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A mere month after Audiotistic the NOS Center was once again prepped for another production by Insomniac, except this time, everything was a bit larger. With a ridiculous tent-style main stage carried over from last year (that gave UMF 2011′s “A State of Trance” tent a run for its money), enough artists to fill a two-day festival lineup, and a projected 100,000 attendees between both days, this year’s Nocturnal Festival was shaping up to be a pretty good buy for music-heads, ravers, and general party-goers alike.

Nocturnal sits as the largest iteration of Insomniac’s “Wonderland” event series, which includes Beyond Wonderland, Nocturnal Wonderland, and now Halloween’s Escape from Wonderland. Along with Electric Daisy Carnival, the emphasis on Insomniac’s events shies away from the gritty, low-budget warehouse raves of the olden days and segways into Insomniac’s recently established signature brand: EDM events that transform their venues into a playground for the senses complete with high-production stages, EPIC-leptic lighting, and tripped out go-go dancer troupes that are hot on an otherworldly level. (See photos).

This being my second Nocturnal where the theme is a darker, edgier take on Alice in Wonderland, I was pretty excited. Having been to events at the NOS before, I had a general idea of what to expect, so I chose to approach the event from a different perspective. I didn’t bother to look at the lineup in advance, and instead focused on making my schedule revolve around spending time with good company.

Click here for the full photo set!

After a one-mile trek around the entire NOS Event Center block to reach the coveted Gate 11 (artists, volunteers, and media entrance) due to some major security miscommunication, I was inside and ready to party. Immediately my attention focused on the troupe of Insomniac cuddle mascots running around hugging, bumping, and dry-humping festival attendees.

Unfortunately, we missed Nicky Romero, Willowtree’s must-see for the weekend, by a few hours, but the first artists we caught were Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano. They played a funky, deep house set that really set the mood for me as I realized just how ridiculously crazy the main stage this year was. While I mentioned that Alice’s House was a rehash from last year’s stage set up, it appeared that Insomniac had literally taken all the video screens from EDC’s massive main stage, lined the ceilings of the two story (2nd floor VIP area) stage, and said “BAM. EPIC COSMIC TUNNEL THAT MAKES YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE FLYING THROUGH PRISMATIC SPACE.”

Seizure time for real.

I bounced over to the trance stage for a quick minute to hang out with my friend Bass Kitty and to catch a little bit of W&W. She notified me that the duo rarely makes it to the States, so to catch their classic trance sound was definitely a treat. After a few songs to warm up and some conversing with a guy who paid $8 for a 12″ light stick with broken tassles (later found out that they upped the price to $15, no thx), I hopped on over to catch Dirty South with the rest of the group.

Face stage middle left called the EDM Madness matriarch, Ms. Willowtree.

Ever since seeing Dirty South at Avalon on exactly 1/1/2011, I’ve been a huge fan. A huge fan of his “Coming Home” remix of P Diddy’s track ft. Skylar Grey (no matter HOW many times I’ve heard it in a live setting), and a huge fan of the alternative remixes of the track he played in this set. His energetic house set laid some good groundwork for the evening as we bounced back to the Trance stage to see Arty.

Arty, with his youngish face doesn’t quite look the part of an epic trance guy, but he definitely threw down a huge set. Being one of my most anticipated artists of the weekend, especially considering a fumbled VISA clearance in time for last month’s Audiotistic, I was definitely excited to see him play. His housey brand of trance music, with cues from both genres and seamless transitions between the two, was my favorite for Friday.

My evening closed off with (as always) solid sets from Gareth Emery, Fedde Le Grand, and 12th Planet. I was glad to catch a hilarious, conveniently timed photo of Gareth Emery, posing as if he were giving a speech to a Cold War China (below).

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to catch Avicii’s set, but with the number of cute girls sporting I <3 Avicii shirts, he was definitely a big draw for the weekend.

Day one was over and my ears were RINGING…

AND I showed up on Day Two forgetting my ear plugs AGAIN. Thankfully, the soundboard guys seemed to have done a little tweaking between the two festival days. To be honest, Day Two just felt better, a bit more chaotic with attendance going from (what I estimate) ~30k people to Saturday’s 50-60k. And while security did look a little extra stressed out, Day Two just felt like a proper massive. A much more filled venue, more cool/excited people in general–Saturday just had a REAL massive vibe that I felt Friday was missing.

My Saturday’s artist lineup included an AMAZING set from Alesso (easy for him because he really just needed to play his original tracks and remixes, which he did), a strong set by Gabriel & Dresden (thank you guys for playing “Beautiful Things” right off the bat), and ultra upbeat house sets by Sebastian Ingrosso and Kaskade. As much as I wanted to stay away from the main stage and explore smaller acts, these guys just made it way too tough. However, I did manage to sneak away for a second for some fun with Cosmic Gate, Green Velvet, and an ultra-aggressive DnB/Dubstep set with TC and their full-time MC on the microphone.

Favorite set of the weekend went to Alesso. Nice upbeat selections, smooth mixing, and an intense experience at the mainstage really blew it out of the water for me.

Random tidbits from the festival:

- Fantastic EDM Madness meetups outside the trance stage and the main stage. Never have I met so many friendly, smiling people who have told me they know my name through Facebook.

- The gigantic steampunk octopus, “El Pulpo Mechanico”‘s hellfire flames ran on 200 gallons of propane for the entire weekend. It was based on an old 1970′s 4×4 vehicle (don’t quite remember the exact model) chassis, and hailed from 18 hours away in Humboldt County. The industrial monster of myth was transported in pieces and assembled on the festival grounds. Thank you so much, fire master Steve for the information!

- Lights remained banned (bummer) and security was a little all over the place on warning, confiscating, or allowing light shows, but luckily I was able to get my flow staff in. An inquisitive young lady approached me asking, “What are you supposed to be?” before answering the question herself with an “OH. YOU’RE LIKE A WARRIOR OF LIGHT.” Yes, little lady. I am a warrior of light.

- Through the masses of oh-so-normal booty shorts, tutus, and lingerie, there were definitely some costume gems including the shiny, furry pants jellyfish guy who wore fishnet sleeves, the girl who had the curiously clever Cheshire Cat apron, a blue wolf mask a gentleman by the name of “Reckless” made (put together with a chicken wire frame, duct tape skin, and blue wolf’s fur), and his girl, who made a fox mask from scratch. And paper mache. Ridiculous detail.

- I realized once again how much I really hate how bad littering and flyer carpet is at these shows :(.

- I SUPER love every one of the gogo-troops, including the toxic masochist bunnies, the tripped-out Incan headdress Xena babes that moved like writhing Octopi, and the Eastern-influenced pasty babes with Lady Gaga wigs.

- Highlight moment of the weekend: As I was taking a photo of the flame-equipped misting umbrella tree, these two chaps asked me to take a photo of them. No problem guys. Happiest. Faces. Ever.

 

Click here for the full photo set!

For more info on Nocturnal Wonderland:

Official Site