The sun is shining again and it’s spring, for music fans, that can mean only one thing…it’s festival season! While most of the EDM world headed east this past weekend to Ultra Music Festival, the good folks at Insomniac took care of us over on the west coast with the seventh installment of Beyond Wonderland. Returning to its original home at NOS Events Center in San Bernardino, after two years at San Manuel Amphitheatre, Beyond got a rebrand. Instead of the usual “Alice in Wonderland” motif, the theme this year was “The Endless Sea.” Mermaids, jellyfish, seahorses, and all sorts of delightful and colorful sea creatures frolicked among the happy ravers who descended upon the Inland Empire for Beyond.
For any Southern California raver, NOS Events Center is familiar and easy to navigate. The lake is pristine upon entry into the venue, food trucks are easily accessible, bars are plentiful. Traffic sucks going in at 5 o’clock on Friday afternoon, but there’s traffic at every music festival, what can you do? As always, Insomniac provided a deep and diverse lineup of artists spread across six stages, the second stage (Outer Realm) was hosted by Bassrush, and the third outdoor tent (Cheshire Cove) was hosted by Dreamstate. If you fancied bass or trance you had a home base for the night.
We arrived Friday just in time for Martin Solveig’s set at the main stage (Queen’s Domain), he actually dropped a lot of rap and hip-hop, peppering in some of his tracks like “Intoxicated” and “The Night Out” and a couple of other house-y numbers. I thought his set at Escape was way more fire than his set here, but it was a good way to start off the night. Audien took the stage after that treated the crowd to his uber-happy blend of progressive house with a few bass tunes thrown in for good measure. A personal favorite moment for me was when he dropped his collaboration with country stars Lady Antebellum “Something Better.” It’s a brilliant progressive house track with a great hook, and Audien allows his country stars’ vocals to shimmer on the track.
Playtime is over now, it was time for Hardwell to take the stage. He’s without question one of the most prolific producers in the business, and in my opinion, one of the greatest entertainers in all of music; nothing can match the energy of a Hardwell set. It felt like Hardwell was going for more of an all inclusive festival set, as opposed to one built around his own tracks. He opened with “Live the Night” but for the most part played various IDs. Of course he dropped “Don’t Stop the Madness” and he dropped various edits of “Young Again,” “Run Wild” and a sweet mashup of Sean Paul’s “Temperature” with his collaboration with Quintino “Baldadig.” He closed out his set with the epic hardstyle remix of his classic track “Apollo” while confetti showered the audience, it was a truly magical moment.
After taking a break from the madness, we made our way over to the Aquarium stage, located inside the Damus Building, to see Rezz. As per usual, there was a large crowd trying to get into the building, however, the crowd inside was pretty manageable. Rezz was throwing down fire, with the production going absolutely bonkers in side the Damus Building. Rezz is just so enjoyable, every time I’ve seen her perform she’s perfectly seized the vibe of the crowd and thrown down a set to match it. With her swirling LED glasses going, Rezz slayed the Beyond crowd.
After checking out the Aquarium for the one and only time I would go there, we headed over to the Outer Realm stage to watch Illenium. Insomniac does a fantastic job of making the second stage a unique experience unto itself from the mainstage. This may have been the best second stage I’ve seen yet. While inside a mega structure, the main feature of the Outer Realm was the rows of LED arches lining the tent from front to back. This gave an incredible visual effect accompanied by the stellar lasers inside. Illenium did not disappoint, throwing down an exceptional mix that was both heavy and uplifting at the same time. I caught a little bit of Sander van Doorn at Queen’s Domain after that, however, by that time the crowd had dissipated considerably, and I was quite satisfied music-wise, so we called it a night.
Day 2 was all about the bass. Some of bass music’s more mainstream artists would grace the decks at Queen’s Domain, while The Outer Realm featured a lot of drum & bass before giving way to some of bass music’s heaviest hitters. After getting diverted multiple times in the gnarly traffic around the venue we made it inside in time for Party Favor at Queen’s Domain. He was great as always with his super energetic brand of festival trap. We got the headbanging going early. Next up at Queen’s Domain was Ookay, this was the first time I’d seen him perform and he did not disappoint. He brought in some super heavy bass and took things up a notch for the night. The production also went up a notch as the lasers were going absolutely wild during Ookay’s set. And, yes, he closed his set out with the song everybody loves, “Thief.” By the way, the crowd was absolutely savage on Saturday, and they were ready to rage.
Probably the biggest surprise of the weekend, and I mean that in a good way, was Borgeous. We were expecting some progressive house, maybe something similar to Audien’s set, however, that would not be the case. He dropped his absolute banger of a track with Riggi & Piros and the incomparable Lil’ Jon “Savage” to start out his set, and it was clear from the get-go that this would not be a set to be taken lightly. Borgeous dropped an incredible mix of heavy hitting bass and some solid progressive house mixed in too. A personal favorite tune of mine he dropped was Borgore’s collab with Juicy J “Magic Trick” where Juicy talks about, well doing Juicy J things. It’s a delightful track, and hats off to Borgeous for throwing down one hell of a set.
Up next was Tommy Trash, he threw down a groovy set of progressive house tunes, but in all honesty, he felt a little out of place among all the more bass-heavy artists who were playing the main stage. He did close out his set with “Reload” though! The set of the night had to be NGHTMRE. This dude is just a joy to watch play. He makes you get low, so low you can’t believe it, but it all feels great. It’s grimey, but cathartic at the same time. Of course, he threw down his collab with Dillon Francis, “Need You,” and despite all the bass still managed to drop Blink-182 and Journey into his set. NGHTMRE is a beast.
Yellow Claw was about to take the main stage, but I’ve seen them a couple of times before, so I took a much needed break, and decided to end my night with some trance over at Cheshire Cove. This is the tent that was the Bassrush Stage for Countdown, and it was a suitable home for Dreamstate at Beyond. I was able to catch the last bit of Markus Schulz’s set, and he was throwing down, it was trance, and it was a high BPM for sure. However, the main reason I wanted to end my night at Cheshire Cove was to see the legendary Paul van Dyk. Diplo closed out Queen’s Domain, but again, I’ve seen him multiple times, it was time for something different, something historic. Trance was of course, the first commercial brand of EDM, and the three guys who really took it on the road were Tiësto, Armin van Buuren, and Paul van Dyk. It sometimes gets lost in the shuffle since Tiësto and Armin have stayed near the top of the game, but van Dyk was just as responsible for marketing trance to a mainstream audience. In fact, if you look at early Ultra Music Festival posters, there’s more headlining spots from van Dyk than from Tiësto or Armin. While there was no doubt it was an awesome pure trance set, I was actually a little disappointed, especially in a set from a legend like van Dyk.
Despite feeling a tad bit of a let down at the end, Beyond was a resounding success. The sets were great, and the lineup was diverse, as is always the case for an Insomniac festival. Production values were top notch, bars and concessions were ample, my one regret was that I didn’t indulge in the food truck area more over the weekend. For veteran festival goers, navigating Beyond was a day in the park, for first timers, there’s no more welcoming environment.
Thank you to Insomniac and Beyond Wonderland for giving us a fun and festive reminder of the beginning of spring and festival season!