I had high hopes for Mysteryland when I first heard the Dutch festival was making its Stateside debut at one of the most iconic grounds in music history. As a 20-something who has loved dance music since high school, ever since “EDM” happened, I have started losing faith in something that has shaped who I am today. “P.L.U.R.” has become cliché and I’ve been to way too many shows and festivals where I am surrounded by kids who have probably never been inside of a real club, or a real “rave” for that matter. I needed a glimpse of hope that there’s still soul in electronic dance music and its culture.
Mysteryland was unlike any electronic dance music festival I've been to before, it was a sacred retreat, and has raised the bar for festivals I decide to attend in the future. In 1969, Woodstock made musical history, representing a change in times and music of a new generation. Forty-five years later, Mysteryland USA served a similar purpose, for the electronic dance music generation. Mysteryland was a whimsical getaway where peace, love, unity, and respect radiated through the crowd. It was the happiest festival I've ever been to. A celebration of music, friendship, love, and life – it’s safe to say Mysteryland’s inaugural debut was a major success, in fact, Mysteryland kicked ass.
The 21+ age requirement made for a more peaceful experience, an element that really made a difference in the crowd. I rarely saw people rolling out of their minds passed out on the sidelines. Attendees were mainly young adults in their 20s, dressed in everything from a Nike T-shirt and shorts, to bohemian, flower child and tie-dye, to the EDM uniform: bedazzled bras and booty shorts or tutus, and I even saw a purple dragon and a dude covered in beanie babies. The amount of people was perfect (20,000 people, from 27 different countries) – you never felt like you didn’t have space to strut your stuff, and you could easily get to the front if you wanted to. Huge difference than 160,000 people at Ultra Music Festival and 300,000 at Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas trying to get in and out of one exit at the end of the night.
The choice in venue also had a profound effect on everyone – knowing that they were standing on holy ground, mere feet away from where Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Sweetwater, the Grateful Dead and more once stood at the pivotal Woodstock festival of '69. Friday, May 23, Mysteryland campers on the Holy Ground site experienced a special Protocol pre-party, featuring the likes of Tritonal, Don Diablo, John Dahlbäck, Vicetone and Michael Calfan.
Not-so-fun fact: the original Woodstock cost $18, pre-sale and $24 the day of, boy how times have changed. We heard that the campers who got there early had a rough time with security. There were police cars, officers and dogs surrounding the parking area. It was intimidating even if you weren't doing anything wrong. Security was on the heavy side. There was a thorough pat-down that meant shaking everything you were wearing, including what yo' mama gave ya. Cigarettes, gum etc. had to be unopened and it took about 45 minutes for GA to get in the festival.
Just like Woodstock ’69, Mother Nature threw some rain showers our way on Saturday. Most people were prepared as rain was in the forecast. The ground turned soft and muddy but this didn't seem to really bother anyone, plus First Aid handed out free ponchos. By Sunday, the grounds made for great outdoor seating at The Boat.
There's much more to this festival than just music. The art and décor kept you busy if you needed a break from beats. The detail that was put into the festival was astounding. There were lights and decorations on every tree in the area, hand-painted signs, living room furniture dispersed on grassy areas so you could take a break from dancing, hot-air balloon rides courtesy of Rekorderlig's cider (which was really very tasty!), art sculptures, and giant glowing mushroom cars at night. Festival organizers collaborated with a wide range of people from all over the world. You could take a turn and be in a completely different world; a quaint little French woodland café, a magical wishing tree, a healing garden, an unexpected and mind-blowing area called Sin Salida, described as “children of the desert gone insane through a mix of tequila and burning sun.” There was even a wedding on Saturday. They thought of everything; except perhaps multiple slip n' slides going down the rolling hills, but the campers took care of that.
Speaking of campers...
•first arrival campers had to haul their gear about a mile from their cars to the campsite. However once campers were in the grounds they were not allowed to return to their cars so everyone had to bring all theirgear in one run. This proved to be difficult for some as the many festivalgoers looked like Sherpas ready to scale the Himalayas with the amount of gear hanging from their backpack.
