The first paragraph of the article “A Fatal Toll on Concertgoers as Raves Boost Cities’ Incomes” written by Rong-Gong Lin II, Paul Pringle, and Andrew Blankstein in the Los Angeles Times goes like this: “On the edge of the Mojave, music promoter Pasquale Rotella staged a rave about 11 years ago that ended with a coroner’s wagon rolling down desert roads.”
The response by Pasquale Rotella, CEO, and apparent “death dealer” of Insomniac was impassioned. He took to social media, posting a heartfelt response that generated a flood of support. “As part of their mission to twist facts to suit their sensational story,” Rotella writes, “the L.A. Times treated the opinions of a few people as gospel, turned everyone who enjoys electronic music events into villains, and ignored anyone that did not agree with their biased opinions.” Not too long after that, producer and DJ Kaskade published a piece on his Tumblr titled, “No One Knows Who We Are”, which went viral within hours of it’s posting. In it, he points to Electronic Dance Music culture in particular as “the one who will accept the kids on the outliers, the ones who get bullied, the ones who feel like they may not quite fit in. This community is exceptional in its ability to bond all types together, and I am not exaggerating when I say it saves lives.”
Anyone within the dance music community can empathize, at least a little bit, with these testimonials. But Rotella’s was not the right reaction given the increased attention and credibility Insomniac has generated recently through their massively lucrative festivals and innovative music industry business models. Lot’s of people are looking now. People with money—and lots of it—are gnashing their teeth and licking their chops to get a piece of the Insomniac Empire. Negative publicity of this kind can weaken the defenses and leave the company vulnerable. So far, Rotella has resisted while others, like Gary Richards of HARD Events, have sold. Rotella’s dilemma is well known among the community: how does the nation’s most successful dance music CEO balance the Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect ethos that has nurtured and defined the culture since it roots with his ambition to grow the company? Rotella stands at the precipice of an incredible opportunity to prove that ethics and business are not contradictions but collaborators. To do that, though, the dance music industry has got to reverse this paradigm of collective victimization.
Like it or not, Rotella has made this bed, and he has to lay in it. This is not some doomed Faustian bargain, though. This is an amazing opportunity for Rotella to define the terms of the game, to roar to life, to move public perception to his side. He can choose to address the drug culture head on by working in close collaboration with local leaders and activists to create programs that not only make the festivals safer than they already are, but support the fight against drug abuse and support drug safety efforts.. Or, Rotella can continue to highlight Insomniac’s proven track record of charitable giving. According to a Global News Wire report, in 2012 Insomniac donated $300,000 to organizations throughout the nation including The Red Cross, Rock the Vote, Second Harvest Food Bank, A Place Called Home, The LAPD Cadet Program, Clark County School-Community Partnership Program, the University of Nevada Reno (UNR) Foundation’s Emergency Medicine Resident Research Fund, Injured Police Officers Fund – Las Vegas, and The Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s Children’s Charity. The report states that Insomniac’s Charitable Giving Initiative donates $1 per ticket transaction and $10 per guest list attendee to charitable organizations in the local communities where the festivals are held, as well as nationwide.
That Insomniac causes drug use is a profoundly unacceptable premise, but there is nothing to discourage the public from thinking that way. If Insomniac closed shop today and dance music festivals disappeared, young people would continue to overdose and experiment with drugs. There is no validity to the claim that any promoter or festival or music genre can cause drug use. But that’s the picture that’s painted. One reason for this mode of thinking may be that when given an opportunity to defend itself against accusations of this kind, the dance music community has always played the victim, choosing to, according to Spin Magazine, “bury their heads in the sand” and fail to adequately address the accusations put before them. In fact, Rotella has yet to produce a defense with any real teeth. It’s clear that Insomniac is not the company its foes and takeover artists make it out to be. The time of pretending to be a mouse when you’re really a lion is over. If you’re a lion, be a lion!
The dance music culture has survived and thrived and is stronger now than ever before. It has permeated all areas of the entertainment industry. It has revitalized the downtown areas of major metropolitan centers, especially Los Angeles. I interview DJs from all over the world, and they all seem to agree that when it comes to dance music, LA is the Mecca, the epicenter. Rotella and his company, Insomniac, have played a huge part in this. Major entities interested in purchasing Insomniac, including Ron F.X. Sillerman and Live Nation, have estimated the company’s worth at between $70 and $100 million. This is no longer a company fighting tooth and nail to survive on an uneven playing field. They are the playing field. They’ve made it. The “us-versus-them” mentality helped unite the scene in it’s early days, but that model doesn’t work anymore. If Rotella wants to play at this level, which he should, then he needs to adopt the presence and poise of a mighty and proud company. With that comes some corporate and social responsibility accompanied by massive re-tooling of their Communications strategy. So, although Rotella’s reaction hit home to those within the dance music community, we are not the one’s he needs to persuade. It’s the rest of the population who, year after year, have penetrated and attacked the most vulnerable and detestable aspects of a culture that is, at it’s most fundamental and philosophical core, a beautiful thing. If only the public could see that.
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