Festival Review: Beyond Wonderland

Photo by Clarisse Hansard

Photo by Clarisse Hansard

Clarisse Hansard
Beyond Wonderland 2014
Bay Area, CA
20-21 September, 2014


Pasquale Rotella and his team at Insomniac have the art of festival atmosphere down to a science. This past weekend in the Silicon Valley, Insomniac gave 22,000 people the opportunity to come together in a place intended to be nothing less than magical: Beyond Wonderland.  A mere glance at the festival’s lineup immediately tells you why the festival sold out this year: a slew of mega-popular artists flooded the list, from recent stars like DJ Snake to Electronic legends like Kaskade. Half the accolades, however, rightly deserve to go to the thematic elements of the festival: a main stage topped by a giant blue caterpillar holding a pipe, stilted men riding atop giant birds, mystical characters, clouds of lights dangling from trees, stage lights glittering against the face of the hillside. At a glance, Beyond Wonderland was nothing short of awe-worthy.

The first day of the festival was packed with bass-heavy sets from a slew of today’s best acts. In particular, the Mad Hatter’s Castle was packed with back-to-back sets from tremendous producers. Destructo prepared the crowd for the rest of the evening by delivering signature hard-hitting beats before making way for Paper Diamond, one of the most popular names on festival roster’s this summer. Paper Diamond’s set was filled to the brim with trap bangers and mixes best described as unbelievably cohesive noises; the energy was alive in the bouncing and shuffling of the crowd, they were just getting started.

GTA opened up their set with one of the best intros I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. The duo took the stage just after sunset, allowing them to capitalize on the incredible lights set up provided by Insomniac. With the group followed a full uniformed marching band, their shadows reflecting giant creatures across the screen behind them.  The rest of GTA’s set was precisely the hard-hitting type of mix you’d expect from them: incredible remixes of even the most unexpected songs (“We Like To Party” and the “Peanut Butter Jelly” song stand out) and drops nothing short of jaw dropping.

Later, in a corner removed from the chaos of the main stage, Pendulum graced the crowd with a DJ set, an occurrence that might very well be considered an honor. The group, a prequel to the intensely popular act, Knife Party, somehow managed to re-create the atmosphere of an intimate indoor show, the crowd appearing completely absorbed by the energy and depth of their signature drum ‘n’ bass sound and eclectic track list.

Day 2 of Beyond Wonderland turned out to be an almost completely new experience.  I dedicated my afternoon and evening to the Boombox Art Car, a stage in the form of a giant boombox resting on the floor where the audience was welcome to sit on the grass or dance around the secluded area. On top of the boombox, a host of DJs and friends watched the crowd and enjoyed the music. Here, the DJ’s never even stopped to introduce themselves, they merely switched off one after another and provided the best deep house sets I heard all weekend. Henry Krinkle, a name on the rise, gave what I would call the set of the weekend: his mix included fresh deep house tunes and nostalgia-inducing remixes from across the spectrum. Moon Boots followed shortly after, with a two and a half hour set during which almost no one stopped dancing.

Most notable about the time spent at this stage however, was the atmosphere of inclusion and friendliness.  Whereas the rest of the stages at Beyond catered to the overwhelming majority of “first-time ravers” the Boombox was a gathering of the peaceful, friendly, and inviting. Here, I watched strangers become friends and made connections of my own with those dancing amongst me. What detracted most from the Beyond experience was the lack of understanding coming from the attendees; it seemed as though almost everyone was aware that the very nature of Electronic Dance Music is one of inclusivity, love, and respect for one another. Bay Area ravers, it seems, did not pass down this core value system, instead it seemed commonplace to disregard the well-being of others around you. Half of the impact of Electronic music is lost in atmospheres like this, no matter how much work and care was put into building the glorious stages filling the amphitheater.  At the Boombox, this system of values was not only alive but palpable. The warmth that radiated from this small, grassy corner of the event dissolved any hesitations I held after experiencing the first day of the festival.

Again, at a glance, Beyond Wonderland was the stuff of dreams. To the majority of newcomers to the Electronic scene, the Insomniac event was the perfect opportunity to explore and get a taste of everything Electronic producers have to offer. The work put into the costumes and stages would amaze any regular festival-goer, but what would turn them away immediately was the lack of community amongst the attendees. The EDM community has always prided itself on being a family, and with recent scrutiny of the genre making events like this more restrictive than ever, it’s important that veterans of the scene and Insomniac, too, remember to promote the staggering importance of unity above anything else. Until we’ve moved beyond the belief that festivals are about the individual experience, until we realize that experiences such as these are only enhanced by the energy of those enjoying the music with us, the true magic of places like Beyond Wonderland will never be realized.


Live recordings of every set from Beyond Wonderland 2014 will be made available over the course of the next couple of weeks on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/beyondwonderland2014


For a similarly magical experience, check out Insomniac’s Halloween festival, Escape All Hallows’ Eve at the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino on Oct 31st and Nov 1st.