This past weekend, Insomniac held its 21st annual Nocturnal Wonderland festival at the San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino, California. The event hosted huge artists this year including Above & Beyond, Bassnectar, Big Gigantic, and Knife Party just to name a few. While the event was very successful, there were also hundreds of arrests and a few hospitalizations over the three day event.
This comes as no shock considering San Bernardino county has been trying to ban raves from the San Manuel Amphitheater for quite some time now. The flame was ignited further underneath the counties butts after three people were found dead at HARD Summer 2016. This gave the sheriff’s office a reason to be unreasonably harsh to the attendees of the festival. One fan in particular, known as oneravegirl on Reddit, was very disgruntled after experiencing a lot of jarring interactions between officers and festival goers, while also having a very uncomfortable experience with security herself. She voiced her opinion to Insomniac in the form of a letter, while also posting the letter to Reddit.
This letter I wrote to insomniac is kind of long. I don’t know if anyone out here on reddit will give a shit, and I am expecting a few salty replies. But hopefully some of you in the rave community will know where I’m coming from. I saw a lot of good people go down this weekend at Nocturnal, and it was sad. Unlike anything I’ve seen before. Anyway, here it goes:
To whoever at Insomniac might read this letter,
I’ve been attending Insomniac events for years, and I’ve never had any experience that has made me doubt that Insomniac truly values and respects its headliners—until I attended Nocturnal Wonderland for one day on Sunday, September 4th. In the Insomniac events I’ve attended, I’ve always felt that Insomniac has created a safe space, not only in regard to headliner’s physical safety, but their sense of psychological safety as well—and with a general sense of care for the future of headliners following the festival’s conclusion.
It’s because I still want to believe that Insomniac holds these values true that I feel it is necessary to express the sour taste that this years security at Nocturnal Wonderland left in my mouth.
In all my years of attending electronic music events, I have never experienced such an invasive and truly uncomfortable search while entering the festival. For the first time ever at any event, the security guard asked for permission to “tug” on the middle front of my bra (which I was wearing beneath a full corset top). Because the underwire of my bra was concealed by the corset top, this woman literally reached inside my top to “tug” on my bra. I’m putting “tug” in quotations, because that is not what the security guard did at all. She reached down my top, fiercely yanked my bra, and then proceeded to both of her hands under the cups of my bra to furiously yank on the underwire there, definitely touching my body in the process. Did I pass through security? Of course I did, because I didn’t have any contraband. Am I traumatized by some random woman groping me on my way into the event? No. But as I walked away and made my way into the event, it was with an extreme sense of discomfort, the unshakeable sense that the security guard had toed the line of infringing upon my physical rights, and the thought, “What the hell was that about?” echoing around in my mind.
Obviously this targeting of woman’s bras and tops was standard with security at this festival. I’ve only attended a small fraction of the events Insomniac has to offer, but this absolutely the only security search that I would describe as truly invasive. And I’m not just talking about the women’s experience either. I spoke to one guy who was asked to unbutton his pants by a sheriff deputy immediately after he passed the security check, just so the deputy could look down his pants. Another male friend talked about how the guard ran his hands along the inside waistband of his pants, instead of just firmly pressing along the outside like they have at past Insomniac events. And another female friend was asked to remove her insert bra padding, while another friend had a security guard stick her finger inside her bra the check the open space where a bra insert would go.
It seems to me that there was extreme political motivation behind this intense searching. It is no secret that the San Bernardino County supervisor has been pushing for a ban of raves at San Manuel Amphitheater. With a total of 428 arrests for the weekend, over twice as much as EDC 2016 for a festival half the size, it seems to me that security and the Sheriff’s department was out for blood this year so they have strong documentation the next time the opportunity arises for them to attempt to ban Insomniac from holding events at San Manuel. On my way into the event I saw deputies joking around as they were arresting a crying girl, and overheard them laughing about how they were “on track to beat” their numbers from the previous night—which, as I’m sure you know, they certainly did.
This was not about compassion. This was not about keeping headliners safe. This was a game fueled by politics, and the attitude from the sheriff’s department was one of cruel elation and spite. Another example of this is the stories I heard of people that tried to turn around to go back to the amnesty bins—which, where I entered, were nearly hidden by the cluster of people and lack of order, since the lines were building up so far back since everyone was getting essentially as close as you could get to a strip search with your clothes still on—and the sheriff’s department people stopped them from going back to the bins and brought them into custody. If it was about safety, why not let those people return a few feet back to the bins? Because it was obvious they had missed them, and only people with contraband would be attempting to reach the bins. Those people going back to dispose of their mistakes were just another number to the sheriff’s department. Not only that, every person was basically treated as guilty before proved “innocent” by an uncomfortable security check, and on top of that, it’s no secret that hundreds of people still passed through those gates with contraband.
I don’t know how much Insomniac had to do with hiring of security, the sheriff’s department, or anything else. Which is why I’m writing, because what was going on at Nocturnal Wonderland wasn’t consistent with events I’ve attended in the past. I know Insomniac wants to make money and probably has a strong interest in working with the sheriff’s department to keep San Manuel as a venue. But after all the things I saw and heard this weekend—along with the invasive search I received when I was completely innocent—it would take a lot to get me to attend again, and I’m certain I’m not the only one. And with 428 arrests, the victories in this war against Insomniac and raves in San Bernardino county are only going to grow larger.
What happened to a lot of young people this weekend was a shame, considering at EDC the number of misdemeanors was low because young people that likely made the biggest mistake of their life merely had their contraband confiscated and their festival ticket voided. Many people—particularly when they’re young and foolish—have made a potentially life-altering mistake, and Insomniac has always seemed consistent with giving second chances and keeping people safe both before and after the event. Why else would Ground Control approach people who are clearly on controlled substances only to make sure that they are safe and hydrated? Why not call the police on them? At this point, I would actually be pleased if the Sheriff’s department won their little war—because then maybe it could be taken to a venue where law enforcement isn’t on a total witch hunt for the sole purpose of using young people as a number for political leverage against Insomniac.
I doubt anyone that reads this is going to care. I highly doubt anything will change. But I’m adding my voice to the collective on the slim hope that someone out there still gives a damn.
TL;DR: San Bernardino County has wanted raves banned from San Manuel Amphitheater for some time. They conducted invasive searches last weekend and made a game out of how many people they could arrest, and security and the Sheriff’s department was out for blood this year so they have strong documentation the next time the opportunity arises for them to attempt to ban Insomniac from holding events at San Manuel. The entire vibe was “guilty until proven innocent”, and to be proved innocent was submitting to an search that was as invasive as they could get without asking you to remove your clothing. Amnesty bins were not visible through the cluster fuck of a line, since the line was so long because everyone was getting intensely searched, and people that attempted to go back to amnesty bins were taken into custody. In my opinion, a total witch hunt.
With an astounding 428 arrests at Nocturnal and only 108 at EDC, a much bigger event, it is safe to say that it was not an issue with Insomniac, but an issue with San Bernardino counties unruly treatment of the electronic dance community and festival goers alike. If you would like to hear more about oneravegirl’s experience, you can read the full letter here.