Every people-powered movement needs a leader. It’s just a fact. Looking back throughout history, every time a group of dedicated people came together to bring about real social change, there were one or two people at the front of the parade, galvanizing their community. Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony. Abraham Lincoln. It’s because of passionate people like them that our country has taken meaningful strides towards equality.
On the contrary, without leaders to organize the masses, the masses end up being just that. Masses, a.k.a. a bunch of people yelling in the streets for no reason other than skipping school or taking Instagram photos. This is why the leaderless “Occupy Wall Street” collapsed despite having admittedly noble intentions. Leaders provide a level definition and structure that’s necessary if thousands of voices are to translate into law.
Now I’m not kidding myself. I know that the EDM community isn’t anywhere near being one percent as important to the world as the civil rights movement or the struggle for women’s suffrage, but under the leadership of one man, ravers have emerged from nightclubs and created a community that has helped to better the lives of thousands through nothing more than music and good times, and his name is Pasqualle Rotella.
I’m sure some of you reading this had a less than favorable reaction to seeing that name for one reason or another, but regardless of how any one may feel about him, no one can deny the effect he’s had on the EDM scene. They say success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. Well a good chunk of Pasqule’s perspiration took place on the dance floor.
Having founded Insomniac all the way back in 1993, (when he was 19) there can be no dispute as to his love for the scene. He’s been there from the beginning and he’s done everything in his power to improve and advance EDM ever since. A common criticism of the rave scene today is that it’s a far cry from the roots of electronic music. Well that may be true from a certain point of view, but many of the people who are stuck on this expired idea of what a rave should be are simply living in the past. They see the massive stages, the flamboyant outfits and the rising ticket prices and long for decades prior when the only people at these events truly loved both the scene and the music. Admittedly, it is nice to be surrounded by the real heads at an event, to whom the music and the culture have had a profound effect, but taking into account how trends work, it was just a matter of time before electronic music found it’s way into the brightest spotlight. Those people longing for the old times may call Pasquale a sellout for taking EDM to the next level the way he has, but remember he’s been curating these kinds of events for over twenty years. The fact that he was able to capitalize on the rise of EDM demonstrates business savvy worthy of anyone’s respect, and because he was there for the old times, he was able to maintain some of the most important aspects of the scene regardless of how many people were attending his events.
First and foremost is the music. That is something that no one can deny Pasquale and his team does incredibly well. In addition to attracting the newfound megastars in EDM, Insomniac has always given light to smaller scenes under the EDM umbrella. Very few promoters establish genre-based stages across their events in the same manner as Insomniac. Yes, there is some level of organization at most large fests like Ultra, but if you look at Ultra’s 2015 schedule, you’ll notice that there isn’t a single stage that is the hotspot for any particular genre. Even after their huge announcement that was the new “Resistance” stage which was supposed to be a mecca of underground sound, more than a dozen techno heavyweights found themselves at the “Carl Cox & Friends” stage including Loco Dice, John Digweed, and the man himself, Carl Cox. Plus, that stage was only the “Carl Cox & Friends” stage for the first two days before Armin came in on Sunday with “A State Of Trance”. Obviously the “Carl Cox & Friends” and the “Resistance” were both great parties, but at EDC, there’s only one destination for techno: the Neon Garden, and the best part is, it doesn’t matter what EDC it is. Mexico, Orlando, Vegas. The Neon Garden is the same techno paradise at all of them.
In addition to techno, Pasquale has established homes for multiple other genres including all types of bass music (Basspod), Hardstyle (Wasteland) and for some fresh beats, there’s the Funkhouse where turntable masters like DJ Jazzy Jeff performed. Looking at Ultra’s lineup, one of the stages on one day only is dedicated to bass music, while hardstyle and a low-key Funkhouse aren’t anywhere to be found. He’s also taken this dedication to multiple genres and applied it outside of his large raves, establishing monikers for every facet of electronic music. The recently acquired Bassrush throws bass-heavy events like Bassrush Massive and Bassrush Thursdays at Exchange, while Basscon throws hardstyle raves at least twice a year. Just a few weeks ago Insomniac held the inaugural Dreamstate in LA and San Francisco; a trance-only rave that pleased the ears of every attendee to whom I spoke. Whatever kind of dance music you’re into, Pasquale’s got you covered.
