The first Nocturnal Wonderland took place 20 years ago, on February 11, 1995. Insomniac Events’ second big production, following the success of its one-year anniversary party the year before, was an exciting event. Mojo, one of the early Insomniac residents, recounts his experience from that night and provides a throwback vinyl mix to give a taste of the sounds one would have heard that evening.
It’s a chilly night in East L.A. The building looks humble enough, its weathered and tagged-up exterior betraying the vibrant spectacle taking place inside. Record bag slung over a shoulder, you flash your DJ pass to security and enter a packed hallway. You’ve got some time before your set, so you cruise around the different rooms to take it all in and get acclimated.
Passing by familiar faces, you make your way upstairs toward furious snares and the deep, rolling bass of jungle. The floor wobbles slightly from a combination of massive bass and a room full of jumping bodies. The man on the decks is L.A. jungle legend R.A.W., driving the gathered junglists into a frenzy with surgical cuts and wicked scratches. To the left of the turntables is a synth rack with a vintage Roland Juno and a small silver box, the holy grail of techno synths: the TB-303. This setup belongs to Xpando, head of the up and coming L.A. label Bassex Records; he’ll be performing live later in the evening. You’d like to stay for a bit and enjoy the jungle riddims, but it’s getting close to set time.
Tickets for Nocturnal Wonderland 2018 are on sale now.
The place is getting more packed by the minute. You head to a lively room with walls drenched in the cool, somewhat eerie gleam of blacklights. Occasional wafts of fog weave through the crowd, cavorting momentarily with the dancers before obscuring them in a purple haze. Glowing mushroom props are scattered around the room, and projected on the walls are loops from Alice in Wonderland. The room is filled with groovers basking in the glory of the rhythms spilling from Shredder’s wall of speakers. The place is going off!
Pushing through the crowd, you make your way to the turntables. There’s no fancy platform here, the decks are located right on the floor. The DJ is one with the crowd. You smile and nod in respect to the man currently spinning. This is Moonpup, an old-school L.A. icon brought back from touring as a special guest for this event. He has the crowd worked up proper with an amazing energy. People are hooting in appreciation as dope breakbeats erupt from the speakers. Thank you, Mr. Moonpup, for handing off this amazing vibe you’ve established.
You look down at your pager; it’s almost time. Moonpup signals with his index finger, “One more record.” Setting down your bag, you pull out your headphones with nervous, slightly clammy fingers. You always get a little jittery before you go on. Looking through your vinyl, your excitement is really starting to build. You’ve got a solid stack of new bangers after this week’s trip to the record shops on Melrose, as well as a few new promos to try.
What an amazing time to be a DJ—so much incredible new music coming out. Even new genres are developing, from funky breaks to house—both deep house as well the edgier, progressive house sounds—to the growing popularity of trance. Jungle, gradually evolving into deeper drum & bass, is becoming a robust force, and techno continues to grow and mature. For those who prefer their beats hard and fast, there’s plenty of Dutch and German gabber and hardcore coming out. For those needing something a bit more chill, a relatively new sound originating from Bristol, in the U.K, is making waves. Trip-hop is a perfect complement to the ambient, dub-reggae and experimental sounds spun by DJs in the chill-out rooms.
As you continue flipping through your records, trying to find the perfect fit for the track currently playing, you begin outlining a set in your mind. While you already have an idea of which records will work well together, most of your set will be impromptu, depending on how the crowd reacts. You have a general idea of the direction you want to go: keep these funktastic breaks flowing for a while, then mellow things out a bit with some nice house grooves before raising the temperature and tempo with techno. Finally, picking through the special stash of gems at the back of your bag, you’ve got to drop some old-school techno classics. Many of the peeps who’ve rolled through tonight were regulars at the Insomniac weekly, so paying proper old-school homage to those nights is not only appropriate, but expected.
Moonpup unplugs his cans from the mixer. You give him a quick pat on the back. “Great set, man!” Fitting your headphones snugly to your ears, you’ve got a coiled cord in one hand, and your opening record in the other. You take a quick scan of the crowd, who are bouncing in perfect rhythm to the groove. To the left, a small clearing has formed as the packed crowd forms a circle around two battling breakers, popping and locking in time with the beat. A few friendly faces flash smiles and thumbs up, nodding in encouragement. You place the wax disk on the platter of a silver Technics 1200. Then, take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and gingerly push the headphone plug into the jack on the mixer. Here we go…
- Mojo’s Nocturnal Wonderland 1995 Throwback Mix Tracklist:
Prayer Warriors “Unto the Break” (Zulu Mix)
Sys'tem X “Wind It Up”
Leftfield “Original” (Original Jam)
Anoesis “Trouble Down Groove”
Metro L.A. “To a Nation Rockin’”
Violet “Burn the Elastic”
Bassbin Twins “EP II”
DJ Icey “Energy Traxx Vol. 1”
Way Out West “Domination”
Da Juice “C'Mon C'Mon” (Mental Bass Mix)
Sarah McLachlan “Possession” (Rabbit In The Moon Remix)
Pleasure Dome “12 Min. to Do It”
Kenny “Dope“ Presents the Bucketheads “The Bomb! (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind)”
Rollin' Gear “I've Got It”
The African Dream “All the Same Family”
Grooveyard “Watch Me Now”
The Nighttripper “Tone Exploitation”
Illuminatae “Tremora Del Terra”
Emmanuel Top “Ecsta-Deal”
Winx “Don't Laugh”
CJ Bolland “Horsepower
M-D-Emm “Get Down”
Razor Boy & Mirror Man “Beyond Control”
Electroliners “Loose Caboose”
Nocturnal Wonderland takes place Friday, September 14, and Saturday, September 15, at Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernardino, CA. Tickets are on sale now.