Nocturnal Wonderland 2017: The Best and Worst

The Wolves' Den main stage at Nocturnal Wonderland 2017
The Wolves' Den main stage at Nocturnal Wonderland 2017
Ivan Meneses for Insomniac

The music festival landscape is as oversaturated as it’s ever been. When it comes to EDM festivals especially, lineups are so homogenized that it’s harder than ever to stand out from the pack. That’s the challenge Insomniac Events faced with Nocturnal Wonderland this past weekend at Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernardino.

Insomniac is synonymous with excellent production, and Nocturnal Wonderland was no different. We’ve got a rundown on our favorite things as well as a couple of things that could use improving at Insomniac’s longest-running festival.

Best: Arrests, hospitalizations down drastically
Festivals have a reputation for being a breeding ground for drug and alcohol abuse and bad decision-making. Fortunately, the numbers in that department were way down this year. Over the course of two days, 68 arrests were made, authorities confirmed to L.A. Weekly. While that is still a large number, it’s a big improvement from the 428 arrests that took place last year. Only three attendees were hospitalized. That all bodes well for the festival moving forward.

Ookay performs at Nocturnal Wonderland.EXPAND
Ookay performs at Nocturnal Wonderland.
Da Black Swan for Insomniac

Best: Ookay, Autograf among artists with live instrumentation
As EDM continues to grow, so do the artists. This year’s lineup featured a great many acts who incorporated live instrumentation into their sets. Chicago trio Autograf used keytar, vibraphone and live drums. South African electronica duo GoldFish played everything from saxophone to keyboards to live flute during their set. The crown jewel was Ookay’s first-ever live set, which featured live vocals, keytar, an electronic drum kit and synths  and went over like gangbusters. As more EDM artists begin to use live instrumentation, it will force other artists to adapt or get left behind.

Worst: Nothing on Sunday
Two-day festivals aren’t an uncommon thing. But Insomniac’s decision to have Nocturnal kick off Friday and end Saturday was kind of a head-scratcher. With so many people having to work their day jobs Friday and drive from all over to get to Glen Helen, Friday’s early crowds felt thin. Sure, if you were among those enjoying the grooves, a lighter crowd is nice. But to an artist, nothing is more deflating than playing a festival set to a crowd of less than 100. Previous two-day iterations of Nocturnal were Saturday-Sunday events, so it’s strange they opted to go the Friday-Saturday route this year.

Costumed creatures make Nocturnal more interactive than your average festival.EXPAND
Costumed creatures make Nocturnal more interactive than your average festival.
Mark Ortega

Best: The costumed performers
Insomniac really went all out on the interactive element of the festival. There were a couple of guys on stilts painted green, called “Gneon Gnomes,” but my favorite costumed performers were the women dressed like cats called the “Furlesque Kitties” — and it’s exactly what you think: Burlesque meets furries. On more than one occasion I saw them crawling through the grass, approaching festival attendees as if they were actual cats. For those who were on mind-altering substances, I can only imagine what was floating through their heads when this happened to them.

Best: Wolves’ Den mainstage
Anyone who has attended an Insomniac event knows the promoter doesn’t mess around when it comes to production — especially the stages. The Wolves’ Den served as the sprawling Nocturnal mainstage rig. According to Insomniac, the stage featured 200 pieces of pyro and eight lasers, with more than 100 pounds of confetti shot into the crowd. Booking acts such as Excision and Dillon Francis to close out your festival is one thing — arming them with the insane stage setup at Wolves’ Den is another. Attendees who caught those sets won’t soon forget them.

Worst: Sound bleed
The Nocturnal festival grounds aren’t exactly massive, and that caused sound from one stage to bleed into the next. The worst was over at the Corona Electric Beach stage, a small setup where you heard overlap from both the Sunken Garden and the Labyrinth stage. Sometimes I felt as if I had to bury myself in the front of the crowd to fully immerse myself in any artist’s set at that stage.

The Sunken Garden stage at Nocturnal WonderlandEXPAND
The Sunken Garden stage at Nocturnal Wonderland
Kristina Bakrevski for Insomniac

Best: Sub Focus bringing the drum 'n' bass
There was an overall lack of drum 'n' bass acts on this year’s lineup, but Sub Focus made up for it all single-handedly Saturday night at the Sunken Garden. The English DJ lit up the crowd with a nonstop marathon set. The light show seemed perfectly synced to his set, and the crowd rode that last wind through to the end of the night.

Best: These three things I overheard
“What the fuck is a Pickle Rick and why is it on every single totem?”
“Bro, you’ve never heard of Rick and Morty? I thought you said you smoke weed.”

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Older guy during Autograf: “Dude, this sounds like the music in the beach level of Streets of Rage for Sega Genesis. Did you ever play that game?”
Younger guy: “I’m 19. What’s a Sega Genesis?”

“I didn’t get her number but she added me on Instagram.”
“You just gotta carpe those DMs!”

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