A few hours before Electric Daisy Carnival opens on Friday, Carl Cox sits near the pool at the Flamingo Hotel, ready to explain why he has remained so interested in electronic music after decades of DJing, producing and remixing. He pauses mid-sentence and motions towards the DJ booth in the background. "I think someone is playing one of my records," he says before laughing. "I can hear my record! I can hear my record!"
Cox's giddiness seems a little unexpected. After all, he's a dance music legend, a pioneer in the U.K. scene whose tracks have been dropped by countless DJs since the 1990s. He mentions that it's moments like this one that keep him motivated, but there's more to it than unexpectedly hearing his own work in the mix. "My ears are still open to new music," he says. "I always get goosebumps when I hear something that I feel I want to share with people and that's it. That's what keeps me going."
There's a paradox that exists in the dance music world. From the underground parties of the late 1980s and early '90s to today's massive, mainstream festivals, this is
Despite all that, dance music is
In the early hours of Sunday morning, Cox's tent, the Neon Garden, fills with dancers dressed in superhero outfits, Pokémon gear and remixed Disney costumes. This is the new generation of ravers, one that ditched '90s icon Elmo for Pikachu as the unofficial PLUR mascot. No doubt, many of these folks weren't even born when Cox first delved into U.K.
Unlike their rock 'n' roll counterparts, DJ/producers don't have to put on an oldies show after they turn 40. They don't need to drop their biggest hits for former ravers who scored a babysitter for the night so that they can relive their
Maybe it's the relative anonymity of the dance music world that allows this phenomenon to take shape. Even if you know what the DJs look like, it can be near-impossible to recognize them from behind the decks in dark rooms. You'll know who is playing when you see a name flash on the screen. DJs can reinvent themselves with relative ease, and adapting to current music and tech trends
"It's good to be influenced by the changes and new sounds," says Sasha, who rose to global fame in the 1990s as half of Sasha & Digweed. The British DJ, who played EDC on Friday night, works solo behind the decks now, although he collaborates with a variety of artists on tracks and helps support the careers of other DJ/producers through his label, Last Night on Earth.
Despite the music collection he has amassed over the years, Sasha says he's not one to venture back into the archives often. "I don't like getting nostalgic," he says. "Every now and then I might pull out an older track, but most of the time, I've got my eye on what the latest tracks are and keeping things fresh."
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While DJs stay up on the latest releases, those archives can come in handy too. Ali "Dubfire" Shirazinia, who came to prominence as part of Deep Dish, says a properly placed flashback can work to the advantage of veteran DJs. "That's what sets a lot of guys apart from the newer generation," he says. "We have that history."
Shirazinia, who plays EDC tonight (Sunday, June 21) and will hit Exchange L.A. on July 2, has spent almost 30 years playing for crowds. "I'm always being inspired by what I'm hearing, what other musicians in and outside of the genre are making," he says. "I'm always eager to see what's around the corner and what tools I can use to try to translate the ideas in my head into audio."
The drive to explore new musical horizons isn't just good for these DJs' careers, but for the up-and-comers they champion. By the very nature of their job — playing music made by other people — established DJs have the power to bring others into the global arena, and they do that often, whether it's by pushing a new track, playing tag-team and back-to-back
"The actual art of DJing comes from within," says Cox. "There hasn't got to be any real reason for what you're doing, apart from feeling that you have something to share." The veterans of the '90s DJ boom still have a lot to share —