was nothing not to like in this lineup and evening. Random Detail: In true dirty-raver form, there was a dude taking a piss while standing at the side of the long line of cars snaking into the parking lot. Classy. By the Way: Caspa was throwing down a sick dubstep set as I was walking out the door -- almost, but not quite, enough to make me forget how tired I was.