For a few decades, the most raucous, scandalous parties in Indianapolis started at 5:30 a.m.
That's when the gates to the Snake Pit, the party space housed inside Turn One of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, opened yearly during the Indy 500.
At this point, the Pit is a bonafide urban legend, complete with whispered tales of a no-holds barred bacchanal whipped into a frenzy by the rush of speeding cars. Streaking, stripping, brawling, boozing, smoking, sexing: the Snake Pit of the '70s and '80s had it all. But the '90s brought changes to the track, and, well, the Snake Pit never quite had the approval of the IMS brass.
So it was plowed away, to make way for new support buildings and bleachers inside the infield. That single day of wild partying - like Mardi Gras, Woodstock and Spring Break combined - disappeared to make way for a more restrained party in Turn Three.
But it's the new millennium, baby. And the Snake Pit is back. It's back.
The New Pit
We'll catch you up to speed: 2013's incarnation of the Snake Pit is less brawling bikers and more music festival.
"It was definitely a challenge to bring back the Snake Pit, internally and externally. I'm very passionate about it and I've put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into building it," said Jesika Gunter, manager of event marketing at the Speedway.
Gunter is more than just an employee of the track - she's the great-granddaughter of Tony Hulman, and one of many members of the Hulman-George family currently working at the track.
"At first, my family kind of rolled their eyes," said Gunter of her determination to revive the Pit. "I understand why we had to put the Snake Pit to sleep after decades of chaos. It got out of control, and the times had changed. The generations changed, society changed, the Snake Pit changed.
"Whichever turn it is in, the Snake Pit has and always will be where the youth are," said Gunter. "The reason we named the party today the 'Snake Pit' was to celebrate it - the history. IMS is all about history, so why not create something fun for a new generation to honor it?" said Gunter.
Yes, there's relics of the Pits of old, including bikini contests and a mechanical bull. And new activities like a silent disco, face-painting stations, volleyball courts and a massive water slide are scattered across the infield. But the main attraction is the music.
"I have always felt like music is the way to draw new fans, and it's were my heart has always been," said Gunter.
This year, two of the top DJs and producers in the world will grace the stage, accompanied by a rising Indy native who's quickly gathering legend status of his own.
There's a plethora of ways to party in the Pit - the exclusive Cobra Cabanas come to mind, with their private bars and lounges overlooking the stage - but we think the best way to celebrate is to get dirty in the general admission area, like the vipers of yesteryear. To prepare, read our guide complete with interviews from a few of the DJs slotted to take the stage on Sunday. And pack your sunscreen. Come on guys, remember your sunscreen.
12:30 p.m. - 2 p.m.
Are the dutch taking over the world of EDM?
The massive success of producers like Afrojack, Sidney Samson, Tiesto and Fedde le Grand sure make it seem so. And, to us, Afrojack - legally known as Nick van de Wall - is on top of them all.
"I've never played in Indianapolis," the plantinum-selling artist wrote to us, en route to Europe one day this week. "So I'm excited to be there and see all of the fans who come out to the Snake Pit. As most people know by now, I love fast cars, so heading to Indy 500 is exciting not only to perform there, but to see the race."
Afrojack doesn't just love fast cars - he's a collector of the fastest around. He recently added a Ferrari 458 to his collection (unfortunately, he wrecked the pretty machine just 45 minutes after getting the keys).
His vast car collection and worldwide recognition is all due to his meteoric rise in the EDM community and breakthrough Top 40 hits with David Guetta, Beyonce and Pitbull in the last two years.
"The collaborations with hip-hop artists are really taking off," said Afrojack. "And I think as more mainstream musicians start collaborating, EDM will be everywhere."
If EDM is everywhere, Afrojack will be everywhere too. When we spoke, the producer was flying back to his native Holland, but he's spent the last few years skipping all over the globe.
"The craziest fans are definitely in Australia, USA and Mexico," said Afrojack. "Though EDM is also gigantic in Europe, it's been there so long that people are used to it a little. Even your peanut butter sandwich gets served with EDM sauce [in Europe]."
His travels have acquainted him with top producers across the globe, including Diplo and David Guetta, but he's got a soft spot for Steve Aoki, with whom he's currently collaborating as "Afroki." We inquired when the next time we could see the pair onstage together might be:
"Who knows!" said Afrojack. "I guess you'll have to come to all of the shows and find out! Aoki and I have a lot of fun together, so it's been cool working on music together and bringing back something fun for the fan."
