It’s hard to pinpoint the essence of what makes a rave a rave. It’s not a collection of instantly recognizable artist logos on a flyer, or the sum total of confetti, lighting and pyrotechnics used in any given production. It’s not kandi bracelets, fluffies or totems, and it’s definitely much more than words like peace, love, unity or respect could ever capture. When it comes down to it, it’s not really even just the music or the crowd.
Rather, a rave is all of these things, but it’s also none of them. It’s a feeling that exists in the moments between moments. It’s the smile of a stranger frozen in eternity as a circle of colored light briefly spills over their face. It’s the echoing metronome of bass kicks guiding you to your destination as you wander through dark, unfamiliar terrain. It’s the instant connection between you and somebody you’ve just met, whom you can immediately tell will become a lifelong friend.
Make no mistake about it – Nocturnal Wonderland never stopped being an honest-to-god rave. Naturally, as electronic music has flourished in the 20 years since the brand’s inception, it’s become necessary to incorporate concert-like elements into the event’s production to facilitate its growth. The long trek up to the gates of the San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino, California, for instance, was punctuated with such heavy police and security presence that over 200 arrests were made over the course of the three-day festival. As you walked in, the line of corporate vendors and high-budget stage setups contrasted significantly with the idealized image of outlaw promoters throwing off-the-cuff parties under the nose of the law.
However, as soon as you came to the peak of the hill around which the venue was situated, you looked down over a sea of bodies illuminated by flashes of light from a handful of stages and attractions and realized that the organizers of the festival have succeeded once more in creating a fantasy world to temporarily transport you away from reality. Light projectors washed out the surrounding hills in a rotation of color and elaborate art installations reinforced the feeling of being transported to some kind of dreamworld. If you’re any kind of dance music fan, looking out over such a breathtaking sight felt like coming home.