Guillermo Prieto/
Credit: Guillermo Prieto/

Splash House, like every other large-scale music festival these days, is inevitably compared to Coachella.

The two festivals both feature a variety of acts—including a mix of locals, up-and-comers and superstars—spread over a three-day period. However, that’s where the similarities end.

For one thing, the culture surrounding the festivals is completely different. EDM culture features many musicians who work with a DIY ethic, yet have played to large crowds around the world. However, these DJs are often not the focus of attention during their shows: Attendees and their crowd participation is often more of a spectacle.

Oh, there’s one other huge difference: Swimming pools!

It’s a popular joke that all it takes for a DJ to be successful is to “push play.” However, a true DJ doesn’t just “push play.” Instead, he or she has the job of selecting the right music to set the vibe; manipulating the mixing board to create a unique sound; and merging it all together.

This was all on full display at the most recent Splash House, held Friday, Aug. 8, through Sunday, Sept. 10, at the Hard Rock Palm Springs, The Saguaro and the Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club: While most DJs had crowds hopping, others didn’t create the right vibe—and the crowds around the pool would lose a reason to dance.

A great example of a unique EDM act performed at the Hard Rock in the early evening on Friday. (The Hard Rock was the only venue to have an official schedule on Friday, and the festivities were pretty low-key, especially compared to the other two days.) Tone of Arc is a duo featuring Derrick Boyd, who has a haircut similar to a mullet, and who wore a tanktop and yoga-style pants above his bare feet; and Zoe Presnick, a female vocalist who looked like she was almost in a trance as she provided backup vocals. The music featured a heavy beat that included Boyd providing some bass and electric guitar here and there. The lyrics referenced UFOs and metaphysical mumbo jumbo. It was bizarre, to say the least—but those in attendance enjoyed it, because Tone of Arc offered something to dance to and provided the right kind of vibe.

When the pool and patio shut down, and the festivities moved inside to the Hard Rock lobby, the place filled up as people watched sets by Gorgon City, and then Oliver Heldens. Gorgon City and Oliver Heldens are both world-class acts that draw crowds and sell records. They brought out hardcore EDM fans who had illuminated sunglasses similar to Daft Punk’s helmets. Beach balls flew around, and bodies jumped up and down in the air—creating as much of a show as the music did.

Viceroy, who performed at the Saguaro on Saturday, is an artist like many others on the Splash House lineup: He doesn’t have a record deal; he releases remixes independently through Soundcloud and uses social media to promote himself; and he has a large following.

“It’s just the vibe about it,” Viceroy told the Independent before the set, when asked to explain the EDM culture. “It gets you to dance and have a good time and let loose, and that’s what it really is—just having a good time. It’s not worrying about the normal things on the weekdays. The babes are out; DJs are playing sets; and you’re drinking beers. There’s nothing better than that.”

Viceroy has performed around the world, and he said that every crowd has a different vibe.

“The Aussies are the craziest; they know how to fucking party,” he said. “I saw a guy over there run around without pants in a club once. Two pantsless guys at shows in Australia had me wondering, ‘Is this a normal thing in Australia? Guys get pantsless in the club and run around?’ It’s funny.”

Viceroy’s set started with an early ’90s hit from Del Tha Funkee Homosapien called “Mr. Dobalina,” which got the growing crowd in a party mood. He proved that he could play the right kind of music to establish the tone—yet remain consistent through his entire set.

After getting on the shuttle to the Hard Rock Hotel, I arrived as a young man called Trippy Turtle was in the middle of his set. He was clad in a hoodie with turtle eyes on the hood, and a shell on the back. He pumped up the crowd and played a set of heavy dance music with an audio sample of a video, repeated a handful of times throughout the set, that was popular on YouTube, of a little boy responding to a newscaster’s question with a random reply of, “I like turtles.” Attendees were dancing in front of the stage, partying in the pool and occasionally splashing water as the beat got heavier.

After Trippy Turtle, GoldLink took over. GoldLink is a hip-hop artist who is also taking the EDM world by storm.

“I’m from the East Coast, so we don’t get too many events like this going on,” said GoldLink’s DJ Kidd Marvel, with a laugh. “I’ve never been to a pool party like this with all these acts like Trippy Turtle, A-Trak, or Chromeo, and it’s a great event.”

He also made reference to the monikers, symbols and references to retro-cultures that some EDM artists use. The symbol of GoldLink is a tribal African mask.

“It’s like the tag, you know?” he said. “It’s what people are going to remember you by. They know your songs, but you need to have a stamp for them to really remember who you are. An example, Trippy Turtle has a great one.”

The resurgence of the retro pool party has become a key element in bringing millennials to Palm Springs. However, Splash House elevates the pool party to an entirely different level.

“You can program out a pool, but multiple pools?” said founder Tyler McLean. “It gives you a different air and more excitement, because it’s a bigger event than just one pool party. Above all, I think when everyone is on vacation together, and each of the rooms in each of the hotels is here for the same party, I think that automatically gives you a different atmosphere.”

So why is EDM so popular? The reaction of those in attendance at events like Splash House makes the answer obvious—it’s fun. Whether the performer is trying to create a metaphysical vibe and referencing UFOs, or whether the DJ seems obsessed with turtles, it’s all in the name of fun and having a good time. Add to that the Palm Springs pool culture, and it’s easy to see why Splash House has been such a massive success.

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Brian Blueskye

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Brian Blueskye moved to the Coachella Valley in 2005. He was the assistant editor and staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent from 2013 to 2019. He is currently the...