Nocturnal over the past few years has seen many changes. From moving locations (NOS Event Center to the San Manuel Amphitheater), to adding a third day. This specific festival has always held a special place in my heart (attending my first in 2012) and it essentially marks the beginning of my festival lifestyle. Being my 6th Nocturnal Wonderland in attendance this year, I have seen how the festival has evolved over time. Though in the past few years Nocturnal has been a 3-day affair with big name artists, Pasquale decided that this year would be a smaller, more intimate 2-day festival designed for headliners to discover new music.
Upon entering the festival, I felt that I was going into an entirely new world (musically that is) as I had not heard of many names that were on the lineup aside from Dillon Francis, GTA, Snails, DJ Mustard, Just A Gent, and Will Clarke. Most of my weekend was in fact spent jumping from stage to stage and traveling to wherever the music guided my ears. My group and I arrived around 7pm on the first day and were excited to begin wandering through wonderland. We found ourselves at the Sunken Garden, one of my favorite stages of the weekend, right in time to catch LO’99.
Sunken Garden was located in an incredibly intimate area of the venue. Located in the furthest corner from the main stage, the funky beats of this stage had me dancing my heart out. The music from Sunken Garden was definitely my style, and I found tons of new artists that I have been listening to on the daily. The design of the stage was also made into what seemed like a tower, surrounded by colorful trees full of life and light. As the night carried on further we journeyed to the different stages and explored the venue.
We eventually ended up at the main stage to see one of my favorite DJs, Dillon Francis. At one point during his set however, his laptop began to malfunction and he was unsure if he was going to be able to finish his set. Thankfully, his laptop made a come-back and an unexpected special guest made an appearance on stage, DJ Snake! With night one concluded and off to a great start, I was more than ready for day 2 of Nocturnal to begin.
With a wonderful experience already in hand, we promptly made our way to the second day of Nocturnal Wonderland, as we arrived fairly late on the first night (resulting in parking about a mile away), we found parking much closer to the venue this time around. Now, as I’ve stated in previous reviews, I am quite the trance head. Lately however, I’ve been drawn into the Bassrush side of Insomniac. When I first started attending festivals regularly back in 2012, my music taste was much different, as I was into dubstep. The second day of Nocturnal definitely brought back that inner bass head in me as we enjoyed a set from Spock. Again, another artist I had not previously been familiar with, but was getting down to nonetheless.
Despite all the fun I had at the main stage to set the mood for the evening, I could not miss Sacha Robotti’s set. Sunken Garden was hosted by "This Ain’t Bristol” on day two, which was also the day I frankly found myself torn between going back to the main stage, or staying there the rest of the night. However, my adventure at Nocturnal was to be purely based on discovering new music to listen to. We bounced around from the Labyrinth, Temple Noctem, and back to the Wolves Den.
One of the sets that I was looking forward to the most was from Valentino Khan, who took over the crowd and made night two memorable for me as all my friends danced together to his music. We finished off the night with Zomboy and Excision, which let me say, probably broke my neck. I’m not really a head banger, but I guess my inner bass head made its appearance during those two sets. (Could this be my true form? Nah). Needless to say, I was sore for the rest of the week.
Before leaving the magical world of Nocturnal, we made one final stop at the campgrounds. Though we did not camp, we checked out the silent disco and it was an amazing area where headliners were given their own personal headphones to listen to the music that the DJ was playing live. Relaxing here for an hour or so after the event was the perfect cap to our weekend.
With an amazing weekend now behind me and various memories for me to hold, I could say that the more intimate nature of this year’s Nocturnal Wonderland was a success. I enjoyed and truly value the new music I have discovered. The 2-day structure also brought me back to my roots to my first Nocturnal many years ago, and the music that originally brought me into the rave culture made it all the more special. The stages did not have a large and intricate mega structure as it has had in previous years (i.e., Zen Owl featured in 2014) and this is a change that I have been noticing in more and more local Insomniac festivals. Beyond Wonderland also did not have the Caterpillar stage, and even moved its location to the NOS Center.
Of course, there’s the ugly side to these events. While I LOVE attending these festivals, there are just some things that are unfortunately always complicated. We were fortunate enough to have our friend drive us to the event on the first day, however, finding our way back was more difficult. The Uber situation could be worse I guess, but it still lacks organization when everyone is just trying to go home or back to their hotel. The singular free water refill station also seems to be an ongoing issue at many festivals as well. Luckily this festival wasn’t hot, in fact it was pretty cold, but after many hours of dancing, dehydration is always an issue and headliners need easier access to water. Finally, the restrooms...I really have no idea what goes on in there, just YIKES!
Despite these factors, which are generally the usual ones for everyone, my Nocturnal experience was nothing short of amazing this year. I definitely support Pasquale in his decision to make this a smaller and more intimate festival overall. Hands down, the best Nocturnal I’ve had in years.
What did you think of Nocturnal becoming a smaller festival? Yay or nay? What new artists did YOU discover?