How Beyond Wonderland NorCal Converted Me Into An Avid Festival Goer

I’ve been into EDM since high school, so it’s pretty surprising I didn’t go to a rave until last September as a sophomore in college. I’ve seen pictures on Instagram, stories on SnapChat, and have heard countless songs by the DJs who perform at these extravagant events. In my mind, raves had always just seemed like events for people who had money to throw away and time to waste. I also just didn’t understand the culture of raves. Why were people wearing neon-colored fur around their legs and bracelets I made as a kid in elementary school? I always assumed it was the drugs. After seeing the lineup for Beyond Wonderland NorCal, however, there was no doubt in my mind that I HAD to go. I mean seriously, look at this lineup:

Image source: insomniac.com

Calvin Harris? Knife Party? Yellow Claw? DJ Snake? Showtek? Tiesto? All in the same weekend and only an hour-and-a-half drive away? Of course I was going. I immediately told my best friend, and he got just as excited as I did when he saw the lineup. We bought our tickets, arranged our Airbnb, and cried over our wallets, but we knew in our hearts that this was going to be worth it.

September 26th finally came and we left Berkeley to experience a weekend away in the fantastical world of Beyond Wonderland NorCal (the Shoreline Amphitheater and Grounds in Mountain View, CA). The first day involved a lot of figuring-out. We were both new to this, so it was analogous to being tourists in San Francisco. I took pictures of everything, we had a map out to figure out the layout of the entire place, and we couldn’t help but feel a little unaccustomed to the environment.

Things didn’t start picking up until later in the evening when the sun started going down and more well-known DJs began performing. The first big-name to come on that I was a fan of was Yellow Claw, an Amsterdam trio known for their mix of trap, hiphop, and hardstyle. I’ll be honest and say I was a bit disappointed with their performance. Not because they didn’t put out great music, but rather because of their interaction with the audience. They kept “talking” to us, and although this can be an effective way to engage with a crowd, it just seemed overdone in Yellow Claw’s case. I felt wanting to hear more of their DJing skills and less of them speaking. My friend and I ended up leaving main stage halfway through their performance to take a break and grab something to eat.

Knife Party eventually came on, a prominent dubstep duo from Australia with an interesting, but distinctly unique style. I have a special place in my heart for them because they were one of the first DJs I ever listened to (them, along with old-school Skrillex). I felt electrified hearing the signature line “You blocked me on Facebook, and now you’re going to die,” followed by a massive drop in their hit song “Internet Friends.” They also played some other classics like “Centipede” and “Bonfire.” All in all, Knife Party threw a great show, and you could appreciate their performance even if you weren’t a dubstep fan.

Last but not least was Calvin Harris, closing off the first night of Beyond. By then, my phone had died, and honestly, it was probably a good thing because I was able to truly experience his entire performance. Having listened to so much of Calvin Harris, I felt I could sing along to every lyric and headbang to every beat of all the songs he played (my neck definitely felt the consequences of that the following morning). My favorite moment in his performance was when he played “Under Control.” Hearing the first takeoff of the electropopish melody made me spread my arms out, close my eyes, and feel absolutely free (ironically, since the song is titled “Under Control”). Calvin Harris may be overpaid for his performances, but damn was I reminded how he produces incredible music.

Day 2

After a full day of dancing, jumping up and down, singing our hearts out, and yelling “THIS IS AMAZING,” my best friend and I were pretty tired to say the least. We slept in, ate a solidly mediocre meal at Denny’s, and didn’t arrive at the festival grounds until around 5pm.

Amidst stuffing my face with an overpriced hotdog around 7pm, I realized Showtek was playing at main stage. Showtek is a prominent figure in electro house, and I immediately recognized the booming bassline of “Booyah” from afar. Here’s a clip I managed to get from the back of main stage:

Next was DJ Snake, and besides Tiesto, I would argue he put on one of the best performances. Unlike Calvin Harris, he actually engaged with the audience, but unlike Yellow Claw, he didn’t overdo it either. Here’s one of my favorite recordings from all of Beyond, with DJ Snake playing “You Know You Like It”:

And of course, one of the most famous EDM songs of 2015, “Lean On”:

This moment of Beyond was particularly memorable for my best friend and me because he showed me “Lean On” before it became popular. It was also one of the first instances we bonded over music, so hearing this song reminded us of how our friendship had initially budded.

Finally, Tiesto closed off the magical weekend that was Beyond Wonderland NorCal. Tiesto has been around for ages (seriously, his music dates back to 1997, long before EDM gained a mainstream presence), and has effectively adapted his style to fit the latest trends. Any fan of EDM — new and old — can appreciate his music. As such, with so much experience behind him, Tiesto had a powerful presence on stage, one that I didn’t feel with any other performer. You couldn’t help but have respect for the master that he is at his craft. One of the best examples of his prowess can be seen in this video, where he unexpectedly dropped Troyboi’s “Afterhours” into his most famous song “Wasted.” Only a genius could effectively pull that off:

On a less serious note, you can’t help but laugh a little at that pizza raft. Bravo Tiesto. You are an incredible DJ who knows how to please the crowd.

In conclusion, Beyond Wonderland NorCal was a fantastic introduction to raves and EDM events. Seeing the faces behind inherently faceless music added a new dimension of appreciation for it. I also rid of all the stigmas I had against festival goers. I’ve been to plenty of concerts before, but raves are unique in the crowd they bring. Looking beyond the outlandish attire, these individuals were just like myself: people who love and have a passion for EDM and are there to show it. Beyond Wonderland NorCal, with its stacked lineup, incredible music, insane light shows, intimate moments with friends, and an overall dreamlike experience was more than enough to convert me into an avid festival goer. Catch me at Beyond Wonderland Norcal 2016, as well as many other festivals to come.

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