Back in 1995, long before there seemed to be a festival or two every month of the year, Insomniac threw their very first Nocturnal Wonderland. Fast-forward twenty one years later and Nocturnal has become a Southern California institution that spans more than two generations of dance music lovers. Naturally a lot has changed in the electronic music community in the last twenty one years; however as times have changed Insomniac has done an excellent job at adapting to those changes to make the experience of their headliners nothing short of incredible, and this year was no different. So let’s take a look back at seven reasons why this year’s Nocturnal Wonderland showed why it’s the longest running dance music festival in North America.
1. THE THEME
Usually when one thinks of an Insomniac festival they get the image in their mind of massive owls and intricate main stage design. Especially when thinking about Nocturnal Wonderland there is this expectation of a whimsical fantasy land decked out to resemble a certain fairytale. However, this was not the case at this year’s Nocturnal, as the wolves were out to play. Insomniac took a darker more nature inspired approach to this year’s theme without missing a beat, and staying true to who they are. Gone was the whimsy and its place was a darker more edgy attitude. The main place that this could be felt was in the set up and designs of the many stages scattered across the festival grounds.
2. STAGE DESIGN
The main stage at an Insomniac event is always a feast for the senses and the Wolves’ Den at this year’s Nocturnal definitely was that and some. This year’s stage slightly differed from past main stages in that this was more a massive wall of screens and pillars of fire that lit up the night with incredible visual displays rather than a wild scene from a crazy storybook. This year also brought the full 360 degree immersive labyrinth stage, which was modeled after EDC’s Bamboo Sky Bridge. Not only was this stage beautiful in design but it also housed aerialist artists as they performed on both sides of the stage. However, my favorite stage of the weekend was hands down the Upside-Down House. Decked out with a giant boat and a house literally flipped on its head!
3. SIDE STAGES
Insomniac has always done a good job to stack the main stages full of amazing acts, but it’s their work in finding excellent music to occupy the side stages that really ties their festivals together. This year The Electric Beach, Smirnoff House, Boombox Art Car, and Jagermeister Haus each respectively held incredible acts all weekend long. Not only was great music on display at these side stages, but it was held so in an intimate setting that makes the music feel that much more alive. Not to mention it opens up the doors for some incredible secret b2b sets
4. SURPRISE B2BS
I don’t know a single person who doesn’t enjoy a good b2b. Not only is it a chance for you to hear amazing music but it is a powerful thing seeing people come together to make art of others. This year Nocturnal had six planned b2b sets on the line up, which included 3lau b2b Audien, Caspa b2b Rusko, Minnesota b2b G Jones, and others. However, that did not include all the b2b’s of the weekend as Kayzo, Deorro, Ephwurd, SWAGE, Stranger, Kennedy Jones, Jayceeoh all got together for one epic b2b in the Smirnoff House. Also during SWAGE’s set at the Boombox Art Car, Ghastly, Focus Fire, Convex, NIGHTOWLS, and SAY MY NAME all came out for a little friendly b2b fun. And Griz even stopped by during Gramatik’s set to give Nocturnal a funky dose of Big Grizmatik.
5. LIVE PERFORMANCES
The twenty first edition of Nocturnal Wonderland was pack with over one hundred musical acts but there was something about this year’s lineup that was slightly different than previous versions. This year there were more live acts on the line up than any I’ve ever seen at any Insomniac festival. On Friday Matador took his techno style live in the Sunken Garden, and over at Labyrinth Griz and Big Gigantic brought the sax. Saturday saw three live sets highlighted by Odesza. Sunday brought out the live music in force with sets from Autograf, Black Tiger Sex Machine, Hermitude, Keys and Krates, and Chromeo who joked about sneaking guitars into a rave.
6. DJ THROWDOWNS
Beyond the live music there were the DJ’s, and this year had tons to offer from the chill vibes of Giraffage to head banging with Bassnectar. This edition of Nocturnal had something for fans of all music. Friday was highlighted with Valentino Khan, Coyote Kisses, Pantyraid, and the best set of the weekend Big Gigantic. Saturday included the likes of Bro Safari, Liquid Stranger, Lane 8, and Troyboi who played two sets that night. Sunday rounded out the weekend with a mesmerizing set from Alison Wonderland, Ephwurd, Flux Pavilion, Hot Since 82, and the man Sacha Robotti playing two sets as well.
7. ILLUMINATING ART
To wrap the whole thing together Nocturnal was packed to the brim with amazing art and dazzling performers roaming the grounds. As the sun began to set and the dark over took the light that is when the beauty of Nocturnal began to shine brightest. From light up tunnels to black lit corridors and arches the art at Nocturnal invited the headliners to take part and become one with it. Not only was the art black lit but it seemed as if almost every corner of the festival was shrouded in the mystical black light, which added a nice all inclusive touch and tied back into the theme.
Overall Nocturnal was an absolute success despite the police crackdown and high arrest count, however with the thoughtful planning of Insomniac, world class production, excellent utilization of their Ground Control, and the best festival app I’ve ever used (it would remind you to drink water) I’m sure that Nocturnal Wonderland and Insomniac will continue to for generations to come, whether San Bernardino is a part of that or not.