As the first festival in Insomniac’s 30 year celebration, Beyond Wonderland SoCal 2023 effectively became an audiovisual milestone. The world renowned promoter’s two day Spring massive started out as one, with simple tents spread across the NOS center.
About a decade later, one can find a unique experience and proper vibes in nearly every corner of the map. Throughout its decade long history, Beyond has come into its own as an otherworldly expansion of themes from the classic Alice in Wonderland story.
Being a part of this year’s festival inevitably made me reflect on all of the changes that have taken place for both this newer experience and all other Insomniac festivals by association. Though Beyond and and EDC among others have renditions around the world, SoCal weekenders usually set the bar for everything else.
I’ll break down some of the strongest triumphs and new challenges to be overcome for the next chapter of Wonderlands to come. Regardless of the handful of opportunities for improvement there are, though, I can confidently say that Beyond Wonderland is a great first experience for those just getting into dance music and a place seasoned ravers would feel satisfied coming back to.
Years of photos and videos demonstrate the incredible attention to detail in regard to Insomniac’s cutting edge design, lighting, effects, and costumed performers. Equally important in making sure people have fun is what soundtracks all of the action. Beyond Wonderland’s 6 stages paid host to several different curated lineups over the two days. An array of Dance Music sub-generes was represented on each. One who only bounced between two or three places on both days would have been exposed to an assortment of new finds and DJ sets they know they’d love.
Leading the charge with primetime slots at Queen’s Domain this year were Kaskade, Deorro, and Excision among many others. Knowing the sprawling megastructure gets the most attention, there were more pronounced changes in energy with every artist that switched behind the decks.
The now tradition of Adam Auburn opening the megastructure meant day 2 was filled with groovy vibes and incredible reworks of Basement Jaxx’s Red Alert and Stardust’s iconic “Music Sounds Better With You.” Day I was a treat because of the Insomniac festival debut of DJ/Producer duo Boslyk. The seemingly common misconception of being fashionably late to festivals is best disproven with acts like this dropping the first beats of the day.
The 100+ strong roster of artists spread across every individual Insomniac music brand and then some. Bassrush and Factory93 had the weekend treatment at their respective areas, while Caterpillar’s Garden, Sea of Wonder and the Cheshire Woods switched curators.
The former stage hosted several artists from Lost in Dreams. While a lineup including Elephante, Kaivon and rising star Nøll, the DJs all incorporated oodles of Future Bass. On numerous occasions, though, the DJs branched into different shades of Bass Music to show their range of influence.
The second day saw this garden jump from their newest host to their first: Insomniac’s self titled label. CID and Mau P had sets that captured anyone just walking into the venue, with Matroda closing the place down with flair. When the music group started as just one label in 2014, their first album release was a big deal. It’s impressive to witness their expansion of their catalog to labels that fit each brand and give artists the opportunity to grow their careers with the festivals that book them.
Cheshire Woods started the weekend off with some pulse pounding Hardstyle. Sound Rush and DJ Isaac ripped up the Basscon stage, proceeded by Yusuf and Shei among several others. The next day saw a nice selection of Trance artists; Mat Zo played a handful of his newest music on Anjunabeats along with his unpredictable selection of eclectic bangers. New ASOT resident Ferry Corsten closed the weekend out to great effect.
People may have been sad to see a smaller ratio of Trance and Hardstyle as opposed to all the Bass Music, House and Techno everywhere else on both days…but Dreamstate’s main SoCal event took place last November and Wasteland was basically the day before in rave time at the NOS. As a lover of melodic beats myself, I felt satisfied from my last excursion in the unofficial Trance airport.
The Sea of Wonder saw a local gem of a host on its first outing: Space Yacht. The famous party featured a list of bomb House DJs like Wenzday, Lucati and a special set from LondonBridge. The Yacht King(unofficial title) brought a load of new tracks including a fresh collaboration with he and Adam Auburn. The next day was hosted by its next door booth, cannabis retailer RNBW. Grafix, JSTJR and several others lit the place up to the point where you may have needed some of those CBD strips they gave out to level out.
While it’s impossible to evaluate every musical act on my own, one can confidently conclude that Beyond’s musical selection had a wide variety and high quality. I reached out to y’all to see who you were excited to see for the first time, the second to 20th time, and an artist who surprised you. The variety of responses tells me there was wide ranging satisfaction and discovery abound.