10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
Diplo (legal name: Thomas Wesley Pentz] is a star maker. He's a renaissance man. He's a label mogul. He's ... named himself after a dinosaur.
Born in the Deep South and raised in various cities sprinkled across it, a young Diplo internalized the tropical sounds that bleed across US borders. After breaking into the scene by throwing massive parties while at Temple University in Philly, he set up a studio/creative space that allowed him room to explore his variety of musical interests - and that diversity became his calling card.
Diplo's musical influences can't be measured. Early collaborator M.I.A. - with whom Diplo recorded Grammy-nominated "Paper Planes," among a large collection of other tracks - says their music both has a "homelessness" to it, a smattering of worldly influences all pieced together into a irrepressibly catchy style.
He's worked with other multiculturally influenced artists like Santigold and Elephant Man. But ground zero of Diplo's multiplicitous syle is his first major collaboration, Major Lazer. Diplo and English producer Switch headed to Jamaica to record an album's worth of music featuring a Jamaican artist on every track. The collection of bangers sent a jolt of electricity from the Caribbean straight to the clubs in New York City, and everywhere in between.
After his mid-2000s breakthrough with M.I.A., Diplo's grabbed time with Beyonce ("Run the World (Girls)"), Snoop Dogg - who credits a trip to Jamaica for his reincarnation and rebirth as Snoop Lion - No Doubt and Usher. He's also collected a host of genre-defying artists on his own imprint, Mad Decent.
Diplo shines a light on what's happening inside clubs in pockets around the world, picking out little-known genres and exposing a legion of music lovers to new styles. He celebrates what is different, unexpected, unique about the world of music and highlights what's the same: our eternal quest for a good beat.
His latest release as Major Lazer (which now includes Jillionaire and Walshy Fire, who both hail from the Caribbean) is a new set of songs called Free the Universe on Mad Decent. He'll be touring into the summer.
- Topher Jones
8:30 a.m. - 10 a.m.
Lucky for us, Topher Jones has stayed really close to home. The Zionsville High School grad and DePaw University student packed up his crates of records and set of turntables and went up to Chicago a few years ago, where he settled into the house scene and started producing monster hits like "Brohammer" and "Lost It All." His melodic big room house has long, energetic build-ups and dashes of dirty, dirty bass. After inking a major deal with Ultra Records, Jones set off releasing a set of singles that have kept Chicago clubs on fire. But Jones is planning to release a set of more cinematic songs in the very near future that could keep be even better than his monster club jams. We caught up with him over the phone last week to talk about his memories of Indy.
NUVO: You're an Indy native - what does it mean for you to come back and play one of the city's most celebrated events?
Jones: You know, it's pretty cool. I think what makes it really special is that I've actually never been to the race on Race Day. I've been to a bunch of the practice days - Carb Day, all that stuff. But I've never been to the actual race. For someone who grew up 30 minutes from there, having the first time I get to experience the race when I'm playing a show there is really unique and special to me.
NUVO: The Snake Pit is all about having one, big insane party. It starts ... pretty early.
Jones: I saw that the gates open at 5:30 a.m., and I was thinking to myself, "Who in their right state of mind wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to start this party?" But there's no other town that could do it besides Indianapolis during the 500.
NUVO: I read in a previous interview that you received your first set of turntables when you were 14. Do you remember where you got those and where you shopped for records in the city?
Jones: My first pair of turntables, I ordered them online. I asked for them as a joint Christmas and birthday present, and then I would buy records at a record store called Evolving Records that was down in Beech Grove. I would go down there all the time and buy records there. LUNA Music, Muzique Boutique, those were the places where I would also go and buy records. As the Internet became a bigger and bigger deal, it was easier to find stuff online if I couldn't find the records in Indianapolis. It was fun, driving 45 minutes down to Beech Grove, spending three hours searching through records. I miss those days.
NUVO: You come back to Indianapolis often to perform; what DJs and producers in town are some of your favorites?
Jones: You know, I haven't kept up too much with who the up and comers in Indianapolis are, but I do know that Slater Hogan and John Larner are just doing a great job of getting the talent into the city and keeping things going. [Keepin' It] Deep Thursdays at Blu Lounge and all of the other stuff they're involved in as well - it's so important to have people like them who have knowledge and experience and credibility keeping things going in the city. They've done a great job of giving dance music a voice in Indianapolis and I don't think they get enough credit for what they've done. Any show that happens in Indianapolis, I think is due to what they've done, and their efforts and credibility in the industry.
