It was around 5:00 pm on Friday. The cars taking the Saltair exit already backed up traffic on Interstate 80, causing headaches for Salt Lake City-to-Tooele commuters. By 8:00 p.m. the line stretched a couple hundred cars deep to the east. It was opening night for the 2018 Das Energi EDM festival, which promised to be the biggest in the event’s eight-year history.
The festival boasted three stages of various levels of artist prominence. Galactic Flats, ideal for smaller and local artists, was constructed in the sand on the outskirts of the grounds. Close by, a giant revolving mirror ball shot flames into the sky on random downbeats. Inside, the Synergy Station hosted bigger artists like 12th Planet, whose bass-thumping beats threatened to shake the wooden bones of the Saltair to sawdust.
The main show was held outside on the Energi Field stage where a fifty-foot-tall tower adorned with three panels displayed psychedelic graphics and the speakers pumped 808s and synth waves into the West Desert. Among the artists to climb the stage was Chicago-born University of Utah grad Kaskade, Mau5trap veteran new beat queen REZZ and the man behind the Mau5trap label and EDM king deadmau5.
The Saltair as a venue has served Salt Lake’s ever-growing electronic music scene for more than a decade. After its 2005 rebirth, the broken palace has hosted EDM big-hitters like Tiesto and Benny Benassi. The receding Great Salt Lake shore has left acres of sprawling sand flats which serve as a better-than-decent place to watch the sun go down. Obscured by dust and wildfire smoke, the red ball of gas was enough to make the slightest of Star Wars fans get in touch with their inner Luke Skywalker.
On the flats, concert goers walked among cosmic art installations and through a rainbow arch pathway. Dancers graced the stage in gem-studded apocalyptic attire, resembling sequined Mad Max characters. With the desert setting and all the fanfare, it would be easy to for an outside observer to equate Das Energi to Burning Man’s younger and less popular little brother, or dismiss the spectacle as just another MDMA-fueled rave at the broken down Saltair. Although there is a hint of truth to the statement, it ignores a few realities.
Over the past few years, Das Energi has turned from a low-rent EDM concert to a destination on the greater festival circuit, hosting the biggest names to touch a mixer. For more than a few, it’s a last hurrah before the grind of fall semester. If dancing till 3 a.m., dripping sweat and letting the low frequencies rumble your ribs isn’t enough to make for a good time, then Das just isn’t for you. I was a skeptic at first, but more than once I found my camera lens bobbing up and down at 120 bpm.
The festival wasn’t perfect by any means. The first night, inclement weather collapsed part of the main stage and sent the crowd scrambling to their cars to escape the storm—not to mention getting to and from the venue was a nightmare if you arrived in the thick of it all. However, that might just be the nature of any music festival.
I met a forest service worker a few years ago from Bethel, NY. As a teenager in the summer of 1969, he was hired out to help set up the soundstage for Woodstock, arguably the greatest musical event in American history, and the standard for all festivals afterward. In awe, I asked him what it was like to witness the famed concert. His response: “A muddy f—ing mess.”
Das Energi isn’t Burning Man, and it certainly isn’t Woodstock, but for those who have gone and will go continue into the future, it is something, and no amount of bad weather or heavy traffic can dampen their spirits.
Peace, Love, Unity and Respect.