Over its seven-year run, Insomniac's Beyond Wonderland has become the must-attend festival of the spring on the West Coast as it helps kick off the year's festival season. In true Insomniac fashion, the two-day event brought in the massive crowds (approximately 78,000) and amazing talent to the grounds of NOS Events Center in San Bernardino (its home, and first time back in five years). This year's theme, The Endless Sea, allowed festival-goers to dive deep into their wildest imagination for a weekend of fun and lasting memories.
Part of what makes attending an Insomniac event so special is that you are immediately immersed into another realm, you've instantaneously left the real world behind and enter a world of fun, wonder and music. This isn't your run-of-the-mill music festival, this is another world.
In keeping with their Endless Sea theme, headliners were immediately transported to an oceanic adventure, beginning with the lake that stands at the foot of the NOS Center. The lake had colorful larger-than-life seahorses floating throughout the waters which had massive fountains in its center. Towards the back end, a giant shipwreck, dubbed Beyond Wench, served as a stage blasting grooving beats by Cats & Boots Records throughout the weekend.
At night, the springtime event came to life with thousands of twinkling lights adorning the grounds, glittering starfish lanterns, vibrant coral reefs and unique performers that walked through the venue, including Alice and the Queen of Hearts and their new underwater friends.
The expansion of the Alice in Wonderland theme to that of an Endless Sea allowed guests to dive deep into their creative minds to dress up in their underwater best. Headliners dressed up as mermaids, sailors, and characters from Spongebob Squarepants roamed the grounds and embraced the change in theme. The end result was hundreds of happy attendees taking many selfies and making memories in their costumes fitting of the occasion.
If the immersive environment wasn't enough, Insomniac did not disappoint in their reimagined stages that hosted the talented DJs. The main stage, Queen's Domain stood high above headliners at 200-feet tall by 400-feet long. The stage itself had a scrim-like layer in front of the DJ booth that projected visuals such as bubbles and clouds. Mermaid aerialists suspended above the stage and synchronized perfectly with the state-of-the-art lasers and visuals.
The Queen's Domain featured acts such as Diplo, Yellowclaw (both of which brought in massive crowds on Saturday night), Party Favor, Martin Solveig, Hardwell, GTA, Audien, Skidope and my two personal favorites at the stage, Ookay and Sander van Doorn (Sander had a great trance/progressive house set in preparation for his Purple Haze set at Ultra Music Festival in Miami the same weekend).
Bassrush hosted the massive Outer Realm stage, which towered over the middle of the grounds. The stage featured a cascading rainbow of over 1,200 towering video tiles. With performances by Alison Wonderland, Bro Safari, Illenium, Ekali, Eptic b2b Must Die! and more, this was a basshead's paradise. The crowds of people erupting into mosh pits and head-banging isn't my cup of tea, however, I would be lying if I said I wasn't immediately pulled in to 12th Planet and Snails' set on Saturday night–definitely a highlight of my weekend.
The Cheshire Cove, tucked away towards the back of the venue, was hosted by Dreamstate. Its entrance was adorned by a familiar sight, the same LED poles with white platforms that changed colors and light formations (I first encountered these at Countdown NYE). This was my home for the weekend; the trance family gathered strongly to see performances by Reorder (who started my weekend off right), Astrix, Vini Vici and Liquid Soul (psytrance heaven), and Simon Patterson who delivered a strong performance on Friday night. Vini Vici in particular brought in big crowds (their popularity has been growing tremendously and has brought Psychedelic Trance to the forefront of EDM), but that crowd quickly dispersed once the set was over.
On Saturday, The Cheshire Cove hosted Waio, Darren Porter, Aly & Fila (a somewhat mellower set than what I'm used to), and a strong one-two-punch by Markus Schulz (who, after seeing him throughout 2016, played an amazing set that topped all previous ones), and trance pioneer Paul van Dyk, who brought the feels front and center and packed the stage with diehard trance fans.
The Aquarium was held inside the Citrus Building and featured a tall LED screen behind the DJ booth and a synchronized screen on the booth itself in front of the DJ. Massive speakers stood at each edge and blasted music inside the building. Capacity was limited inside and there were separate entrances and exits for guests.
The Aquarium was home to Rezz, Jax Jones, Cut Snake, Shiba San, Kry Wolf and Will Clark, among other house and techno DJs. The Aquarium reached capacity and had to be closed off during AC Slater (who definitely brought the #NightBass), Chris Lake and MK–and for good reason. My favorite sets of the weekend came from these three House DJs; Chris Lake in particular had me on my feet dancing to some of his biggest hits including Operator. The vibe inside the Citrus Building was inexplainable–everyone there was dancing the night away on Saturday.
One of my favorite things about attending music festivals is discovering new music and Beyond Wonderland did not fail. The Upside Down House, perfectly placed in between Cheshire Cove and the Queen's Domain, was the biggest surprise to my weekend. With performances by Gladiator, Two Fresh, JSTJR, Redlight, Sinden and Bot, this whimsical house turned upside down was a great place to stop and catch new sounds. Dombresky in particular brought my group to their feet, although dancing in the sand was not fun for those prone to allergies as the shuffling of the dirt brought up the dust in the area.
I continue to be amazed at the sheer size and immense attention to detail that the Insomniac team pours into events; these aren't just raves anymore, they are full-blown experiences to escape reality. From the crazy art installations (there was a metal squid with moving tentacles!), to the performers that roam the grounds and of course, the huge stages, Insomniac is delivering on an environment that goes far beyond your typical music festival. Even the rows of merchandise tents are slowly upgrading to fit the new age of ravers, there was a totem-making station (the first time I've ever seen such a thing) and a pop-up beauty salon for touch ups and new do's.
This past weekend's major focus in the EDM world was on Miami and Ultra Music Festival, but one would be foolish to ignore the success Beyond Wonderland had on the same weekend. In fact, I would argue that in overall production and presentation, Beyond Wonderland: The Endless Sea was a far better music festival to attend than Ultra Miami (no rain here!). I really have to give major props to Pasquale Rotella and the entire Insomniac team for executing a flawless production from the ground to the endless sea.