Nocturnal Wonderland: Wild & Wooly in Cali

Bass Wonderland: Firebeatz tore up the Labyrinth main stage.
Photo: David Dyer

By Deanna Rilling

San Bernardino, Calif.Eat. Sleep. Rave. Repeat.

If there was one motto the 43,000 attendees at Insomniac Events’ longest running event could live by, that creed from Fatboy Slim’s latest hit would do just fine. And this past Saturday, Sept. 21, at the San Miguel Amphitheater & Grounds, Nocturnal Wonderland brought the wild and the wooly and Fatboy Slim, as usual, was front and center.

Soon after the Brighton, England-based DJ/producer took the festival’s main stage (aka Labyrinth), he once again showed why he’s still one of the best in the biz at connecting with the audience—from encouraging and directing singalongs to bringing his barefoot self to the stage apron to hype the crowd.

Was it the best set of the night? In terms of pure entertainment and energy, sure. And it should be noted that some of the other DJs at Nocturnal must have taken a cue, as variations of Fatboy tracks were heard in at least three other sets.

Jumping back to the beginning of the day, it was apparent that Insomniac continued to up the ante for production. And, similar to this year’s Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, fans got to experience a giant moving owl encompassing the main stage’s DJ booth. Though it did look like a few of those neon mushrooms from EDC were recycled for the Sunken Garden stage’s decor, a different forged metal looking owl—with eyes that looked like they’d shoot death lasers at any moment—presided over the DJ booth.

Also particularly delightful: Labyrinth’s animatronic tree with moving mustache and mouth that could “sing” to the music. And though not elaborate, Alice’s House (with mirrored backdrop) could trip out even the most sober person into thinking there was an extra person in the booth.

Back on the music front, Firebeatz—though fairly commercial—put a great twist on the familiar. Slovenian techno titan Umek didn’t disappoint and the Discovery Project stage (the pirate ship-looking art car) offered a great chance to find something new. Besides the aforementioned Fatboy Slim set, other standouts included: Markus Schulz, who showed his trance roots, as laser lights bounced off the surrounding mountains; Damian Lazarus, who took us deeper and deeper; and Porter Robinson, who dropped a surprisingly banging frenzy of borderline hardstyle.

Noteworthy mentions also go to Green Velvet and Lee Burridge. My only musical complaint? Dash Berlin’s cheese-dripping set.

On the brighter side, this was the first year Nocturnal offered on-site camping with a variety of activities from Kandi-making to Frisbee golf, fishing, swimming and more, so that’s a definite recommended option for future attendees. (That’s the Repeat part, kids.)

Thanks, Nocturnal—see you next year!

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