•Despite their being limits on the amount of alcohol one could bring in security was being very lax allowing people to haul in multiple 30 packs of beer (the limit was a 6-pack per person).
•Arriving later to the grounds on Friday proved to be a blessing in disguise for campers. With the rain and high volume of foot traffic in the front of the campgrounds many of the early arrivals were bogged down in mud and grime while the late arrivals remained clean, but still wet in the back of the grounds.
•The rain that arrived on Friday made the front of the grounds so muddy it was at times difficult to not step in ankle deep mud. Mud so thick and sloppy that some unfortunate campers shoes were ripped straight from their feet. It almost felt reminiscent of the old Woodstock so many years ago.
•Showering wasn’t a choice for most people who would have to sludge through the mud just to reach the shower station. Food station were always ready to serve and lines were obscenely long at the beginning of the day and as expected food was highly overpriced.
•The tent set up for Friday night’s pre-party was amply large and filled with great music, but unfortunately the tent was rarely used after the pre-party. Following the end of the festival on Sunday a small band played to a minimal crowd in the tent, but the real post-festival party occurred every night thanks in part to Bang On NYC!
•At the top of the road when festivalgoers would return, they would be greeted by a massive boom box stage placed on top of a van. The stage played mellow beats for any of those hoping to continue the party. All of this courtesy of NYC EDM promoter Bang On!
•Fortunately the ground being very soft from the rain made sleep easier for those who were without an air mattress. The grounds were relatively small unlike Tomorrowworld so there wasn’t much to explore beyond your own campsite. The geography of Bethel Woods allows for campers to gaze upon the festival grounds from their tents and vice versa once inside the festival.
•Despite all the rain and the cold weather we experienced in Bethel Woods that weekend the camping experience was nothing short of spectacular allowing festival goers to come and go from the festival each day as many times as they would like. However the hike from camp to the festival grounds was a good 20-30 minute walk with 100 yards of mud to trek through.
Except from that I HAD to experience Detroit's super-group Visionquest, I spent most of my Saturday wandering around, taking in the environment and experiencing different artists – a little bit of Joris Voorn, a little bit of Big Gigantic – who played a lot off their last album which came out in February, as well as a special encore, Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”. Sultan + Ned Shepard also payed homage to their predecessors, dropping a bootleg of Jimi Hendrix‘s "Purple Haze" into their set. All around, the music was solid and plentiful; no matter where you went, you could find something to jive with.
The stages were the best by far in design, location and sound than any other festival I've attended.
Main Stage: The main stage was surprisingly not the central point of the festival. Tucked behind the woods, the house of cards or rather castle, screamed "It's a Small World" meets "Alice in Wonderland", it looked incredible and terrifying at the same time. Standing in front of it, listening to Showtek, you were in a staring contest with her majesty, while she erupted in blinding, flashing, pulsating lights – but it was impossible to win.
Boat Stage: The Boat Stage seemed to suck you in, much like a rabbit hole, no matter where you were actually headed, you ended up at the boat. The boat was a massive wooden ship with butterflies as sails - heaven on earth for bass heads. All weekend was the ultimate showcase of bass music: we heard from Milo + Otis, Sound Remedy, Big Gigantic, GladPvck, and more.
The sounds of techno and deep house also received much more attention than most other U.S. electronic music festivals, with three stages (The Big Top, Vinyl-Only, and Spiegeltent) dedicated to the sounds of the underground at the Sunday School “mini-fest” within Mysteryland. Sunday School is a brand long been well-regarded in the underground circuit, and Mysteryland partnered with the promoter to curate the artists.The Spiegeltent was brought in directly from Holland and was constructed from wood and mirrors. Inside, it was like a nightclub in the middle of a field. It's those little details that set ID&T festivals like Tomorrowland and Sensation apart from the rest.
Over at the Vinyl-Only stage, DJ Sneak wowed us with a flawless performance on Saturday. Yes, Vinyl-Only - old school. Victor Calderone told us it was a long process to widdle down so many amazing records into enough for only a set. The Vinyl-Only area also had the best sound.
