Every day is a delightful dance of dichotomy infused with synchronicity, where we’re flirting with paradoxes and adapting to chaos. We’re perpetually awarded the opportunity to pursue our destiny and unearth our desires; though, to do so, it’s imperative that we’re constantly discovering ourselves, in an ever evolving fashion. It’s not about reinventing the wheel, rather shedding our skin like snakes and blossoming like Babushka Dolls.
“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”
– The Red Queen, Alice in Wonderland –
Life, it seems, isn’t much different – working tirelessly to stay above water; where too often than not, we’re a victim of our own feedback cycles, part of the mundane 9 to 5 trivialities where we’re exhausted by the end of the work day and have to ration our passions. But, when you go beyond yourself, beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone, and beyond your preconceived notions, you can be free; when we go Beyond Wonderland, the possibilities are beautifully infinite and infinitely beautiful.
Ten years ago when I was still at UCSB, a few friends threatened me with a good time and convinced me to go to my first big music event: Electric Daisy Carnival 2006, or as they referred to it – a ‘rave’; and now, almost 10 years later, I was heading back to San Bernadino for my first Beyond Wonderland. Rave, Massive, Music Festival …whatever you want to call it, what it ended up being was life changing. But what the media reports, is an entirely different story, and it’s imperative that we acknowledge the connotations surrounding the word.
One look at any mainstream media source and you’d believe that the events run rampant with illicit drug use and explicit, if not deadly, amounts of consumption, a place where rules and regulations are replaced with dystopian views of reality. But spend one day engrossed in an event, one moment in the dancing shoes of someone who’s been there…come over to the other side just once and you’ll be singing a different song. Our festivals are explorations of time and space, creating a world that celebrates the moment and the best that humanity has to offer, where attendants have each others backs and look out for each other. The current negative stigma surrounding raves is even more unfortunate because these events more than live up to the literal definition. One look into the linguistics and etymology of the word, and you’ll understand why.
Rave descends from the Old French raver, a variant of resver – meaning ‘to dream.’ By the 1700’s, to rave meant to discuss something with great enthusiasm and admiration. During the 1950’s and 1960’s in England, ‘rave’ was a term used to describe wild bohemian parties, a word revived by the electronic music scene of the 1980’s. The rest you could say – is dance music history.
But, it’s the second denotation that gets me: a rave is a physical framework added to the sides of a cart to increase its capacity. Over the course of this ride we call life, a rave absolutely can increase it’s capacity – by increasing our emotional magnitude for understanding and the depth of our being by enriching us and enlightening us to the wonder we cultivate. Built on individuality and creativity, raves are for the odd balls and weird eggs, the rare birds of a feather that get down together every blue moon under an electric sky.
Last weekend on Friday, March 18 and Saturday March 19,over 60,000 music fans arriving in festival families flocked to the stunning landscape of the San Manuel Amphitheater to dance away the last moments of Winter and Danny and I were both honored to capture the magic of the occasion.
From lovely lightning on the overhang of the entryway to decadent decoration adorning literally all of the trees, the entire park was illuminated in a warm technicolor glow as an array of costumed characters filtered in, filling the grounds. With the combined Friday night and Festival traffic, we didn’t reach the festival until almost 10. Dancing our way in to the sounds of Chris Lake, we gave our legs a quick stretch while we jumped in line for some tasty cold beverages.
After quickly surveying the scene, we scampered from the Queen’s Domain, through the Cheshire Woods where Kink was throwing a good old fashioned House Party, and made our way to the Outer realm hosted by Dreamstate to scope out the very end of Myon & Shane 54’s Trance Showcase. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to an Insomniac show, and there’s no better feeling than the inspiring tones of trance booming from a glorious PK Sound System. Next, Giuseppe Ottavianni & Solarstone dazzled the crowd with their ethereal, spine tingling performance as Pure NRG – but I had to pull myself back to the main arena for some feels as Galantis pulled out all the stops.
A supergroup made from Christian “Bloodshy” Karlsson of Miike Snow fame and Linus Eklöw, best known as Style of Eye, Galantis’ blissful beats layered over crooning vocals and textured synths made for one of the best sets of the weekend, playing hits from their debut album ‘Pharmacy‘ like ‘Runaway (U+I)‘ and my personal favorite’Peanut Butter Jelly‘. In a fit of irony, I tried to get a picture of their amazing Seafox visuals on my phone – but my phone apparently had other plans and took a hearty bath in my mixed drink. Originally annoyed, I quickly remembered that I knew all of three people out of the thousands in attendance, one of them being my fiance. Almost immediately, I let a smile wash over my face as I resolved that the universe did me a solid by forcing me to forget about my electronic leash. Plus, Danny is an exceptional photographer and I knew I’d be able to rely on him to snap some stunners – which he definitely did!
