The midnight bell strikes in one hour and Axwell Λ Ingrosso just entered the lobby at Maverick Helicopters in south Las Vegas. A gaggle of lanky millennials donning the immutable DJ regalia — long, monochromatic t-shirts, black joggers and brightly colored tennis shoes — ascend on the duo to pay their respects. The ex-Swedish House Mafia tandem are headlining Electric Daisy Carnival’s twentieth anniversary incarnation in a few hours, but for now, they will mingle with fans and friends at the lobby party before taking the 18-mile flight to the festival.
“[EDC] is the best,” says Sebastian Ingrosso. “What’s special is Pasquale, who runs it, is an old raver that comes from the underground scene. He knows what the people want. He knows how to give an experience.”
One such indulgence for EDC’s most affluent ravers is the ability to soar over Las Vegas proper in a helicopter and arrive at the festival without the worries of traffic, parking or intoxicated drivers.
Once at the waiting-area-turned-endless-party, artists and fans walk into a “raver bingo” where DJs are mixing trap and deep house cuts with airline employees interjecting to announce, “G13. G13 is taking off next.” The G13 group includes two gentlemen — who are double fisting complimentary cocktails and dancing with some new friends in front of the DJs — and their female counterparts, whose neon outfits act as perfect camouflage against a long chromatic lightwall scaling a large portion of the building. They’re having a good time partying in the lobby, but this is only the first stop of their jam-packed night.
The Maverick staff keeps the future fliers moving in and out so there are always new people dancing and rousing the bartenders while others are headed out to the tarmac. Every half-hour or so, an artist takes off while another one crosses the lobby’s threshold. They are easy to spot by their deluxe luggage and an entourage of managers that huddle around them like linemen.
“Logistically, it made a lot of sense,” says Insomniac Events founder Pasquale Rotella. “For NASCAR, [Maverick Helicopters] does the same exact thing. And with EDC being at the NASCAR track and there being a desire to get there quickly in and out, it made it easy for people to just pick up the phone and get it all hooked up.”
Five hours earlier, Anna Lunoe, the first solo female act to play EDC’s Kinetic Field stage, gets ready to take the first flight out. She is “a bundle of nerves” thinking about her set but quickly commits to a graceful galavant around the vessel while a photographer captures the moment.
She loads into the chopper a little after 6 pm with other members of team Lunoe and a Dutch couple that’s oblivious to their proximity to one of dance music’s fastest rising stars. After the pilot gives a quick safety briefing, Lunoe jokes, “Testing. Testing. Mayday.” The pilot sternly retorts, “Don’t say that.”
The chopper pulls off the pavement and the passengers are met with a back massage incited by the Airbus H130’s engines roaring at roughly 950 horse power. In the first two minutes of the ride there are more selfies taken than at a Beverly Hills High prom. Lunoe gets a much-needed distraction from the burning anticipation of her set.
“I’ve played everything from weddings and sixteenth birthdays to Coachella,” says Lunoe as she recounts her DJ journey, which started in Australia and eventually landed her in Los Angeles. The singer, producer and songwriter now hosts her own show on Apple Music’s Beats 1 Radio and touts a stacked catalogue of over 10 million plays on Spotify — including the breakout hit “I Met You” with Flume.
“[When on stage] the ideal situation is something takes over,” says Lunoe about her historic upcoming performance. “The worst sets are when you are in your own head…but that’s the beautiful meditative aspect of DJing and performing: that sense of surrendering to the moment.”
Lunoe’s aerial moment lasts about twenty minutes and the pilot delicately places the chopper on a helipad within the festival gates. She unloads with the team and they prance off to her set a little calmer and with another irreplaceable memory in tow.
Back at Maverick, the sun is fading beyond the mountainous horizon and turning the overcast clouds into rippled peach sorbet. An A-list cast of performers trickle in including Zedd, A-Trak and Gareth McGrillen of Knife Party and Pendulum. Despite their prowess, they go relatively unnoticed by the EDC attendees waiting on their flights.
“Pasquale has brought [EDC] from something that was essentially a party to a nation,” says McGrillen. “I’ve done the helicopter [at other festivals] one or two other times when you really have to do it. This is the only [festival] where it’s an added luxury.”
Ravers in multi-colored costumes come and go throughout the night and turn the lobby into an EDM masquerade party. Later in the evening, Above & Beyond, Soulja Boy and Excision are tacked on to the roster of 500 people that Maverick will transport daily during the festival. The $3.5M chopper will continue hauling partiers safely back and forth till the early hours of the morning, but it’s not just a way to get to the festival. It’s an experience all of it’s own on top of the glowing lights and endless thumps from the speedway.
“We saw the Grand Canyon, and we’re like, ‘The Grand Canyon isn’t going anywhere,’” says Dominick and Coralia, a couple who came all the way from Australia for the festival. “We’re taking [the helicopter] to EDC!”