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Oh this was reality, but for many, Oakland’s Pop The Dream at The Oracle Arena no doubt felt like a blissful sorta dream. Flashing bright lights filled the coliseum with a glow that radiated across a sea of several thousand people, all dancing throughout the night. A smaller, redesigned, and more intimate stage allowed lower-level partygoers to enjoy an entirely new and up-close experience with the artist. Typically an experience reserved for smaller venues like the Oakland Fox, or San Francisco's Warfield theater. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that the size of the stage would have taken away from the experience of this massive event. Not only did the Skills team pack a healthy amount of amps, speakers, lights, confetti and Go-Go dancers into a small central area, but they did so in a matter that made you feel as if you were dancing all night inside a decked out piñata that would go off into a massive display of colors and light. Of course, the night wouldn’t be complete without the beloved sound of the four-on-the-floor kick drums and melodic synthesizers that held everyone in a trance…
With the evening beginning sooner than expected, we’d arrived early at the coliseum around 4 pm. I had the pleasure of running into a dedicated member of the #SchulzArmy who let me join their ranks, making the simple act of getting waiting in line an exciting start to an evening that wouldn’t even begin for another hour. With my ticket in hand (and media credentials), I made my way to the staging area to check out the production team, the final soundcheck and that moment when the stage crews gives their go ahead… and boom! This year’s Pop melody was followed by an announcement that called out to the crowd, “Welcome Dreamers!” It was quite the rush! The crowds cheered as they began to gather and pour into the arena with a tangible urgency to get down on the dancefloor.
The first DJs on stage were the members of Deep Voices. The group consist of the founder and CEO of Skill, Jason Sterling with Steve Baltes & Oliver Reville of Germany. Their love of trance has made them a local favorite for many years with hardcore fans who come early to make sure they don’t miss a beat to their traditional opening set. With the music pumping and enough ample room, we couldn’t resist to join in with the early crowd that was already displaying some serious footwork.
Following their set was Ultra’s Adrian Lux. It was at that time where I began to take notice of what makes a Skills event so special here in the Bay Area. Like most other events that provide good music and entertainment, there seems to be a standard of how the experience is delivered. Going an extra step, the folks at Skills and TranceFamilySF did what other festivals rarely do; a fan meet-and-greet with Adrian Lux, Markus Schulz and the Skills team.
It's a simple gesture, but it sure does give off a community vibe; getting people involved, making fans feel special—it's a great way for these guys to build strong bonds with the Bay Area EDM scene. Shout out to the two lucky fans that were standing a few feet away from me that got a chance to hang out with the artists before they took the stage. They were pretty ecstatic to say the least. We quickly lost track of time during Adrian’s set when we tuned into his remixed version of “Burning” by Ivan Gough and Feeixpawl, and right back out to the end of his set with “Teenage Crime.”
Around 7:30 pm the energy in the arena was really starting to feel palpable. A cheering crowd erupted when the Pop melody sounded as Robbie Rivera took the stage as the third performer of the night. Beginning with a shoutout to the crowd, "to Puerto Rico and to Latinos in the house!" Once the microphone came down and the headphones went on, Robbie Rivera’s Juicy Music poured out the speakers kicking off his set with “Rock the Disco” from his Closer To The Sun album. And what a start it was. Everyone began to dance and it felt like the room was instantly consumed by a great vibe.
Robbie later showcased a preview to a new track called “Here With Me,” which the dancefloor consumed like cake. He truly knows how to get a crowd amped up. Transitioning into Nari & Milani’s remix of Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” where he managed to woo the crowd with a well placed drop, Robbie threw down a Dash Berlin mix of Hardwell’s “Apollo” and finished the set with his remix of “Departures” by Cosmic Gate. At the end of the set, the crowd clapped to show their gratitude for delivering such an entertaining set. Staying busy in Miami, Robbie Rivera doesn't play here here often…hopefully he'll bring back his sound and high energy soon as we certainly felt the Miami heat this night.
The next pop melody to sound off was for the introduction of Rusko. With another eruption of cheers, Rusko began his set strong and wasted little time getting into “Roll It, Light It” and “Lez Go” and his stage antics that had the crowd on their feet. It was obvious by the look and expression on the man's face that he was enjoying himself up there…good times for all.
As typical, the crowd got a little crazy with the dustup. At one point some dude stepped on my ankle at a pretty weird angle (not a pleasant feeling at all), but the look of oh shit and shock on the guys face and the apology that followed, I laughed it off. By the time Rusko dropped one of my all time favorite tracks (the Sub Focus remix of “Hold On," which had the arena walls shaking) I had forgotten all about it and was ready to get my rage on. Gotta say that I was blown away. This was the first time, a fact I hate to admit, I had the opportunity to see Rusko perform.
So far there's been no disappointments...
After Gareth Emery’s set came the unicorn slayer, Markus Schulz. I'm still not sure how that name stuck, but apparently Marcus is wanted in several countries and states for taking down so many of these damn unicorns. It could be thousands, maybe even millions at this point. But everyone knows that if you’ve seen his performances on A State Of Trance, listed to his podcast on Global DJ Broadcast or if you were in the crowd to experience Pop The Dream, you know that Marcus Schulz is going to be dangerously awesome when arming tracks behind the decks.
Markus Schulz seems to have a soft spot for the Bay Area as well. We’re ecstatic to have him come out to Oakland on more than one occasion to support Skills and show love for the trance community out here. No doubt, did he deliver that night. Starting with one of his new tracks titled “Loops And Tings,” Schulz yelled out to the crowd, “who is ready to slay some unicorns.” I must say, it felt like everyone had the chance to relive his recent performance at A State of Trance in New York’s Madison Square Garden when he first introduced New World Punx. He then swept everyone off their feet with a set that included a mash up of Omnia and Ira's “The Fusion” with Hardwell's anthem “Spaceman.” My only complaint during the night was having his set not run long enough.
It was difficult to believe that that the night was almost coming to an end. With a crowd that only wanted to continue into the night, Steve Angello had to come up with a proper introduction as the closing headliner. Trying to explain how the crowd’s energy was at this point is like trying to tell a fat kid how not to love cake. Fat kids love cake. It’s impossible. Luckily, I managed to find a proper video that showcased what Angello did best. Just minutes into his set, every glow-sticking, raved out, partygoer crammed into the venue to jump off to the start of a vocal mash up of “Antidote” and “Knas.” Of course, the night wouldn’t end without a few more Swedish House Mafia anthems like “Greyhound” to take over the arena for one last time. Overall though, he had a solid set.
As the show came to a close, fans held their heads high and gave one last cheer. It truly was an amazing experience. After having relived so many moments over the past few days, one realized just how lucky we in the Bay Area are to have a thriving EDM scene that continues to develop and deliver amazing shows. The Skills team over the years have been instrumental in keeping the spirit alive with their impressive productions (with a strong emphasis on Trance and proper lighting) and their beautiful Pop Rockettes Go-Go dancers who truly amplify the evening.
Pop The Dream was certainly a dream come true for many in the crowd. To all those have haven't experienced one of their events, you can look forward their next upcoming Pop NYE massive..You will be impressed.