NUVO: I'm sitting inside looking out of the window talking to you, and there's someone using a leaf blower just outside and it's so loud - not unlike the cars at the track. I wonder if there's a way to integrate the sounds of the cars into your set somehow.
Jones: I don't know, but I know that the cars won't be going. I'll be playing 8:30 - 10 a.m. It's probably going to be the earliest show I've ever played in my life. Not like, "Hey, you're playing at 6 a.m. as the closing slot for an event." Nope, I'm playing the third slot of an event that opens at 5 a.m. It's going to be so early, but so much fun. It's going to be very interesting. I hope that people are still standing by my set.
NUVO: The race brings out all kinds of people - many of whom wouldn't know what EDM stood for, let alone what it sounds like. What's the most successful way you've found to explain the kind of music that you make to someone who has no clue?
Jones: I think the way I explain it is this: It's dance music, so you get people to dance. It's made for nightclubs. Then they ask, "What instruments do you play? How does the music come about?" And I tell them, I'm conducting an orchestra when I write a song, where I'm writing all of the musical pieces for each individual instrument, and then I also get to make the sounds of each instrument. So, I'm like an orchestra conductor when I write the songs, and then I get to play them out live. So that's the best way to explain to people, if they don't understand synthesizers, computers, how all that works.
But you can say, think of an orchestra and think of all the different instruments and how each section has a different part, a different melody to play. [So], instead of having violins and clarinets, I make a sound that's appropriate for what I'm looking for in that melody. I've used that to explain what I do to my 80-year-old grandma, and she's kind of picked up on it. So I think, well, if I can explain it to her, I can explain it to anybody.
NUVO: The way you describe the process of producing as an orchestra reminds me of another interview that you recently did about having unreleased music that's more like M83, Sigur Ros - these orchestral, grand soundscapes. Have you thought any more about releasing that?
Jones: With where I'm at with my record deal with Ultra, we have two more singles and then either I'll do an album with them or we go our separate ways. We're not sure [yet] what's going to be the best for both parties, so if the album comes about, they'll definitely be on the album. 100 percent. It's stuff that's meant for an album and I think that it's some of my favorite music that I've ever written.
But, being a DJ and a dance music producer, people are expecting stuff that they can play in clubs and at shows, so if I was to release those as a single, people wouldn't really know what to do with them. They'd say, well, that's really pretty and cool, but I'm not really sure what I can do with this as a DJ. But it will be really great stuff for an album and hopefully the right time will come when we can put these out. I can't wait to share them with the world because I think it's some of my favorite stuff I've ever done.
Spinning in the Snake Pit until the last lap.
"We wanted to support the local and up-and-coming DJs as well, but it's hard sometimes because there are many DJs in Indy, and I happen to like most of them on a personal level!" said Gunter. She settled on three locals to help open and close festivities at the Pit.
And, like Topher, these slots might be the earliest Buck Rodgers and Gabby Love have ever played. The Dub Knight will close out the day, for the sun-addled, boozy crowd.
- DJ Afrojack
DJ Buck Rodgers
7:45 a.m. - 8:30 a.m.
Fresh off a win at the Indy qualifications for the Red Bull Thre3style comps and a second place win in the Chicago regionals, 2013 seems like it might be the year for DJ Buck Rodgers. He holds residencies at Blu Lounge on South Meridian and in Bloomington at Dunnkirk and is planning on releasing an EP later this summer.
DJ Gabby Love
7 a.m. - 7:45 a.m.
Gabby Love takes after her grandmother, who was an international music sensation on violin and on piano. But her talent's on the stacks; she's often seen at clubs like Social, Sensu and RA.
The Dub Knight
2 p.m. - 3 p.m.
Jake Marsh, better known as The Dub Knight - as in, a bass version of Batman - is on a mission to kill Top 40 music in the clubs. He's a bass devotee with spots in clubs all over and festival appearances piling up. In the past year, he's opened for Krewella and Flux Pavilion, with more high-profile gigs to come.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 4790 W. 16th St.
Sunday, May 26
Free with wristband and race day ticket
7 a.m., all-ages