I have written for years about the power of live music, especially when it comes to fist-thrusting choruses and heartfelt crowd sing-alongs.  While several LAmb staffers (Lesley Park, Marcus Slater, Twila Grissom…) have been covering EDM in Los Angeles for a while now, this past weekend’s Nocturnal Wonderland marked my first time dipping my toe in the pool of trip-hop, trance, techno, and so much more.

I didn’t know how intense a concert experience could be until I went to my first EDM event. Insomniac’s longest-running festival was one of the most entertaining, overwhelming, exhilarating experiences of my life, and I am here to shed some light on the love-filled, neon-lit, over-stimulating world of EDM for those on the outside of this fascinating subculture.

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Driving past the sold-out campgrounds lit by strings of rainbow Christmas lights, I knew the area surrounding the San Manuel Amphitheater had transformed into a completely different world for the 19th annual festival. I entered with over fifty thousand fellow ravers, and throughout the festival grounds, giant, imaginative art installations towered over the crowd. These included a psychedelic caterpillar, dozens of colored lanterns that hung from the surrounding trees, and a trippy upside-down room. I looked at my EDM fest-frequenting friends, and they smiled, explaining, “This is just the beginning.”

Jacob Lifschultz for Insomniac 2Photo Credit: Jacob Lifschultz

I had heard of some of the headliners that evening, such as Flux Pavilion, Martin Garrix and Audien, but as with every good music festival, I discovered some new favorite acts as well.

I was overwhelmed with incredible music across the electronic spectrum, from trance to techno to trip hop, with over forty artists on Friday’s lineup alone. I learned I favor trance music due to its emphasis on lyrics and melodies and spent a solid hour dancing under the desert sky to the high-energy, infectious sound of Tritonal. As “Colors” rang out, I lifted my hands with my friends and sang along with the perfectly fitting chorus, “Let your colors run tonight. We’re painting in the dark.” 3LAU was another favorite surprise, and his remixes of Bastille’s “Pompeii” and Lorde’s “Tennis Court” were spot on.

As if the dreamy lyrics, electrifying synthesizers, and heavy, ground-shaking bass drops weren’t enough, the gigantic, jaw-dropping stages and special effects rivaled those of the biggest stadium tours I’ve seen.

Four magical stages surrounded fans with an amazing soundtrack of music, state-of-the-art production, and creative design. The 65-foot-tall, 200-foot-wide Labyrinth stage brought the fan favorite Zen Owl back to Nocturnal with a brand new twist. Over 2,500 video tiles and 200 lighting fixtures gave the Owl a shining new life as it was flanked by incarnations of the Mad Hatter, March Hare, and larger-than-life mushrooms and greenery.

Fireworks launched into the desert sky when songs peaked, flames shot out in rhythm with the music, a sea of lasers cut through the smoke-filled arena, and psychedelic images filled the screens. Words fall short when trying to describe the spectacle; it was all truly something you had to see to believe.

Skyler Greene for Insomniac 3Photo Credit: Skyler Greene

My EDM-loving friends explained that Insomniac events tend to be more community-driven, which aligns with what founder Pasquale Rotella recently told reporters:

“We love anything that’s positive, whether it be encouraging the fans to dress up, dressing up the venue, allowing people to trade beads, or encouraging people to meet one another. It’s all positive stuff, and we don’t want that to be lost… Dance music events were supposed to be the one place you could go and not be judged… In the underground events, that later became raves, that now are festivals, you’re supposed to feel comfortable.”

Audience members wholehearted embraced the “plur” lifestyle, which embodies “peace, love, unity, and respect.” When fellow concertgoers learned this was my first EDM fest, they stroked my face and lovingly embraced me. Then my new friends took my hand and performed the “plur” handshake, forming a peace sign, heart, handhold, and finally exchanging Kandi bracelets (ravers go to festivals with dozens of handmade bracelets to trade with new friends). Oftentimes these bracelets are festival-themed, and I walked away from Nocturnal with a few Alice In Wonderland-centered trinkets, including ones that read, “We’re all mad here” and “Down the rabbit hole.”

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Kandi bracelets are just one small part of the wardrobe of EDM festivals. As is the case with any dance party, anything goes. I saw everything from guys in bananas suits to girls in thongs with black X’s taped over their nipples. I opted to go with more Halloween-based attire; my sister and I were dressed as the White Rabbit and Red Queen, respectively. Hey, go big or go home, right?

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Due to my newbie status, I found myself captivated by several light shows, which are performed by ravers wearing special gloves with rainbow lights on each fingertip. They wove their hands back and forth, pulsating with the music to form circles, animals, and much more as I watched on in awe. Several times, audience members with vibrating gloves held my hands, and one man simply handed me a beach ball so I could feel the vibrations from the thumping bass.

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If it’s not evident based on the sensory overload I’m describing, many concertgoers were under the influence of…something. Now I’m not advocating drug use in any way, but if there is any place to experiment, it’s at an EDM concert. Insomniac makes safety a top priority, and vendors were constantly weaving through the giant crowds all evening to sell water and churros. Medical teams were always in sight and audience members genuinely seemed to care about the well being of their fellow ravers, sharing water bottles and checking in to make sure everyone in their group was okay.

Jacob Lifschultz for Insomniac 1Photo Credit: Jacob Lifschultz 

I had no idea what I was in store for at Nocturnal Wonderland, and I couldn’t be happier that I trusted my friends, who promised that the fest would be an unforgettable experience. I’ve never seen such an accepting, celebratory environment that honored music and community above all else. I was in awe the whole night and am still reliving the evening through pictures and videos.

I won’t have to wait long to experience an EDM fest again, however, as Halloween weekend will feature Insomniac’s eerie Escape All Hallows’ Eve while HARD, another EDM powerhouse, throws their annual Day of the Dead celebration. Join me, won’t you? I think I have the hang of it now!

Curious Josh for InsomniacPhoto Credit: Curious Josh 

For more information on Nocturnal Wonderland:

Insomniac Official Website