The Festival Beat: Know Your Lineup
Beyond Wonderland's tagline could have been "really this is my first EDM thing." We lost count of how many times we started a conversation with a stranger and heard that phrase over the weekend. In a way it made the case for all those anti-EDC / anti-insomniac people in the festival scene. There were creepy dudes, and girls talking over the music (which is as impressive as it is annoying, how can you talk that loud?), and people who were sloppy by sunset. It was a shit show.
But there were also friends spilling over with the excitement of being there together. There were people letting go of their judgements and self consciousness for the first time. So many eyes opening to the idea that a festival is a place where you can just go and be happy and be yourself. Beyond Wonderland is definitely a rookie-festival, but you don't have to go too far down the rabbit hole to find the magic in it.
Shortly after dark on Saturday we wandered over to the Mad Hatter's Castle to see a DJ we really only knew for talking about "throwing shapes" in most of his tracks. We were accompanied by a crowd of people who were drawn by his pop sensibilities and subtle hooks- Jax Jones was the pied piper leading kids away from the mainstage. There's an underlying hip hop current to his music, topped with round tonal beats that are layered on top of each other. It made for a house set so perfect that even a purist couldn't help but move their feet. This is how this guy works with people like Duke Dumont! We were mesmerized.
None of us went into the final set of Friday with any illusions that Tiesto was an artist. It's completely understandable to look for ways to stay relevant, but watching a 49 year old club-life legend attempt some wubby bass sound just left us feeling sad. It was like listening to your mother try to say something was "lit af" in an attempt to prove that she was a cool mom. He didn't play that one sound for the whole set, but it was enough to make you question if what made someone a staple in electronic music would ever be enough. Tiesto has been many things over the years... dirty drops was never one of them though.
Somewhere along the line, someone must have told Showtek that hardstyle has been over for years. They must have said make some pop electronica or some trap. Evolve or die they probably said. And apparently Showtek thought "cool, we're gonna play hardstyle anyway." We always thought of these guys as someone we liked as kids. It was amazing to see what a party two people could throw when they simply did what they knew how to do best. And in doing so we saw a whole generation of first-time ravers exposed to the pounding beats and gnarled baritone synth melodies, and the ate it up. We live for hardstyle baby!
If there's one thing you can count on insomniac for, it's that they'll do whatever it takes to create an environment that keeps you in the moment. Glowing art installations and themed stages make you forget you're in whatever wrong-side-of-the-tracks event space they found. Beyond Wonderland was visually excellent, from the little Wench and Awake stages to the performers interacting with everyone in the crowd. Logistically they kept up as well. It was a longer walk than we would have liked at 2am to grab an uber, but it was the most efficient pick and get home experience we've ever had at a city fest.
If there are two things you can count on insomniac for, the other is a lame food and beverage experience. The hot dogs and pizza you get at Costco taste better, the food trucks are bland, and your cocktails come in a 6 oz solo cup for $12... thank god for the beer selection in VIP saving an otherwise sober weekend.