Insomniac hosting an event in Northern California (yeaaaaaaahhhh more like the Bay Area) has been a long time coming. Beyond Wonderland is a spring festival in Southern California but now hopefully has a permanent home during fall in the Bay Area. To say I was excited for this event would be a bit of an understatement. Not having to drive at least 7 hours each way to get to San Bernardino and get to enjoy one of the nicest weather weekends San Francisco has had all year was a major plus. Insomniac throws incredible events and Beyond Wonderland is no exception. There were a lot of questions about the venue and the location in advance of the event, but there were no questions about the quality and energy of the crowd. Northern California in general has some of the friendliest, most excited, high energy crowds anywhere. Any time I am at a major event anywhere in NorCal I make new friends and greatly enjoy the company of those around me. So away to Wonderland we headed.
We BARTed in from another part of Oakland and it was quite humorous seeing all the A’s fans walking past us to get to BART as they left O.co Coliseum as we exited BART and crossed over to the venue. One lady in particular was staring so hard I was concerned she was going to walk into the fence. Lots of bewildered looks and amusement made us laugh quite a bit. As we approached the venue (it was in the Oracle Arena parking lot) there was quite a bit of confusion on how exactly to get in. The staff we asked about where Will Call was gave us two different answers, which wasn’t exactly helpful. We approached a massive line that we found out was for both admission, ticket sales, and Will Call which was a bit strange. Some signage would help a bit Insomniac or better details on the website. After braving the line for about 20 minutes and thanks to some smooth navigation (protip: stay away from the entrance the line feeds directly into) we were through the ID check and now just needed to grab our tickets. We walked to Will Call and found that Flavorus only had two windows. Seemed a bit small considering a lot of people purchased presales? Fortunately it moved somewhat quickly but it cost us another 15 minutes for sure. Off we went to enter, where there was no line for the security check, and after a thorough check we were in. Our group of 8 was meeting up with another group of 10+ who was behind us. Our goal was to see Third Party, but we got in for the last 10 minutes of them and decided to hit the restrooms and water instead, catching a bit of W&W accidentally while in line.
Once we rallied the team, we headed for Otto Knows who I have wanted to see for a while. His set was rather progressive and melodic, almost too much for that time slot. He fits in better as a 4am guy to wind down EDC with, and although I enjoyed the set, I felt like it was a bit out of place. He dropped ‘Million Voices to Apologize’ which was awesome along with other hits like ‘Don’t You Worry Child’ and a lot of progressive stuff that I did not recognize. Overall his mixing seemed to be pretty good and his set was solid. Next was Moaaard Foooooooostung as Hardwell would say, or Mord Fustang as the rest of us say. He brought it. Possibly the best set all night. Hard electro pretty much non stop with some serious funk thrown in there, a ton of his own productions, and his mixing was very clean. A friend commented that it was similar to Eric Prydz where you couldn’t tell where one song ended and another started, which is a huge compliment and something that I agreed with. He really had the crowd at his fingertips and it was high energy the entire time. Would see again for sure, really happy that I finally got a chance to see him. The highlight for me was when he dropped Boys Noize – What You Want which had me going crazy. I did not expect to hear any BN on the evening, so that was nice.
Post Mord it was time for Avicii. I was cautiously excited about this, as his set from EDC 2011 is one of my favorites of all time. When I saw him in December in SF he was very meh. Coming off of Mord I wanted to keep the excitement and energy going and I was hoping he would deliver. When he opened with Jordy Dazz’s remix of Feel The Love I knew it was on. Avicii delivered. Tracks like the hammer that is Two Million, the beast that is My Feelings For Hells Bells, a Sunshine Spectrum mash up and Nicktim all brought the heat. This plus the INCREDIBLE production meant that being in the incredibly crowded tent was worth it after all.
Holy LAZERS everywhere. Because it was so crowded we watched a portion of the set from the back of the tent and the lazers and lights were just spectacular. Hats off to you Insomniac for bringing it hard. I told my friends you would, and you delivered, so I thank you for that. During Avicii we needed water, so we went to get some. The water refill line, which had been mild earlier, had turned into a massive logjam. Ten self-serve spigots is not enough Insomniac. After a ten minute wait, we were finally near the front and were more sardine’d in then we were at Avicii. Everyone around us was super nice even though we were all being crushed, and I managed to make a couple new friends (sup Jay and Wes!) while we felt like fish in a tin. Finally we battled our way out after getting water and made it back through the crowd to our friends just in time for the moment I had really been waiting for from Avicii. SUPERLOVE. You can hate on the man, but no one makes better euphoric house then he does. If you don’t want to dance until your shoes fall off, make six new friends, snack on some delicious food while singing along with ten thousand other people to this one, you might not be as cool as you think you are.
When it kicks in, all bets are off. We got weird like weird was going out of style. It was glorious. He also dropped some underground track by the name of Levels and the entire crowd lost it. I was impressed with his ability to mix in his hits and still keep the edgier undertones. Overall an impressive and fun set from Mr. Levels. We caught a bit of Dirty South before cruising back to the smaller tent.
That meant it was time Thomas Gold, who is a personal favorite. After his insane EDC set this year, I had high hopes. Unfortunately it felt like he never really got in a groove and I was a bit disappointed. Still have lots of love for the man but was hoping for bigger things. It felt like he played a bunch of tracks we had already heard. Next came Alesso, who I was not particularly impressed with. Again, it felt like a bunch of tracks we had heard already (Don’t You Worry Child and Koyu’s remix of Spectrum much?) which was a bummer, especially after he went so hard at Coachella. Granted, I only saw a bit of his set, so he could have picked it up in the end, but my friend who stayed for him said he felt like he just played the same stuff we had heard already and was pretty boring. At 12:50 AM our group split, as a bunch of us headed to ATB and I headed to Orbital by my lonesome. Best decision I made all night. I don’t know many Orbital tracks but I was just lost in their music. Such a unique sound and so impressive to see them playing live. Their bass was strong and their flashlights on heads made them look like two aliens on stage doing their thing, which was really cool. Unfortunately the crowd was rather small but it gave everyone who was there plenty of room to dance and enjoy it. Some of my friends joined me at 1:40 and they were thoroughly impressed. It was a perfect way to end Beyond Wonderland, with more minimal techno and electronic music that was spot on. I didn’t take any videos (was too busy grooving) but someone captured their set from Nocturnal Wonderland and it is worth a listen for sure.
As BWBA ended, we all met up to find our friend who was graciously giving us all a ride home. The weather was perfect and it was a bit surreal leaving Beyond Wonderland in a place I have been many times for sporting events. The transformation of the venue was extremely well done, even with a freeway just behind us. It was hard not to laugh as Spiderman looked down on us watching Orbital from his Oracle Arena sign near the freeway. Overall, hats off to Insomniac, quite a good job with everything. Certainly there could be some improvements in certain areas, but I’m sure you will get it right next year. I greatly look forward to Beyond Wonderland Bay Area 2013!