2017 has been a huge year for music festivals, no matter how you slice it. While the business is undeniably booming, it is still changing. For every new festival that pops up or every established festival that expands, other festivals fold. In an ever-changing market, it’s nice to have something you can count on. Insomniac, to me, is like State Farm Insurance, like a good neighbor, I know they’re there. Insomniac has consistently delivered the best dance festivals for two decades now.
The original Southern California rave is Nocturnal Wonderland, the 22nd edition of which was staged two weekends ago at Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernardino. While last year’s Nocturnal was a massive, sprawling 3-day event, Insomniac head honcho Pasquale Rotella decided to scale down this year’s Nocturnal. This year it was only two days and took up only half the space of last year’s festival. However, Pasquale was on to something, bigger isn’t necessarily better. This year’s Nocturnal proved that big things can come in small packages.Original Photo via Insomniac
As for the festival layout, it was pretty neat and tidy. Gone was the entire amphitheater and the massive stage that was last year’s Wolves’ Den (main stage). Non-campers still entered at the amphitheater’s main concourse, and headliners could walk through a cool blacklight art installation, but eventually, everyone made it down the hill (unless you were at Sunken Garden). The new Wolves’ Den was conveniently located by the camping entrance and was an entirely different stage design from last year. Massive columns of LED screens were arranged in a row, slowly getting taller as each end met at the middle. The Nocturnal Wonderland logo adorned the top center part of the stage and there were lasers and pyrotechnics aplenty.
The Labyrinth (live music stage) also got a huge makeover this year, and I felt it was a massive success. While the Wolves’ Den was where the action was at, Labyrinth was the vibe. The stage had two massive stick huts on each side of the stage, with the wood pattern going in front of the stage. The stick huts reminded me of the weaver birds you see in a National Geographic special and the their nests. A round screen was behind the stage, and lighting helped set the mood as the night went on. I did not make it to Sunken Garden or Temple Noctem.
The overall lineup was a little different by Insomniac standards, there was a heavy emphasis on bass music of all kinds at the Wolves’ Den and the focus on live acts at Labyrinth obviously expanded that field as well. Day 1 featured an awesome blend of up and comers like Ducky and K?d and heavy hitters like DJ Mustard, Snails, GTA, and Dillon Francis at the Wolves’ Den. Personal highlights for me were DJ Mustard who turned the Wolves’ Den into a club with his incredible blend of hip-hop mega hits and some trap as well. And the one and only Dillon Francis, who brought out special guest DJ Snake in matching yellow Adidas hoodies. Dillon started off bass heavy, but eventually started going deeper into his catalog of songs including “I Can’t Take It,” “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter,” “Need You,” and of course, “Get Low.” Dillon never disappoints.
Day 2 action at the Wolves’ Den really got going when Dr. Fresch took the stage. My absolute favorite performance of Day 2, wow, Dr. Fresch got the crowd warmed with all sorts of good house tunes before fully shifting to the G-house that he is so good at making. The West Coast was alive and well at Nocturnal this weekend. Ookay followed with his brand new live performance. Ookay’s production style has shifted lately towards melodic future bass and it was on full display here. Much like his collabs “Lighthouse” with Fox Stevenson and “Chasing Colors” with Marshmello, his live set had a fun and vibey atmosphere to it. Score one for future bass! Valentino Khan and Zomboy followed, headbanging ensued to be sure. Excision closed out the weekend and just laid waste to anybody still standing in front of the stage. Excision’s production is undeniable in its ability to make you want to rage.
Highlights I got to witness at the Labyrinth stage were the unbelievable Goldfish. Wow, the house accompanied by mini-sax was the perfect vibe. One of the best performances of the weekend. Phantoms put on a solid show on Day 2 and Keys N Krates closed out the weekend at Labyrinth. Keys N Krates live performance is one of the best in the business and they even freestyled a little bit, so it was great to watch.
The other main feature of Nocturnal is camping. This remained virtually unchanged from last year and is one of the most fun experiences you will ever have. From the people you meet, the fun times at the silent disco afterhours to the waterpark during the day, Nocturnal camping is an absolute blast. The anticipation level is high for what the camping experience will be like in May for the new version of EDC Las Vegas.
The downsized Nocturnal was a resounding success. With only about 36,000 headliners over the two days, moving around the festival was a breeze. Food trucks and bars were ample and easy to find. Friendly Insomniac staff were everywhere and the weather was absolutely perfect for the weekend. Arrests were also way down and Pasquale mentioned on his social media that he was very pleased with how this year’s Nocturnal turned out. Insomniac will return to San Bernardino for Escape: Psycho Circus October 27-28. Expect no downsizing for Halloween!
All photos via aLive Coverage for Insomniac