In 1991, Pasquale Rotella walked into a party. It wasn't just any party. It was a warehouse rave, back in the days when such things were low budget, off-the-grid affairs.
There weren't any clown-painted stilt-walkers or LED-laced stages covered in waterfalls shooting fire. It was just a big room full of bodies bumping to the same beat. It didn't need expensive gimmicks to get Rotella's attention. The joyous atmosphere and kind cast of dancing characters was all it took.
“From day one, I knew I would be in this for the long haul,” Rotella says. “I was a lifer from the minute I walked [in].”
A year later, Rotella threw his first party in his Los Angeles, and a year after that, he threw a rave called “Insomniac.” It was held in a South Central warehouse off Slauson and Crenshaw. He promoted it himself with flyers that bore a phone number, the voicemail for which gave the address and the message “come in peace or don't come at all.”
About 300 people attended Insomniac that night, but the name stuck around, and in 2019, Insomniac is an international brand celebrating 25 years of Technicolored insanity. It goes well beyond throwing parties, with offshoots into records, radio, fashion, talent development and bookings, media, art, production and decor, theatrics, experience, and more. It does still throw parties, though -- Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas being the biggest and most famous of all, which returns to the city's Motor Speedway May 17 to 19.
“It feels amazing, and I’m grateful every day,” Rotella says. “I love the music and the positivity that’s at the core of rave culture. People being their best selves and looking out for one another is the norm. This scene is beautiful, and dance music is the perfect soundtrack. Life can be tough, people can be mean, but you get in a room with a bunch of ravers and it seems like those problems aren’t as big anymore. Dancing to amazing music and being surrounded by positive people is like therapy.”
Though it started as Rotella and a stack of flyers, Insomniac didn't stay that way for long. Rotella says it took about three months for friends to get involved.
“People would be like, 'I want to go, can I get in for free?' And I’d be like, 'Yeah, come and help out.'”
Insomniac grew steadily, expanding from warehouse raves into legit over-the-top operations, distinct in their use of costumed performers and fantasy-like décor. Insomniac events stayed a west coast thing until 2001 when a dance music promoter in Austin, Texas, reached out, looking to bring that energy to his city. EDC Texas was the result, and Rotella says that pairing of an enthusiastic local partner and a secure venue became the formula for expansion. In 2009, EDC came to Puerto Rico, which felt like a foray into internationalism despite being US territory. The brand got its first passport stamp in 2013 with EDC UK.
That was the year Insomniac partnered with Live Nation, a deal that opened many doors around the world. Today, Insomniac hosts five EDCs across the US, Mexico, Japan and China. The brand's umbrella includes nearly 20 festival events, including fan favorites Beyond Wonderland and Electric Forest, and since absorbing HARD events, HARD Summer and Holy Ship.
In 2014, Insomniac Records launched in partnership with Interscope Geffen A&M, The label boasts artists across the bassy house spectrum, including Chris Lake, Slander, Bingo Players and more. In 2018, it launched its lifestyle and clothing brand, so fans can outfit themselves in the colors and styles that define brand's aesthetic, and at the end of last year, Insomniac stepped up is label game with distribution and management.
“Early on as a fan, I jumped in with both feet,” Rotella says. It was my life, and I wanted to immerse myself in everything having to do with this culture. I wore the clothes, I listened to the music, I attended every event I could, I DJ’d, and I spread the word about events I had nothing to do with … I am committed to the growth of this culture, as I know it can be extremely beneficial to those who connect to it in the right way. People feeling good about what they’re hearing, what they’re wearing, what they’re seeing and what they’re experiencing can do wonders for the mind, body and soul.”
Insomniac now employs 130 full-time staffers dedicated to the mantra “create happiness, change the world.”
“I did imagine it would get this big, but it was never about that,” Rotella says. “I did this because I love it, and I knew that I was going to keep doing it. It didn’t matter how big or small it was, but I had a vision to push it forward and make it better and better. I was committed to letting more and more people know about this culture and this music. If it ever didn’t make me happy or if it wasn’t gratifying to me anymore, I knew I would stop. This is positive music and a positive movement, and I want everyone in the world to benefit from that positivity.”