On Saturday, Nocturnal Wonderland was hosted for the first time at San Bernardino's San Manuel Amphitheater, the largest outdoor amphitheater in the United States. Good thing too, as Nocturnal, the biggest party thrown by L.A.'s Insomniac Events, was absolutely massive. The venue was thus well suited to accommodate the thousands of hardcore ravers in search of EDM paradise in the Inland Empire.
Here is the best and the worst of what went down among the hordes of kandi kids and molly poppers at Nocturnal Wonderland.
Best: Everyone's a weirdo, and it's okay
"People used to talk shit on this culture," a shirtless and slightly smelly dude told us, "but look how much it's grown; now raving is cool." Raves have historically been places where outcasts could come together to get weird without getting judged. Even though EDM culture has exploded, it has not strayed from its founding principles of PLUR. At Nocturnal Wonderland, there was a diverse crowd of dedicated ravers, young and old, gay and straight, clothed and not-so-clothed, who were happy to unite in their differences.
See also: Why EDM Matters
Worst: That smell
If we were to name to the pungent odor in the air on Saturday, it would be the "B.O. Weed Vom Bomb Surprise." Every time we started to get into yet another DJ's remix of "Animals," the singular stench would hit like a dirty dubstep drop.
The trio, made up of sisters Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf and producer Kris "Rain Man" Trindl, absolutely killed it on Saturday night. Krewella's songs are known for its dynamic vocals, and the girls' voices were just as crisp and powerful live as they are on their recording. Not only did they sing well live, a feat in and of itself, especially for an electronic group, but the multi-talented girls also boasted real DJing prowess. The sisters would retreat every so often to the DJ stand during their set to work the soundboards with Rain Man.
During their last song, "Alive," Yasmine shouted, "Kiss the person next to you!" The crowd happily followed the command. We saw girls and guys dressed in the group's signature "Fuck Sleeves" shirts and "Troll" hats making out. Cute.
Worst: The weather
It was cold. Temperatures dropped to the low 60's and skinny raver girls in skimpy outfits were clearly freezing their butts off. Body heat seemed to be the only saving grace that evening. Finding warmth in the middle of the writhing crowds worked temporarily, but once it started to sprinkle around 1am, it was seriously cold and noticeably autumn. It's unclear how people survived without sweaters.
Best: The costumes
The festival fashion was at some points more entertaining than the music itself. It's nearly Halloween season, and there were both tasteless and creative costumes of every sort, from mimes to (still completely tasteless) Native American garb. Along with the standard fuzzy boots and pasties, some people took the fur a step further (and fought the cold) with fur coats and cute animal-eared beanies.
Best: Fireworks and fire
We thought not much more could be done to make the giant teacup-and-owl-adorned stages any more fantastical, but then -- pyrotechnics. Plumes of fire bursted to the beat of the music, covering the crowd in a pleasant blanket of heat. On top of that, fireworks would go off periodically during headlining sets and light up the entire overcast sky in flashes of color. The visuals and special effects were undoubtedly the most unforgettable aspects of the festival.
Worst: Kids on drugs
The number of eyes seen rolling to the backs of heads was unsettling. It's never fun to see kids lying on the floor in exhastion, tripping on themselves or wandering around peering at the world through dilated pupils. Unfortunately drug use is part of the culture, but there was too much of it at this event. We tried to speak with an onsite paramedic about any injuries or deaths, but policy prevented him from commenting.
Best: Porter Robinson
The 21-year-old electro house DJ from North Carolina brought up the energy after Benny Benassi's lackluster set. Porter Robinson didn't follow the typical "let me play a ton of overdone remixes" trend of the night, but rather kept his set interesting with a varied mix of creative mashups, remixes and uplifting yet hard-hitting original music. He laced essentials like "Easy," "Say My Name," and "Language" into a smartly curated mix. The only downside was the crowd size, as it appeared most people opted out of Robinson's set to catch the trance-infused sounds of Dutch DJ Dash Berlin.
Worst: Benny Benassi
Maybe the Italian DJ who is best known for his bass-pumping hit "Satisfaction" has had his day, as there was a disappointingly low turn out for his set. Only a few quiet voices could be heard singing along to his Lana Del Rey remix when he turned down the music for the chorus. His set was redeemed by a few long minutes of "Cinema," but overall it was dull.
Worst: Venue logistics
The sheer size of the San Manuel Amphitheater was overwhelming. While trudging across the expanse of the venue, we heard one guy say to his panting buddy, "Dude, this place doesn't end." He was basically correct. The stages were too far apart, and there were steps and steep hills separating each one. It was not worth the effort to scramble to make it to every set we wanted to see, especially if two DJ's were playing at the same time.
The parking situation was also a nightmare. Lack of planning and/or manpower prevented most people, (including our photographer), from getting out of the venue until 5 a.m., even though the festival ended at 2am. Even for all of the night owls in attendance, things got a bit too nocturnal.
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