Festival Review: Escape From Wonderland

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By: Aidan Meehan, Mark Hernandez
Escape From Wonderland 2013
San Manuel Amphitheater
26 October, 2013

It is beyond my understanding how Insomniac Events can blow my expectations out of the water every single event, each one better than the last. On October 26th, Wonderland turned evil for a night at the San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino, CA. Both Nocturnal and Escape are at a new location this year, moving away from the Nos Event Center. The change in venue allowed for Insomniac to produce these events on a level above and beyond that of years past. The combination of a stacked and diverse lineup, haunting environment and immense production led to what was perhaps the best Halloween-themed event I have ever, and will ever attend. The Insomniac Motto “You Are The Headliner” stands as true as ever.

I arrived early to the festival, to have proper time to get in costume, park, and enjoy the festival grounds before diving into the stages. The Amphitheater was transformed into a nightmarish wonderland that evoked fear at every corner. The grounds were scattered with graves, giant spider webs, and haunted houses. Employees were hired to dress up in ghoulish attire and scare unsuspecting ravers throughout the night. Evil versions of classic Alice in Wonderland characters could also be found at the front of the stages and in the dark corners of the festival. After getting my fill of the haunting environment, I went to the Chopping Block stage, which depicted a haunted urban scene complete with grafitti, scaffolding, and shattered windows, to catch Ookay b2b Kennedy Jones.

Ookay and Kennedy Jones are two Southern California-based trap artists signed to Borgore’s label Buygore. These two played a back to back set, trading off on the decks every two or three songs. While this was the first set of my night, I have to say it was one of the most high energy and skillfully mixed sets of the evening. I was blown away by their mastery of multiple genres including trap, house, dubstep, and even some hardstyle. Highlights of the set included Zeds Dead’s “Ratchet”, Kennedy Jones acclaimed remix of “Suavamente” and Ookay’s remix of Major Lazers “Pon de Floor.” These two DJ’s put on an unforgettable set, surprising the crowd with unique mashups and unexpected genre-defying drops.

Leaving the Chopping Block, I took the convenient shortcut to the other end of the festival, walking over a bridge and down into a dark graveyard. Near the Slaughter House stage (main) there was an expansive haunted graveyard, complete with fog machines and a 3D themed haunted house. After a quick rest in the graveyard, and a run in with a group of zombies, I decided to enter one of the haunted houses. The production in the 3D House was phenomenal, with actors donning gory makeup and wielding weapons of all sorts. In one room, a demented doctor tortured a wounded Alice strapped to a table, while in the next a mutilated maniac holding a chainsaw flailed about the room. Concertgoers screamed in horror while chased, and I laughed to see people clutching each other in fear.

I exited the house and went to the free water refill station to fill up our Camelbak backpacks (a must for any festival) before rushing to the front of the main stage to catch house giants HardIll and Cedric Gervais. The fact that Insomniac provides attendees with free water (if you have a container) makes the festival that much safer; the staff providing water are courteous and beyond friendly, which really makes the experience. Further efforts were taken by the festival planners to prevent overheating, such as water that sprayed out from the stage in some areas and misters placed around the festival grounds. Insomniac’s awareness of the reality of the scene helps make their events safer and more enjoyable.

The Slaughter House stage was a eerie collection of dark wonderland themed props and lights, with a massive Grim Reaper figure standing in the middle of the stage glaring down evilly at the crowd. Pieces of the stage were automated to move in time with the music, change color according to the mood and set on fire at the biggest moments of the sets. This stage was home to two of the biggest names in house right now, including recently voted #1 DJ in the world, Hardwell. He certainly did not disappoint, with a set filled with heavy-hitting custom mash-ups, personal classics, and sing-along favorites. Opening with his huge track with W&W, “Jumper”, he lead into a mashup of Krewella’s massive pop hit “Live for the Night” and his banger “Spaceman.” Other highlights included Martin Garrix’s unreleased track “Wizard” and Steve Aoki’s remix of “Pursuit of Happiness.” Hardwell closed with his hit “Countdown” to a manically dancing crowd. I bolted to the front of the stage to be as close as possible for Cedric next.

Cedric Gervais is a Miami-native producer best known for his huge remixes of Lana Del Rey’s songs “Summertime Sadness” and “Young & Beautiful” and his early electro house banger “Molly.” All of these were dropped in his set, which combined the tear-jerking croon of Lana with heavy-hitting house beats. The range of emotions throughout the set was amazing, I looked back on the enormous crowd to see lighters ablaze in the air to a melodic break at one point, and hundreds of thrilled girls on shoulders happily dancing at another. His set was plagued with a few cuts in the sound, during which Cedric took to the mic to keep the crowd excited while technicians repaired the connection. Despite the occasional break in the music, Cedric was by far my favorite for the night due to the high quality of his personal remixes and the selections he performed. Overall his music gave out a vibe of pure fun and happiness, perfect for a mid-night set.

At this point in the night I decided to wander between stages, not committing any of my time to one set. I caught glimpses of Madeon, Issac, Caspa, and W&W, all quite impressive. Insomniac continues to impress with state-of-the-art stage design, festival production and artist recruitment. In my mind, this Escape From Wonderland cemented them as the number one events company in EDM production to this day. President Pasquelle Rotella is beyond in touch with the fans, keeping in touch with them personally to address any concerns they may have and ensure a top-notch experience. Escape 2013 was an unforgettable experience for the 40,000 fans who attended, and I’m sure that the Wonderland series of festivals will continue to impress in the future.