Separation like this paired with a lineup of old-school staples as well as modern favorites makes these events attractive to even the most refined techno-purist. Those same purists might condemn Pasquale for booking huge names like Calvin Harris in the first place, but if changing trends in music is something that annoys you, then you’re just making life harder for yourself. Music is constantly changing, but there are definitely artists out there making exactly the kind of music you want to hear. Pasquale recognizes both of these facts and curates his lineups around them. He even hosts the “Discovery Project” for every single one of his large scale events, which is a competition that gives up-and-coming producers and DJs a chance to perform at an Insomniac event. So not only does Pasquale give credit to the mainstream, but he dives deep into the local scene to find the best of the best that nobody’s heard of.
Some might argue that even without Pasquale’s influence, Insomniac would book the same kind of stacked lineup simply out of popularity. Every large company has a team of experts to examine trends in their field to maximize that company’s success. As such, if a certain genre is becoming generally more popular, Insomniac would book more techno artists as a result even if someone else were heading the company. However, there is one aspect of Insomniac events that both differentiates them from any other large-scale promoter and is a result of Pasquale’s direct involvement in the company, and that is the emphasis on community.
Something that’s found on the bottom of every single Insomniac lineup poster is the word “YOU” in much larger letters than any of the artists. This is because Pasquale and the rest of Insomniac want to make sure that every attendee (which they have branded as “headliners”) knows that they are the reason these events happen year after year. If Insomniac was shut down, all the artists could easily find somewhere else to play. The ones who would really be missing out are the headliners.
Back around the time before Pasquale founded Insomniac, there weren’t many very well known DJs spinning electronic music, and in regards to environments in which they were spinning, no one would show up to see them. If it was in a club or some other seedy location, people came to dance and socialize with the people around them because a relatively small number of people were into house music at that time. But because of this relative unpopularity, the people at these events shared a special bond. As stated prior, it’s great to be surrounded entirely by people who are truly moved by the music, and that’s what it was like in the early years of Insomniac. Obviously as Pasquale’s vision for Insomniac expanded there was no avoiding a certain level of dilution among the real house-heads, but as these events evolved, he made sure that the emphasis on community was still a key factor. While other festivals like HARD Summer and CRSSD are vehemently rejecting the word “rave” and all the things that come with it, Insomniac embraces the word in full force. Lots of people laugh at the idea of “PLUR” and trading kandi bracelets, but Pasquale relishes that behavior, and has been seen throughout his events wearing kandi jewelry himself.
As you may have noticed most of what was written so far is about the events Pasquale has pioneered, and while those events do represent his unmatched contribution to electronic music, it’s also important to note that he himself sincerely believes in this community. I unfortunately was not able to score an interview with him, but by glancing at his internet presence, it becomes immediately clear that he isn’t just in this for the money. One clear example happened after the unfortunate deaths at HARD Summer this past year. After the possibility of raves being completely banned in LA county came into the discussion, Pasquale took to social media to express his views as an experienced raver. In his statement that was incredibly positive, he referred to this tragedy as a “great opportunity within large gatherings; [an] opportunity to promote health, happiness, individuality, and human connection.” Other than his hopeful optimism about everything EDM, Pasquale is known for being very responsive to the comments and concerns of headliners to the point that when he was generally absent from the internet about a year ago when his mother became ill, he felt the need to explain to headliners what was going on.
Under Pasquale’s leadership, the rave scene has flourished in a way that no one (not even Pasquale) could have seen coming. While the high caliber of music that’s been coming out is a big factor, one of the reasons a lot of people don’t use the term “EDM” in a literal fashion to describe music is because of the culture that sprouted around it. That culture is what Pasquale really cares about. His love for the music is clear, but his desire to express that love in both the smallest and biggest ways possible are what sparked a movement. Whether it’s a fan concerned about parking or his largest festival to date being moved to a new location to maintain it’s immersive nature,
Pasquale is fully dedicated to pushing EDM to it’s limits and beyond. Over 20 years after founding Insomniac and his vision for the EDM scene is still expanding. Think about where we’ll be in another 20. One thing’s for sure, Pasquale will still be on the dance floor with us.