After another quick boogie with Kink in the Cheshire Woods, it was back to the Outer Realm to hear what Andrew Rayel had to offer: an uplifting, progressive Trance set that rattled your bones; a brand of ‘festival’ Trance that I immensely enjoy. While we were comfortably waiting on the lush grass, a jolly gentleman skipped by with his hands full of water bottles. Eagerly, he turned to all of us – ‘Do you need any water…Would you like a bottle?’ He echoed, effusing the area with his infectious spirit. ‘We’re giving them out for free; here – have one!’ It’s this kind of spirit that creates the ethos of our community, and the type of giving that’s a cornerstone of our culture.
And then, what I’ve personally been waiting forever for – Ferry Corsten’s new live concept show: Gouryella. From ‘Beautiful’, ‘Fire’ and’Into the Dark’ through ‘Black Velvet’ and ‘Twice in a Blue Moon’, I’ve been a huge fan of Ferry’s for almost a decade now and I find solace and strength within the weight of his music. And Gouryella did not disappoint – the poignant, visuals containing emotive questions forayed into mathematically influenced nature sequences as his driving brand of trance brought the music home. At the end of the night, we made it back to the Queen’s Domain for some good, old fashioned champagne and bananas with Dada Life, as we kicked out the epic motherfucker to wind down the night. The crowd was amped, with banana inspired totems, flags and costumes…which for the most part were amazing, but I have to admit that with a vast sea of totems clogging the bottom of the stage I feel like I’m missing part of the show.
As I lamented the premature black screen of death on my phone while we sauntered out of the grounds, Danny and I were gleefully surprised as one of our favorite humans, and photographers, Juliana –known in the scene as Get Tiny,popped out of the woodwork as we made our way to our car. If you haven’t seen her pictures, do yourself a favor – scope her out. One of the other two people I knew at the event, I was beyond ecstatic that our paths had crossed – but with the way festivals and coincides work, I was definitely not surprised – we were exactly where we needed to be.
With the last minute decision to attend Beyond Wonderland, I’ll be the first to admit that we weren’t the most prepared – but we did finagle a last minute hotel about ten minutes down the road from the event. Decompressing, we basked in the afterglow of Day 1. As we cataloged memories, swooned over our favorite sets, I began to mull over the last few months and the direction of my life. Somewhere along the way, I’d convinced myself that I was growing up and out of the festival circuit. It’s not that I don’t, or didn’t, enjoy them – quite the contrary: I love festival. Maybe it’s the energy necessary to last at top emotional, mental, physical and spiritual shape for the entirety of the weekend events, or the detailed preparation that goes in from outfit choices to set times, the cacophony of personalities whose paths you cross…and on top of that, camping and surviving in the elements; but, within that unique mixture of quality and quantity, I had burnt out. Give me one night back at an Insomniac event, the music and the magic of community surrounding the event and the sheer ethos of it, and the fire inside has been reinvigorated ten fold.
After an incredibly haphazard Saturday morning and afternoon that included absolutely no dull moments, it was time to don our dancing gear and Caturday best to prepare to do it all over again – but with a twist! Two of our good friends surprised us on Saturday afternoon after springing for a pair of tickets and we were excited to have our squad double in size for Day 2. We made sure to get there with daylight to spare and headed straight through Sleepy Tom at the Queen’s Domain to the Outer Realm for Spag Heddi, one of our friend’s personal favorites and must see’s of the weekend. Hosted by the Bassrush Imprint on Saturday night, The Outer Realm highlighted the key players, movers and music makers currently in the Dubstep and Drum and Bass scenes…and not in Miami, but I digress. It’s always more difficult to navigate a festival in the dark than the day, so we were on a mission to find the Ball Pit, the ‘Turning Wheel’, Insomniac’s steam punk inspired art boat – the Beyond Wench, and their illusive fourth stage – The Upside-Down Room.
