A thin mist enveloped the slopes of Bethel, New York, as festival revelers caught a vivid sunset. The evening temperature touched just barely above 50º. I cocooned myself tightly in a brand new, woven blanket that my boyfriend just purchased from a vendor as an anticipated headliner, Porter Robinson, struck his first chords. The slaughterous subs of the Big Top tent quivered in the air, letting everyone have a taste of Paco Osuna. Hoopers dazzled. Flames sparkled. Harem pants ballooned in the breeze. And a unicorn-headed human frolicked. Day 1 of Mysteryland USA's second incarnation was approaching a fantastical close, and the predictably cold weather of the Northeast was but a tiny trial in the grand scheme of things: this was Mysteryland, the world's longest-running electronic music festival, and also the first multi-day festival to grace the grounds of Woodstock ever since that monumental event in 1969. It all blended down to a marvelous mixture, and simultaneously, it got me thinking: is EDM culture as we know it experiencing a shift? Is it massive, or is it minute?
After the first day, around my off-site campfire, my group and I recapped by tossing soundbites back-and-forth in playful nonchalance about the blatant differences we'd observed when comparing Mysteryland to other major electronic music festivals. And by the end of Day 2, these observances were clarified ten-fold to bring together a solid four reasons why Mysteryland symbolizes a turning point in festival culture.
Reason #1: Mysteryland embraces musical diversity
There once was a time when my most-played electronic artists were the Skrillexes, Flux Pavilions, and Diplos of the world. I was a college student, basking in the growth of dance music. My friends' music interests were, in large part, not much different: we played Afrojack at house parties and Calvin Harris in the car. We were mere casual listeners of EDM in 2011. But over time we dug deeper, and the deeper we got, the more fresh and appealing this category of music became to us. Dubstep and Dutch house were the catchiest sub-genres of that era's club music, but after several more years of musical discoveries, my peers and I have tossed techno, tech-house, UK garage, glitch, future bass, and chillwave, among other ear-gasmic types of electronic, into our playlists.
ID&T, the organizers behind Mysteryland, took into consideration this modern growth in our beloved genre. It only takes one glance at the 2015 line-up to realize that the festival, while still a major player for Memorial Day Weekend, catered to a more mature crowd with refined taste. Festival organizers took the risk of choosing acts that might have only performed at the smaller stages of any other music festival. These artists – Claptone and Oliver played dusk sets on either day, followed by the likes of Netsky, The M Machine, and Classixx – tend to have a more selective audience; some may still be considered "up-and-coming" by most media outlets. Toss in the fact that patrons paid heavy attention to the side-stages, which featured Doctor P, Nicole Moudaber, and Moon Boots, for instance, in their evening time-slots and it becomes apparent that Mysteryland prefers an orientation on the future. Their future-focus allowed for an intense bout of musical appreciation and discovery for an entire weekend. And while we, the fans, appreciated the musical diversity, we're certain the artists appreciated the well-deserved limelight, as well. For some, the preference of Mysteryland to showcase newer artists are what keeps people coming back.
Reason #2: Mysteryland embraces the deeper sounds of dance
As previously mentioned, major music festivals are notorious for their focus on booking famous names. But recently, things have taken a different turn: take a look at the new Resistance stage at this year's Ultra Music Festival. Veering away from more popular categories of dance, such as electro-house, the Resistance stage featured a line-up of lesser-known artists for a full day of techno, minimal, ambient, and tech-house (or what the Miami New Times intriguingly insists should be called "indie dance music," due to its tendency to have a smaller audience while coming from boutique record labels).
This year, Mysteryland boasted several stages devoted to showcasing today's most underrated sounds in techno or tech-house. The festival's selection of artists like The Martinez Brothers and Maya Jane Coles was due in part to its partnership with Brooklyn's revered home of underground sounds, Verboten. Organizers behind the nightclub helped to curate the Subversions, French Express, Zeitgeist, and its namesake stages, bringing urban night-prowler vibes to Bethel's grassy fields.
Adam Beyer's eponymous Drumcode stage also brought a darker edge to the woodlands, as the stage hosted three full hours of Beyer's wife, Ida Engberg (Alan Fitzpatrick unfortunately had to cancel his timeslot, which allowed Engberg to fill in), and the so-called "queen of techno," Nicole Moudaber. The subwoofers of the Big Top tent could be heard murdering the crowd with heavy bass from acres away, a fact that proves these deeper sounds of dance are more than just a "niche" category of the electronic genre.
Reason #3: Mysteryland embraces its location and locale
We all know the legacy that Woodstock 1969 left. Its momentous footprint has made that exact piece of land somewhat of a festival head honcho's holy grail, a challenge to be won. Finally, Mysteryland finally came through as the first multi-day festival to grace the woodlands of Bethel in forty-seven years. It's impressive that more than four decades after the initial Woodstock, the wind of an all-encompassing free spirit still glides over its woodlands like a post-rain, springtime mist.
Live acts are something akin to a rarity at electronic music events. Typically, a DJ is centered on a podium and surrounded heavily by awe-inducing visuals. The visuals illustrate the sounds you hear, often making up for the fact that you're essentially watching the DJ work on his or her controller from behind a sizable booth. Contrarily, Mysteryland's main stage paid homage to the blues-filled stages of Woodstock with a respectable number of live acts, ranging from Empire of the Sun to Netsky and Goldfish.
It wasn't just the history behind the land that made Mysteryland special; the area's picturesque quality was a large piece of the event alone. While other music festivals, including nearby Electric Daisy Carnival (New York), populated the oversized parking lots of stadiums, Mysteryland took up a scenic area of the Catskills. Green grass and forestry extended as far as the eye could see. Sets taking place at dusk had the fortune of coinciding with blazing sunsets perfect enough for a painting.
Mysteryland USA also gives back to its rural community in a handful of ways, known as its Festival Footprint. As explained on their website, the organizers proudly follow the "'peace, love, music' concept of Woodstock." The festival is put together in a sustainable way, and volunteers work with the locale of Bethel to ensure the party-filled weekend goes by in a seamless and clean manner.
Reason #4: Mysteryland embraces individuality
Maybe it was the chilly spring weather or maybe it was the festival's proximity to the fashion capital of the world, New York City; whatever it was, the people of Mysteryland were a stylish bunch. Sure, there was your fair share of neon tank tops and tutus, but those were rapidly overshadowed by printed harem pants, vintage denim vests, and white lace dresses worthy of Free People ad campaigns. Outside of these "normal" outfits was the abundance of onesie pajamas and costumes that were guaranteed to trip anyone, intoxicated or otherwise, into disbelief.
Outfits aside, music festivals and unique totems go hand-in-hand. These three-meter-long objects are friend-finders, campsite-markers, and crew-representers all in one. Mysteryland attendees fortunately were not huge fans of selfie sticks, but creativity abounded in the various flags and props that topped the hundreds of totems on-site. My favorite was the highly relevant gem pictured below.
I took this photo on my phone. I couldn't resist.
If there is a shift in festival culture as we know it, Mysteryland glorifies it. The event's fortuitous take on diversity, discovery, location, and individuality together mix into an marvelous cocktail of electronic goodness, and we're addicted. We'll see you in Bethel Woods next Memorial Day Weekend.
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