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David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia Storm Electric Daisy Carnival

Las Vegas debut of long-running fest goes off without a hitch

June 28, 2011 1:30 PM ET
The Electric Daisy Carnival electronic music festival in Las Vegas
The Electric Daisy Carnival electronic music festival in Las Vegas
Denise Truscello for RollingStone.com

You’d think there’s no way Las Vegas could be more brightly illuminated, more dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure, more accommodating of radically skin-baring fashion. But for three balmy nights kicking off June 24th, all the things that make Vegas Vegas were massively amplified as the Electric Daisy Carnival landed on the sprawling grounds of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway a half-hour outside of town. More than 150 of the planet’s biggest DJs and electronic acts – including Tiesto, David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia, who each headlined a night on the Titanic-sized pyro-and-laser equipped main stage – played for 240,000 of the happiest, most surreally accessorized (giant inflatable banana? check.) and nakedest music fans in America.

"It’s just like a rock festival, only without guitars, bass and drums," veteran Italian DJ Benny Benassi told Rolling Stone backstage, before amping the Saturday night crowd for French superstar David Guetta, who was speeding to EDC via helicopter. "It might not seem the same to [older] behind-the-scenes people in the music business, but to the young people it’s exactly the same."

Photos: Electric Daisy Carnival's Ravers and Kandi Kids

Spread over six massive stages – equipped with hi-res LED arrays, extremely epilepsy-unfriendly strobes and monster PAs that made the sonic-boom kick drums and serrated synths felt as much as heard – the Electric Daisy Carnival was a little like a chemically tweaked version of Coachella or Bonnaroo, packed with familiar music twisted into new, adrenalized forms: DJs from Guetta to Dirty South dropped Benassi’s pummeling, soaring remix of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ "Otherside"; Guetta, Tiesto and Swedish House Mafia’s Steve Angello (playing a solo set Friday night) all broke out a hard-edged version of Adele’s "Rolling In the Deep." During their blast of a sunrise set, Diplo and Switch’s dancehall crew Major Lazer chopped together everything from Ace of Base’s "All That She Wants" and Harry Bellafonte’s "Day O (Banana Boat Song)" to Duck Sauce’s 2010 dance smash "Barbra Streisand."

Dutch DJ Laidback Luke, who followed Swedish House Mafia on the main stage Sunday night, ranged furthest, deploying pieces of Swizz Beatz’ "It’s Me Bitches," Kanye West’s "All of the Lights," Terror Squad’s "Lean Back," Robin S’s "Show Me Love" and Blur’s stadium rock anthem "Song 2". Steve Aoki surprised with a tough set of new tracks, including  killer collaborations with Diplo ("Sacred Peyote") and the young Dutch breakout star Afrojack ("No Beef") – who not only played two sets, but seemed to be having the most fun of anyone at the festival in the side-stage VIP section.

Listen: Knife Party's Remix of Swedish House Mafia's 'Save the World'

On his way to the heliport Saturday night, Guetta broke down the difference between the club sets he plays to hardcore fans and performing for the vast EDC crowd. "This is a show, this is like a concert," he said. "I think of it like a concert – there’s the big light show, it’s more about my music. At a club I play everything. I ask my agent to make sure I play at least one club a month – it’s what inspires me." Taking the stage at EDC, Guetta definitely put on a show: he unleashed one monster track after another ("Love is Gone," "When Love Takes Over," the Diplo collaboration "C’mon") as fireworks exploded overhead, acrobats tumbled across a narrow trampoline that ran the width of the stage, and, in the most surreal moment, Flavor Flav appeared with a mic and got the crowd chanting his name as he bounced happily on the trampoline.

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