As we took in the sunset from the top of Lookout Mountain, it felt like the event was evolving in front of our eyes as layers of lasers at every angle cascaded through the cotton candy skies; and once again, we were off, off and away on the night’s musical adventure, gleefully bouncing back and forth between the stages, making sure to dance our way through each nook and cranny of the festival. Friday night had ample room to roam around, but with Saturday’s sold out status – I definitely felt the claustrophobia creeping in. Good news is that I’ve never been around a more gracious group of people in my life, constantly with the ‘Please’ and ‘Excuse Me’…well, except for that one guy. But apparently, more of the venue was used for last year’s festival and with the amount of flow toys that are admitted into the venue, I wouldn’t mind them expanding the grounds again for their next event.
Klingande was an absolute delight, but I had to tear myself away for some Delta Heavy – but not before getting down to bangin’ Dirtybird sounds of Will Clarke. One of my favorite groups for quite some time, I finally had my chance to catch Delta Heavy live. Their euphoric drops and booming bass were doctor ordered and hearing ‘Ghost’ live was just as good as I expected. Then it was back to the Queen’s Domain for a sonically salacious set from Slander, back again to the Outer Realm for an unbelievable set from Troyboi, who threw a full on electronically infused hip hop party.
After, we went back to the Queen’s Domain and headed front and center for what I consider the best set of the weekend – an artist that refuses to fit into any one genre, Seven Lions. Within one fell swoop during the height of his set, Seven Lions expertly fused ethereal Trance into a Bassnectar-esque breakdown and immediately into a Drumstep beat; I even had a few good cries to an incredible remix of Ferry Corsten’s ‘Beautiful’ and ‘No One On Earth’ from Above & Beyond.
With a few last minute changes, Doctor P was replaced on the lineup by the notorious NGHTMRE; I thought that my friends with last minute tickets would be a bit bummed by the revelation, but to the contrary – they were stoked! After a few flight delays, NGHTMRE took the place of Ghastly on the Bassrush stage and oh my goodness, did he deliver – even giving us a hearty mix of ‘Gold Dust and closed out by bringing Slander on stage for one last song together. Then, you guessed it, back to the main stage for the beginning of Deorro to get our Melbourne Bounce on. As usual with the genre, there’s only so much I can take so I was thrilled to close out the night with some grooves on the giant Boombox, and then back to Datsik.
While the clock neared 2 at the end of the night, Datsik started to close out his set with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ classic track ‘Otherside.’ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve actually heard the song remixed, so I was delighted to hear the emotive chord progressions of the original, an ode to our childhood and the music that inspired our musical tastes – the music that pushed us to where we currently are today. As the soundboard insisted they cut the music, Datsik turned to the audience and urged us to sing along a capella – and sing along we did: tens of thousands of us, with an abundance of voices there were so many harmonies, scales and tones that regardless of how loudly or softly, on or off key you sang – you fit, you had a niche, your voice had a place, and the collective brevity of our voices can move mountains.
“I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night. Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
For one weekend, thousands of friendly faces put their regular lives on hold in order to release themselves into a world where anything is truly possible. A world where we give more than we take, offer compliments not condescension, decorate ourselves as loudly and boldly as we choose and can become whoever or whatever we desire. We come together to celebrate the music and the moments, the beauty and the bass, while rediscovering our individuality within a heart warming community. For one weekend, we went Beyond Wonderland, and we’ve left forever changed.
Over the last twenty years, Pasquale Rotella and Insomniac Events have carefully created and curated an unshakable dynasty within dance music. The production value of the stages was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, it’s just as ostentatious, colorful and out of this world as it should be – and then some. I mean, did you see the water spouts on the Queen’s Domain, or that thrilling, shooting fire from the stage and sides of the Outer Realm, or any of the incredible fireworks shows? Attend just one Insomniac Event and you simply won’t be able to take Fourth of July Fireworks seriously ever again. Between the precise attention to each detail of the festival, pristine PK Sound System, ornate dancers and costumed characters in envy worthy costumes, a vibrant community with deep roots in the evolution of the dance scene and world class musicians, Beyond Wonderland proves once again that Rave is King.
Next up for night owls and other rare birds of a feather – the sold out Bassrush Massive on April 2nd, We Are NRG heads to the NOS Center on May 20 + 21, Audio on the Bay May 28 + 29th in Northern California, and Nocturnal Wonderland was literally just announced for Labor Day Weekend. For those in Southern California, keep your ears to the ground for a new Warehouse party series in Downtown Los Angeles!
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“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is: Infinite”