Nocturnal Wonderland: A Weekend Down The Rabbit Hole

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"I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death." 
-- Robert Fulghum

As I float back into the mortal realm we call reality from the inspiring world of Wonderland, I notice something has changed within me. Maybe it's a heightened sense of consciousness, maybe it's the overwhelming appreciation for humanity... or maybe I'm just dust-logged. My ears are ringing from whistles, laughter and music. My eyes are sore from the blinding lights, tears of joy and the naturally occurring elements of Wonderland. Every muscle in my body is awake and my head is spinning with photographic memories of another successful and enchanting experience down the rabbit hole.

TIME CAPSULE: Check Out Last Year's Nocturnal Wonderland Recap!

Thirteen years ago somewhere in the desert between Nevada and California I found myself face to face with the Watchman of Wonderland for the first time... the Caterpillar. Times have changed, people have changed and the artists have changed. But the love, the overwhelming sense of security and the impact of the music is still as vibrant as ever. This experience has taught me that just because you grow up, you don't ever really leave this place. It is always here to fall back into.

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Welcome to a weekend at Nocturnal Wonderland-- Where the freaks, the bassheads, the desert dwellers, the hippie chicks, the newbies, the kandi kids and the old schoolers are all welcome to live as one. They are welcome to dance, and to celebrate life in unity sans judgement from the outside world. They are welcome to be whomever they choose to be in that moment, and it is nothing short of beautiful. The first day of any event is always the one that sends butterflies to your stomach and gives you sweaty palms.

As we drove down the Southern California freeway and approached the mountains where San Manuel Amphitheater rests, we could see the lights and the lasers peeking over the hilltops. As we began to dim the music of the car, the tantalizing muffled boom, boom of the stages could be heard in the distance. A field of bright, multicolored lights appeared as we made our way over the winding road. We were back.

Nocturnal_Welcome

Walking through the grounds of Nocturnal Wonderland is unlike most modern EDM culture events -- the people are welcoming and friendly, everyone is well composed and whimsical, just as they should be. Strangers are happy to become friends and friends who came together morph into family. Insomniac's art installations scatter the amphitheater grounds and can be seen atop the hills, throughout the tress and across the span of the stages. The Zen Owl made his return this year with an intricate stage backed by enormous 3D LED screens which rotated colorful patterns and characters throughout the night.

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On either end of the stage, The Mad Hatter and the March Hare could be seen celebrating the crowd's energy. The watchman, Wonderland's Caterpillar gave off his kaleidoscope illumination guiding people back together and radiated a magical energy over the course of the weekend. Between the Ferris Wheel, the flying swings and the glow-in-the-dark art pods (and secret glow cave...) there was a piece of art suited for everyone. The famous Insomniac boombox art car may be the throwback installment of the festival, but by no means should anyone underestimate the funky, groove house seeping from the illuminated speakers.

Just down the hill from the boombox was the inside-out world of the Upside Down Room stage... where "nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't... And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be, it would..." you see? Nostalgia combined with deep-rooted house beats filled this twisted place with the unmistakable sounds Moon Boots, Treasure Fingers, Donald Glaude, Bad Boy Bill and DJ Dan. Completely built from up-cycled, reused materials the Upside Down Room was more than just a stage -- it was a statement.

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A smaller, more compact dance floor squeezed between side-rooms filled with couches, cushions and playa-worthy accessories put festival attendees in a completely different world than the other stages. Dancers and actors created a space for the imagination to wander and gave the space a visually enticing element.

Memorable sets on Friday came from Moonbootsin the Upside Down Room, Flux Pavillion on the Labyrinth stage, Delta Heavy at Bassrush Massive's Sunken Garden stage and Tritonal  at the Queen's Grounds. Each act came to the decks full of energy and brought life to the masses. Drum & Bass, House, Trap/Dubstep and Progressive Trance vibes filled the venue from sundown until the early hours of the morning, creating a unique space for music lovers from all walks of life.

Nocturnal_Tritonal

Saturday was the busier night of the two, with a wider variety of people. We even saw couples and individuals upwards of 60 years old, wandering through the crowds with their faces painted, smiling at the newcomers and dancing to familiar sounds of their past. A truly touching experience for anyone who was able to connect with them. The diversity in music was abundant for Saturday's show, our highlighted sets includedMaxim (The Prodigy)andFuntCase VS Cookie Monstaat the Bassrush Sunken Garden stage,Will Sparks B2B Joel Fletcher B2B Timmy Trumpet and Mat Zo's Special Throwback Trance set at the Queen's Grounds,Bad Boy Bill throwing down at the Upside Down Room and Artyat the Labyrinth stage. The collaborations and throwback vibes added to the close-knit sanctity of the event and really created memories worth holding on to.

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The set of the weekend... and quite possibly one of the best live performances I've ever seen goes to The Glitch Mob. I chose to close my weekend in Wonderland out with them, leaving behind my passion for throwback Trance with Mat Zo one stage over. It was the best festival decision I've ever made.

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From the rumbling bass to the orchestral melodies and the exquisite stage set up to the compelling live performance-- The Glitch Mob stole my heart, my brain and my soul. They gave vision to the sense of sound. They made the music come alive. Without a doubt it was the closing stage with the least amount of people, but it made it that much better in the end. You had a chance to connect with the soundwaves, and ride on the vocal samples of the music. You could allow the heat from the pyrotechnics to warm your face and the lights to penetrate your entire, dancing being.

I fell back in love with the music that brought me into this place. I fell back in love with the power of united peoples, and I fell back in love with the dark parts of myself and in our society that we encounter in reality every day. I left Wonderland recharged, renewed and filled with a fresh sense of hope ready to face the mortal world again.

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**All photos courtesy of Imagination Visions and Insomniac Events**