Note: this article originally appeared in our sister publication LA Weekly.
Behind an unmarked door in a nondescript wall behind a row of vendor tents, there’s a small army of positive-minded people whose job it is to make EDC Vegas fun and safe for every attendee. They're called Ground Control, and over the course of the weekend, 370 of them roam the grounds — 240 working every day.
The job of Ground Control is simply to check in on people. When we spoke to Brian, a senior GC member in his twentiess who’s never been to a festival he didn’t work, he likened the crew to a mix between security and medical — but really neither — for the fest.
Generally, Ground Control members are pretty secretive — even their HQ is a secret lair of sorts. We stopped a roaming crew and they hesitated to even let us take a picture — “As long as we’re not giving a statement,” one said. Even Brian, who agreed to speak with us through Insomniac’s public relations, was unsure of what he could and could not say in front of press.
That's probably because of just how much harm reduction is involved in the job. Officially, EDC promoters Insomniac have a zero-tolerance policy towards drug use at their events — so anything that involves helping potential drug casualties (who, in 100-degree heat, can be hard to tell apart from a straight-up case of heat stroke) requires them to tread lightly. Still, we give points to Insomniac for their creative — and effective — effort to minimize the potential self-inflicted damage done by 300,000 partiers.
In purple tees or tanks, and overloaded with backpacks full or water and other basic necessities, Ground Control groups of three wander designated hotspot areas (also internally known as “cuddle puddles”) in search of attendees — called "headliners" in Insomniac parlance — who might be in need of medical, emotional or directional help. They scour corners (“For some reason that’s where people like to throw up,” explains Brian), knock on the doors of long-occupied porta-potties, and look for people sitting down who might be unconscious rather than just tired. In short, they’re a big reason why the dark corners of EDC aren’t littered with people having a bad time, for whatever reason. And they do it all with an unshakeable smile.
“You have to be able to help someone having a seizure and then turn around and be just as enthusiastic as you were before,” Brian explains. Clearly, this job isn’t for everyone.
And it is a job — Ground Control members are seasonal employees of Insomniac, under the umbrella of guest services, making minimum wage (plus, of course, free festival entrance) throughout their 14-hour shifts. The interview process is amiable but effective; basically, a 15-to-30-minute Skype conversation with a senior member, who’s judging applicants on how positive, friendly and resilient they are.
“You have to be able to listen and stay friendly. Yesterday, a headliner yelled at me for, like, ten minutes. But I couldn’t yell back or get angry. I just kept smiling and stayed friendly,” says Brian.
“I’ve also learned that sometimes making someone’s night better is as simple as hearing them out. I met a guy once who was so angry — over a ticket or something — that he wanted to punch another guy out,” Brian says. “I sat there and listened to his story for literally five minutes. I was sympathetic, of course, and by the end he seemed like a totally different person: relaxed, no longer angry, and ready to move forward.”
Most of the their nights, though, are spent just checking in. Ground Control crews roam around and ask, “Are you having fun?” more than anything else. But they’re a big reason why most of the people you run into at the festival are having fun. In our entire time on the grounds, the number of people who looked like they’d had a little too much of whatever — drugs, alcohol, dancing, heat — was severely and surprisingly limited. For both the reputation of EDC and for the safety of the people attending it, that's a good thing.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.