The festival also saw the first Wonderland rendition of its on-site afterparty. It hosted some of the lineup’s most exciting talent to help people extend their night from 9 hours until sunrise.
All that said, it’s hard to convince people to go outside of their normal habits and stay at the festival open to close. I know plenty of people who never get there until halfway through because they just don’t make the time to study these artists.
Insomniac started a habit for EDC of making a megamix of their lineup, but admittedly…it was too fast paced to really pay attention to the artists for me. People may also be a bit averse to shuffling the official playlists as well. A cool thing I might suggest going forward is to make 1-2 hour mixes per stage that properly fit in songs from DJs playing. If that means spreading out the lineup announcement, so be it. I feel like people would enjoy little bits of the lineup earlier versus seeing all of the artists a month before the festival.
Those smaller moments you spend re-fueling are just as important as the hour straight of raging at some of the best sets of the weekend. Scattered about Beyond Wonderland are areas with local food vendors and relaxing places to chill out inbetween shuffling and headbanging. While I mainly hung out at the Clocktower area near the Looking Glass, there was an eaqually interesting dining area near Catepillar’s Garden that I may have enjoyed just as much if the sets on my schedule were in that area.
Beyond just food, there were some fun and interactive art installations at the venue. On one side of the pathway toward Mad Hatter’s castle, one could find a series of doors…one of which led to a secret DJ booth.
VIP at Queens domain featured, closer proximity to the stage, plenty of candy and earplugs, and even a beauty bar/haircuts! While it was cool to know you could have quality makeovers(the pictures you sent all looked sick), reports from the people who got them said they had to sacrifice an hour or two waiting for their transformation. I almost feel like opening the venue early JUST for that service or having a barbershop next to the VIP entrance would be a better outcome, so one wouldn’t have to risk sacrificing a set for their bald fade.
Outside of the enhanced experience was a smorgasbord of miscellaneous activities, photo ops, and a table designed after the illustrious Tea Party. The energy of the vendors at this place was as odd, amusing and memorable as any performer.
I got a chance to buy cotton candy from a boisterous gentleman who just kept stacking the candy..and stacking it…until my right arm was covered in fairy floss with sprinkles and gummy worms. I actually had to sit down and make friends with people at the tea party table nearby to use my hand again, which ended up being hilarious to myself and all the strangers I befriended. Something tells me he knew exactly what he was doing, too.
The new Anniversary Lane was a familiar experience from EDC Las Vegas. The side to side LEDs displayed an even more comprehensive and enjoyable look at rave culture through the years, both inside and outside of Insomniac events. Performers would frequently traverse the narrow walkway and bring the already busy strip of land to life.
A newer activity that found its way to the site this year is an important one: End Overdose. After spending 2 minutes learning to check for signs of an overdose and what to do, I was given Naxolone to potentially save a life. The laws and stigmas around drug use make the conversation harder even in 2023, but seeing an initiative like this makes me think one day Insomniac will be able to provide the same harm reduction quality that festivals like Shambhalla have.
Ground Control has always been a powerful solution to this issue, though. A group of people who love the scene and look out to make sure everyone is staying healthy and safe is a service that is still innovative to this day. In my eyes, the squad of rave-medics hasn’t been faulty for 12 years, and it likely won’t need fixing for the next decade or longer. One can’t traverse the venue without seeing the iconic purple wings fluttering about.
Six different stages graced the Psyhadelic Storybook with eye candy that matched the tunes blaring from them. This year, each one was its own unique fixture, whether it was an all consuming megastructure or a custom fixture behind the DJ. Both of the House and Techno arenas were inside of the two buildings to reflect a more proper vibe.
Inside the Citrus building, the Sea of Wonder was flanked by a neon wooden ship with a wireframe blimp on top; seeing the LED visuals framed by that structure didn’t get old for the many sets I enjoyed there.
The Looking Glass employed an ornate strip of LED lights to accent the iconic black disco ball that graces every event. Better still the Techno beats blared right next to Anniversary Lane and soundtracked the experience on day II. Having the type of dance music that influenced the scene’s beginnings compliment memories of the scene beginning made a lot of sense.
