Business

Pasquale Rotella on First Power List Placement & Becoming the 'Willy Wonka of EDM'

Pasquale Rotella
Aaron Sinclair

Pasquale Rotella photographed on Jan. 17, 2020 at Insomniac in Los Angeles.

In 2011, Insomniac Events moved its marquee festival, Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), from Los Angeles to Las Vegas — a gutsy decision that required founder/CEO Pasquale Rotella to pull together millions of dollars in independent financing. “They were acting like it could never be done or that I was the problem, and it was treated like the movie Footloose,” says Rotella. “I was the outlaw bringing the devil music to L.A. No dancing allowed.”

The risk paid off: In 2013, Live Nation purchased a 50% stake in Insomniac; and later that year, Rotella earned a place on Billboard’s inaugural Power 100 list (at No. 91) and was dubbed “the Willy Wonka of EDM.” Rotella has since earned eight consecutive appearances to date on what is now called the Billboard Power List and has grown Insomniac’s umbrella to boast nearly 30 festivals, including EDC, Beyond Wonderland, HARD Summer, Escape: Psycho Circus, Electric Forest and more.

In 2019, Insomniac hosted over 2 million attendees at its festivals worldwide, which include events in 11 different countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, India, Japan, Korea, the U.K., Mexico and the U.S. Last year’s EDC Vegas rose to become the largest dance music festival in the world, with 465,000 attendees and a total economic output of $300 million for the city. Rotella says the 2020 edition “sold out in record time,” with more than 500,000 attendees expected across four days at Las Vegas’ Motor Speedway this May.

“Pasquale is a disruptor who remains authentic and true to his roots,” says Michael Rapino, Live Nation’s president/CEO. “Insomniac’s longevity and their ability to reimagine the festival experience is a testament to his vision and determination.” 

Below, Rotella looks back on his first Power 100 event and finally earning the industry’s respect.

 


 

The rave scene was more punk than punk rock. Raves could have died in the States, but people just never gave up. We fought battles that were way bigger — indictments, bad media coverage — but it was decades of venues not renting to us, the industry shying away from us and having no mentors. Even when we used to do 80,000 people [in attendance], it felt like no one in the industry was watching what we were doing. Dance music wasn’t on their radar as something respectable. We were a bunch of kids who really had to do it ourselves.

When no one really wanted to touch me, former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman stood up publicly with a martini glass in hand to say, “if L.A. doesn’t know how to do it, we’ll show them how.” He was in the movie Casino and used to represent mobsters as an attorney, so he was fearless and got behind me. I’ll never forget him because I needed that. I was going through a lot and getting pushback.

At the Power 100 event in 2013, the genre wasn’t too represented. People started introducing me to other entertainment CEOs like, “Oh, you’re EDC.” It was nice to get an acknowledgment from a traditional outlet, and it was another thing that said, “Hey, dance music is not something that people don’t know about anymore.” Even though I’m 45 and have gray hair now, I feel a bit younger than these legends in that world — and definitely like an outsider. The music business is perceived to be one industry, but we were outside of it prior to 2013. It was nice to be accepted: a raver on the Power 100.

Aaron Sinclair
Pasquale Rotella photographed on Jan. 17, 2020 at Insomniac in Los Angeles.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Feb. 1, 2020 issue of Billboard.