Electronic-music fans all over the world know Life In Color as “The World’s Largest Paint Party.” But the Miami-based event, now in its ninth year, has become much more than a bunch of party people getting together to dance and douse each other with Day-Glo tones.
Life in Color – which splashes down Saturday at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium – is the story of how four fun-loving college friends graduated from throwing a wildly innovative free-for-all to selling more than 500,000 tickets annually in 60-plus countries, and how its mastermind, Sebastian Solano, made the rapid transition from humble FSU student to successful entrepreneur who broke into the Forbes 30 Under 30’s Class of 2015.
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“It’s been quite the journey,” says Solano, CEO and co-founder of Life In Color. “We started in Miami in a 500-person nightclub, and hopefully this year we’ll do close to 30,000 people.”
Almost from the beginning, LIC has been soundtracked by major DJ talent including Kaskade, Afrojack, Calvin Harris and Hardwell. This year’s lineup features Jack U (the superstar dubstep duo of Skrillex and Diplo), eclectic Toronto DJ duo Zeds Dead, rapper Big Sean, California electro-house DJ Steve Aoki, Australian gender-busting actress/model/singer/DJ Ruby Rose, Chicago trap duo Flosstradamus, DJ David Solano (Sebastian’s twin brother) and many more.
In 2014, LIC became the first EDM brand to host a halftime show for a major televised sporting event in North America with its performance at the Guinness International Champion’s Cup Final in August at Sun Life Stadium. The event was broadcast on Fox Sports 1 and featured lasers, fireworks, LED video and music by young superstar Dutch DJ Martin Garrix, best known for his hit track “Animals.”
According to Solano, the giant steps taken by Life In Color were no accident.
“To be honest, when we started this, I always had 100 percent this vision of turning it into this,” he says. “Did I foresee it happening the way it went down, getting so big in the sense of being in so many countries? I don’t know. But I definitely had the vision that we were gonna turn that little paint party into something magic.”
But it definitely took a bit of time before LIC’s founders began to reap rewards, at least financially.
“In the first three years, we were using our parents’ life savings – which wasn’t much, either – to be able to fund our parties,” says Solano. “And even in the first few years of being successful on paper, every single dollar we were making was going back into the company. So if we had a party that made 100 grand, we’d put it back into the bank so that we could then put the deposit down for the next one – you know? So we were grinding it out for something like five years, eating at McDonald’s and not having health insurance – the things you do when you’re starting your own business. But it eventually paid off for all of us – thank God.”
For Life In Color mainstay Zeds Dead – consisting of Dylan Mamid (“DC”) and Zach Rapp-Rovan (“Hooks”) – the festival represents a great chance to break out new music while still having a blast.
“It was always funny to me as a graffiti writer to go from painting walls to painting people,” says Rapp-Rovan, whose “Hooks” moniker was inspired by both Captain Hook and the melodic hooks he creates. “We’re always looking to play new material, so LIC is no different. I remember when I was just a fan going to shows and I wanted to hear the newest music that I couldn’t even get my hands on yet. That’s what I hope we can be for the new generation.”
Zeds Dead is renowned for its live performances, which typically take an energetic and unpredictable journey through styles ranging from drum ‘n’ bass to electro to deep house.
“We’ve been bringing back a lot of really old tracks and remixing or mashing them up with new ones lately,” says Rapp-Rovan, offering a hint of what fans can expect from the set. “You’re going to see people losing their damn minds.”
Assisting in that endeavor will be this year’s theme for Life In Color, “Kingdom,” with its main stage designed as a massive lion.
“It’s not so focused on LEDs and lights, but more on the crazy, animal side that we all have in ourselves,” says Solano, “just letting it go and getting in a rage, and forgetting about everything and letting your inner animal come out. So the King of the Jungle is the lion, the most powerful animal, and at the main stage, you’re gonna be staring at this fricking huge lion, and inside of his mouth is where the DJs are gonna be performing.”
It might seem only natural to draw a parallel between Life In Color and another internationally known, Miami-born electronic-music event – the Ultra Music Festival, which snowballed from its humble beginnings in 1999 during the Winter Music Conference to world domination. But Solano cuts the comparison short.
“I think it’s mainly just another amazing festival that happens to be from Miami,” he says. “I mean, Ultra was very important for us, and one of the reasons why I got into this business, because as a fan, I always loved the experience I had at Ultra. But they are more focused on the DJs, and we’re more focused on the fans and their experience – we’re similar and different in certain ways.”