Tomorrowland, 1 word, 4 syllables, a powerhouse festival in the EDM community. There’s something mystical about this event, and that probably explains why the event sold out in one second this year. I, like many of you probably reading this, sat in that line, waiting as if my life depended on seeing the picture of the happy American girl refresh into an order screen, and then receiving the notice of “all tickets are sold out.” My hopes were dashed, but after a post-sale for global journey, and a credit card payment I’m still working on paying off, I got my ticket. I was actually going to Tomorrowland 2013.
After landing, taking our shuttle, and putting our tents up in Dreamville, we were ready to go. Camping is camping, don’t let any after movies tell you otherwise. If you’ve camped at a festival, you know you’re going to get filthy, and not in the same way you feel after listening to a good Porter Robinson set dirty. The campgrounds didn’t win any awards, but I won’t fault them for not padding the under-side of my tent with hopes and dreams either. We made a few fast friends, and headed off to The Gathering, Tomorrowland’s official pre-party. Beginning around 1, and although the event was at a bit of a bottleneck due to some influx in camping, it was a nice “soft launch.” Tech house was common throughout the day, and as the night fell, the scene heated up. Around 10:30 the lineup switched to some heavier drum and bass, dubstep, and finally progressive house as Dmitri Vegas & Like Mike closed out with Yves V. The names weren’t as big as what we were going to see the next 3 days, but to ask for that at a pre-party is just…well I think it’d make me greedy.
For what it’s worth, I believed the Tomorrowland venue was a lot closer to Dreamville. It’s probably a 30 minute walk, which means pack your bag, you’re either staying or going. After warming up your legs and walking into the actual venue, you first see lockers, one small stage, and a ton of food shops. It didn’t have the wow factor of EDC LV’s intra-speedway skyline reveal, but shortly afterwards, you run into main stage. Now that, holy…just…wow. The videos do it a phenomenal amount of justice. That bowl, I think is the best venue I’ve ever seen, EDM or not. It’s steep enough to give an amazing view to almost anyone, sitting or standing, which seemed to offer the largest non-stadium capacity I’ve ever seen. It was good to see a number of older festival-goers at this stage, and it made for a really inclusive dynamic. The other stages regressed a bit towards more of what you’d expect at other festivals. Most everything else was under a tent, or on a stage with a cool backdrop. Personal favorites were the Samsung Secret Forest, where I saw Firebeatz with a crowd of 300 people, the Carl Cox & Friends/Super You & Me stage on the back half, with a plethora of standing room and perfectly placed mist cannons to help alleviate some of the heat acquired while standing under some of those tents (Ferry Corsten’s Full-On was easily 120 degrees for a good half the day.
If I were looking for areas of improvement, I would say adding more trash bins, more water stations, fixing logistics so the bigger acts could play to bigger crowds without limiting attendees (Jacked/Smash the House seemed to be most affected) and better management of the paths damaged by weather (mother nature donated between 10-15 inches of rain that weekend and turned many areas into mud pits).
You don’t need me to tell you this. Tomorrowland 2013’s lineup was, collectively, the single best I’ve ever seen. I tried to make a list of people I wished this event had, and struggled to name 10. When you have to have a discussion with your group of who you’d rather miss 15 minutes of, Porter Robinson, or Cazzette, this is a very good problem to have. I feel like I could go back again, and get at least 10-15 more artists out of my experience that I had to sacrifice for something higher on my priority list. To their credit, the aforementioned space limited dock stage and main stage were the two closest together eased the commute times. Everyone was dropping new hits, people were randomly showing up at other people’s sets and you get to see some pretty strange collaborations like Sander van Doorn, Laidback Luke, and Dmitri Vegas all at once, or Carnage at Martin Solveig. The programming seemed to have something for everyone, and gave you the opportunity to venture into new areas. I don’t typically love the idea of the “unicorn slayer,” Markus Schulz dropping beats for 12 hours, but you know what, I went back three times because it was amazing to see someone put so much passion into something that he very visibly loved. I can’t think of anything I’ve ever done for 12 straight hours, except maybe sleep. His grand finale, you couldn’t help but feel so proud of him. Hardstyle, Trance, tech house, dubstep, prog house, electro, you name it, we saw it. I find it very hard to believe anyone going to this event would have a hard time finding something they like. Come on, even Slash showed up for Chuckie, and Armin’s bestest friend Trevor Guthrie made an appearance and delivered his best vocal performance since his unveiling at Ultra. If there ever would be anything to convince me to go again, it would be the lineup.