Bassrush also found a nice home for its wide variety of styles on the newer speedway stage, with the stands open to gander at the action from above. It was a uniquely fun experience to watch the difference in the sea of people’s movements to the euphoric Drum N’ Bass from Wilkinson vs. the dark and disgusting Dubstep Borgore threw down directly afterwards.
This time last year, the Cheshire woods was the last tent akin to what I saw at beyond in 2012. This year’s installment saw the entire venue graduate into a venue full of immersive stage designs. The arch and open space was a haven for the hardstyle and trance crowds, although one had to be a bit closer to avoid some light soundbleed.
Walking right into a booming megastructure is a new delight for these massive, and the Catepillar’s garden was long and multicolored, to my delight. the nuanced ceiling decorations on the ceiling reflected the lights and lasers nicely.
Thinking about the crowd vibes is always a tough subject to tackle, since it’s a factor that’s more out of Insomniac’s hands. There’s no “PLUR aptitude test” or “screening to see if you’re a mass phone thief,” after all. That being said, the way that people treat each other and receive the music is still a factor in your experience.
The good news here is that the enduring positivity and attention to detail that Insomniac advocates for and propagates through its media messaging keeps a lot of their regulars coming back. The Passport program they facilitate is also an opportunity for anyone who loves these events to return more frequently.
In terms of new options to come to the festival, this year saw the most options available through shuttles or extended Metrolink service..which is quite literally the only reason I even made it there and back from my home on time for doors. That being said, many who did and didn’t go through with these choices felt a hotel was a more ideal solution. 20 bucks to get to San Bernardino and back is a steal, but one has to keep that 2 hour ride in mind.
Lurking around to get a bigger variety of music from my weekend inevitably meant I was hopping around the map solo, and more often than not I found myself vibing with a lot of cool people who didn’t feel awkward partying with a total stranger. I was rather grateful to have interacted with a multitude of cool people I may never see again and can say after all these years, there’s a reasonable amount of PLUR that gravitates around that little patch of land in SoCal.
Sadly, I learned through some responses to our IG story that women by themselves were creeped on in several occasions. This makes it difficult to say that everyone will have the same great time on their own.
One way Insomniac could improve upon this is with one sort of initiative akin to Ground Control or End Overdose, training people in and out of their team to look out for each other and intervene properly when they see people’s boundaries being abused.
Friendly or unfriendly, there’s a clear understanding that a lot of people felt that the NOS felt overcrowded. Despite a load of room granted by the new speedway area, many said they felt too shoved in during some of the more packed sets. There were even some issues people had with line cutting and GA+ bathrooms not being exclusive to those who actually paid for the access. In passing, I noticed that it took longer than normal to get from one end of the venue to the other.
Has Beyond outgrown the NOS? Should the crowd be split up into two weekends? These are the hardest questions to ask, but at this point in the game, a solution should come ASAP so everyone can feel comfortable enough to let themselves loose come 2024.
More qualifying questions I had for this year’s festival(and by association, any Insomniac massive) were as follows: Would someone new to the scene be convinced to attend other events after this? Would someone who’s been to several of these events or others like it have enough of a novel time? Can the latter party bring their friends and successfully chart out a path for them all to enjoy themselves?
To me, the answer is yes. In ten years time, Beyond has consistently addressed a multitude of opportunities to improve, ensuring sure their headlining sea of humans could enjoy themselves and refresh the positive energy they need in their day to day lives. They continue to innovate the diversity of their musical lineup despite welcoming some of their favorites all of the time, and at this point there will always be refreshments I’ve never had before, as well as some kind of interesting surprise in the form of visual stimuli or an activity that makes each year stand out. I can’t be more thankful to have to opportunity to check these bigger events out and have no retirement date in mind. I know plenty of folks who can’t get enough of them, either.
Photo by Tyler Hill | www.tylerhillphoto.com
The 11th installment of Beyond Wonderland ended with good problems to have and great memories for the thousands who stopped by. I’d say anyone who had an open mind and was willing to have fun would have thoroughly enjoyed it. Judging by a majority of responses to our stories, it seemed like it was an overall success to the people who came, as well. With the dynamic outing that is EDC next up to bat, we’d say we’re nice and warmed up. The Las Vegas Motor Speeway is sure to have even more astonishing plans for its parent promoter’s 30th birthday.
Relive the magic of beyond Wonderland on their Official Playlist and secure a spot next year on their tickets page. All of the photos here can be found in the greater official gallery for 2023.
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