With Mysteryland's currency "birdie bucks," you could purchase food, merchandise, and beverages. The money was pre-loaded onto your festival wristband, functioning as a wristband debit-system, and establishing the first "cashless festival". However, early Saturday afternoon, there was a hiccup in the cashless system: it did not work. People were very frustrated because the food/drink stands would only accept cash...but no one had any cash because it was supposed to be cashless. Within a couple of hours the system was up and running again, and was fine for the rest of the weekend.
As it grew darker, the temperature outside dropped to a chilly level. I was wearing tie-dye harem pants and brought layers; the girls in embellished bras and other barely there EDM staples looked miserable, making some parties head out early.
Day 1 fav sets: DJ Sneak, Big Gigantic, Visionquest, Dirtyphonics
Upon waking up, it was beautiful, warm, bright, and sunny; perfect festival conditions. With blue skies and happy faces, we were ready for another day of mystery. Day 2 was more about specific artists and had to be regimented to see just enough of everyone.
The Boat was THE stage for the day. Heavy on the bass, you had Branchez, gLAdiator, gLAdpvck, Paper Diamond, Dillstradamus, oh my! Chase & Status threw down a spicy drum & bass set, while Brillz was certainly feeling the nostalgia and played Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” from Woodstock. Fans were turnt up, really getting into Loudpvck's dirty trap.
Mysteryland USA brought a diverse palette of sounds to its attendees - both new and old. Q-Dance has slowly made its way to the U.S. Mysteryland was one of the first to dedicate an entire stage for the harder styles of electronic music. While the decibel levels are slightly higher than I can take, I gave Q-Dance a shot and checked out a little bit of both AudioFreq and Ran-D. I witnessed a sense of unity and energy in the sweltering hot Q-Dance tent, which was pushed towards the back. After really pushing hard style as a draw to the festival, the production was disappointing as compared to the other stages, but on the upside, the tent was intimate and felt like a private show.
The main stage artists had a uniform sound all day Saturday and for the most part Sunday. Moby spun an atypical set. Nonetheless, “Infinity”, Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, and Tiesto's "Adagio For Strings" blasted through the speakers. Moby also found time to give a lecture in the Healing Garden on Music and Healing Properties of it on the Brain. Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike took the stage next and played a bootleg of Jefferson Airplane‘s "Somebody To Love".
Hot, sweaty and packed to the brim in the Spiegeltent, Pete Tong and Justin Martin both played sets that confirmed their sonic brilliance, and are neck and neck for best set of the weekend. Pete referred to the tent as a "proper rave."
At the end of the night: it came down to a tough decision: Kaskade or Dillstradamus (Dillon Francis and Flosstradamus) Dillstradamus played Alice Deejay’s “Better Off Alone” and amongst some Daft Punk and great throwbacks like Three 6 Mafia’s “Stay Fly”. It was the ultimate showcase of bass music. Meanwhile, over at the Main Stage, Kaskade's set was intoxicating. The thing about Kaskade is, he never has a typical set. Every time you are getting a different piece of him. He was the perfect person to close out the main stage. We all got goosebumps as fireworks went off in accordance with “Something Something Champs.”
Epic Closing Ceremony: Featuring Prodigy’s "Smack My Bitch Up" and David Guetta’s remix of Avicii’s "Addicted To You" played along side the spectacular light show and fireworks. Watch the epic ending below:
Day 2 fav sets: Pete Tong, Justin Martin, Kaskade, Brillz, Milo + Otis
Back at the B+B I stayed at, I saw lanterns being lit and float up into the air, an end of festival ritual. It was the perfect ending to a very memorable weekend in the land of mystery. Mysteryland successfully launched itself into the United States and has created a new standard for future festivals to compete with. I will definitely be back next year, and the next, (we heard a rumor that ID&T has a 3-year contract with Bethel Woods).
Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to chat with Victor Calderone, Dominic of Big Gigantic, Sultan & Ned Shepard, gLAdiator,, Branchez. Look for Mysteryland Interviews coming later this week!