Did you know that cloud seeding is now a practiced form of weather control? I sure didn’t, but leave it to Tomorrowland to blaze this trail. I found the loud explosions behind main stage disconcerting on day one, until we found out what they were on day two. ID&T was launching cloud dispersing chemicals into the sky to keep the lightning away, but since the alternative would be cancelled shows and lightning, I shrugged my shoulders and went with it. In fact, it contributed to what might have been one of the most special moments of my entire trip. Shortly after Armin van Buuren stepped on stage to announce he and his wife had given birth to a son at the closing set of Day Two, the cloud seeing took effect, and the heavens wept with joy. For the first 40 minutes of his set, we were rained on harder than I have ever experienced in my life. As he continued to take us on our journey into ASOT, I thought many things, including but not limited to “I am cold. I’m standing in a 4 inch lake. What am I doing with my life? That girl looks cold. This is the type of moment I will be talking about the rest of my life. Armin deserves DJ Mag’s #1 title again. I didn’t even like trance 3 months ago. Please don’t let this ever end. Perfectly timed with his inclusion of “Violetta,” the rain let up, and I couldn’t even do those final 50 minutes justice explaining the experience if I tried.
Having backpacked through Europe in the past, I am more aware than most that Americans are controversially regarded in the EU. But, as far as everyone else we met, I was elated to find that the crowds were pretty friendly. People weren’t too pushy, and aside from one of our girls having a bad experience with a pickpocket (what an a-hole), most everyone we met was extremely friendly, even in light of us being more than adamant about our American citizenship with flags, headbands, glasses, shorts, trunks etc. In fact, the days we carried our flag, I found myself talking to more people than when I didn’t. In fact, a number of local Belgians were outright amazed that we came all the way from the US to this. To them it seemed like this was just a local festival, and the thought of us there was flattering. The language barrier did make some conversations difficult, but we more than compensated by shelling out kandi and teaching people “how to plur.” It may be gawdy, and is decidedly a “US” thing. Although, on more than a few occasions, I saw individuals who I had previously given a piece of my kandi, and met back up with either a high five or a hug. Further evidence that kandi brings good energy, even across the pond. Although our entire group was mindful how poorly people were received who shouted “MERICA” at every turn, as soon Kaskade took the stage at the Smash the House, red, white, and blue consumed the area. I’ve never felt that kind of energy before. So many flags and so much pride that an artist like Kaskade was one of us, people couldn’t help but chant “U-S-A.”
If I had paid the same amount of money for this as I did any of the USA festivals I went to, I would be walking away pretty damn satisfied. However, I paid (and am still paying) about 4x what I paid for EDC and about 6x what I paid for Electric Forest. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I have absolutely no regrets about going, but I think once was enough. I watched the 2012 after movie on the flight home, and found myself feeling happy that I went, but also noticing some of the flare put into video editing thrusts the festival into stratosphere I’m confident no festival could actually attain in practice. It was an amazing experience, but not one that the USA can’t match. Unexpectedly, Tomorrowland has indirectly escalated my level of respect for Insomniac to astronomical levels, for the events I’ve seen them produce here in the US. I won’t ever try to dissuade anyone from going to Tomorrowland. In fact, if you find yourself wanting to go, you absolutely should. My only advice, don’t put Tomorrowland on a pedestal. It is a festival, and festivals will have some flaws. Also, assuming prices don’t change, and you live outside Europe, you’re going to end up spending somewhere north of 2300 to go if you do Tomorrowland’s Global Journey. You can get a lot of shows for that in the US. Outside the EDM world, that’s also was what it cost me for half my entire backpacking trip, which included 5 cities. It is a very expensive experience, but I firmly believe experiences are some of the only things worth spending money on. After all, they’re all you get to take with you when your time here is up.