There’s a reason why Nocturnal Wonderland has been around for so long. As North America’s longest-running dance music festival, Nocturnal Wonderland celebrated its 21st anniversary this month. Now a three-day behemoth, it has become one of the leading Labor Day festivals in the US.
Anyone who’s ever attended knows the freaky fun truly happens at dark. Here, the night creatures roam the world to the beat of 1,000 simultaneous drums, and the phrase carpe noctem is a way of life. At Nocturnal Wonderland, we own the night together as one.
Nocturnal Wonderland 2016 came with full force. This year’s festival welcomed an eclectic roster of buzzing DJs and world-renowned producers that represented the diverse and full sounds of electronic music across five massive stages. This year’s installment also welcomed a fresh look and sound to the festival, including a collection of live acts new to the Insomniac stage, the debut of the 360-degree Labyrinth stage, the expansion of the Silent Disco and after-hours campground, and interactive black light installations.
Here are some of our favorite things and moments from Nocturnal Wonderland 2016.
Black Light Tunnels
We all know Nocturnal was lit AF this year, but the punnery reached another level with the numerous black light tunnels scattered throughout the festival. Ground Controllers passed out brushes and cups of neon paint at the entrances, and once inside, Headliners went full Jackson Pollock on the walls and each other. Paint was rubbed on body parts, drizzled on the ground, and accidentally brushed “all over my favorite shirt, bro!” The tunnels were also a prime spot for selfies and snaps, including two dudes who expressed both their creativity and their love for one another by engaging in a playful slap fight, “because #Harambe.” —Rich Thomas
Getting Down at Upside-Down House
Those who made the trek to the top of the hill were not only rewarded with one of the most breathtaking vantage points of Nocturnal, but also got to get down with their bad selves to the sounds carefully selected by the Insomniac Records crew. They were the ones responsible for curating the cast of performers at Upside-Down House, which has been a home to newly discovered and firmly established acts year-round at virtually every Insomniac festival. The Recs crew really wrecked it at Noc, though, and it showed from the healthy crowd that stayed posted up at their spot throughout the weekend. This was especially true after sundown, consider how its facade was drenched in black-light-reactive paint, making it a glowing structure that was nearly impossible for ravers to walk away from. —Sam Yu
Disco Ball at the Sunken Garden
If you didn’t already know, I spend most of my free time in the techno tent—techno temple, if you will. So you can imagine my enthusiasm when news broke that EDC Las Vegas’ massive disco ball (yes, the largest disco ball in North America) made its way to the Sunken Garden at Nocturnal Wonderland. It seemed like every time I walked in there, the lights reflected off the orb more intensely, spreading the disco vibes to every corner of that holy place. Shout out to when Âme played “Howling” at the end of his Saturday-night set; the CO2 cannons were going off, and the million facets of the disco ball were shining brighter than the sun. —David Matthews
The Smirnoff House Was Popping Off
Remember those house parties you used to roll up to that always got broken up a mere 20 minutes after you set foot through the door? Well, the Smirnoff house brought all the good about those close-circle-of-friends vibes without the worry of some unexpected visit from the po-po. And instead of the iPod shuffle controlling the atmosphere from the corner, the Mixmag team created a space where Headliners could sip on a cocktail while a respectable list of legends and locals held down the fort. Some of the artists took it a step further and derailed from the usual programming to experiment, like Laidback Luke’s ‘90s R&B jams and throwback hip-hop handled by Bingo Players. A select few were streamed live via the Lab, so scope those out if you weren’t within earshot of the extremely crisp and clear VOID sound system they wheeled into Wonderland. —Sam Yu
ODESZA Led the Pack of Nocturnal First-Timers
The late addition of ODESZA may have caught a few ticketholders by surprise, seeing as the crossover act isn’t exactly the most obvious booking for Nocturnal. Yet risks were taken on the talent side of things this year, with the team taking a chance on a number of artists whose first time it was entering the Insomniac fold. Taking the closing slot at Wolves’ Den on Saturday, the two-piece smashed the stage with live renditions from their far-reaching debut LP, In Return. When they took the stage after a short changeover set from Coyote Kisses, it seemed the crowd needed no time whatsoever to adjust and rock the hell out of the hillside while members Clayton and Mills manned their own stations, equipped with a drum kit and a keyboard. My body immediately went into melted-butter mode when they performed their remix of Slow Magic’s “Waiting,” but the crowd seemed to favor their Zyra-assisted smash hit “Say My Name” and the dreamy soundscapes of “Bloom” on their end. Needless to say, the group was a perfect fit for those looking to broaden their party palate. —Sam Yu
Expansion of the Silent Disco
We Insomniac folk have seen some Silent Discos come and go—in every shape, size and genre, no doubt. But 2016’s Silent Disco trumped them all. The production, the lights, the size and scope of the tent, everything—was next-level. We heard some amazing sets in there—from our full-timers Shmitty and Leiel to newcomers Roscoe and Mark Lizaola, the vibes were top-dollar from start to finish, and our Headliners were loving every second of it. Here’s to all the memories made and the ones yet to be made. —David Matthews
Night Owl Radio Car Cruising Around
It was hard to miss the Night Owl Radio car as it roamed around the festival grounds all weekend long. Aside from having a nifty set of wings resting along its door panels, the Owlmobile rocks a decent-size sound system. It was used to blast past episodes, like the Nocturnal Wonderland mega-mix, which aired Friday night of Nocturnal’s three-day jamboree. The NOR team cruised through the crowd to capture shout-outs for our recap episode. If you spotted them and stopped by to say hi, make sure to tune in to see if you made the cut. —Sam Yu
Last year’s 20th anniversary Nocturnal reunited a legion of old-school L.A. underground heads. This year, their collective campsite footprint nearly tripled in size, a testament to the festival’s deep roots and the camaraderie of the people who helped build the culture. The OG’s custom, all-white Frequency sound system was bumping well into the night, piloted by veteran DJs who threw down a mix of house, breaks and jungle, while a who’s-who of the early ’90s rave scene danced into the morning. We spoke to a few young Nocturnal first-timers who were drawn into the camp en route to the festival and never made it to their mainstage destination. Looks like the pull of those deep house rhythms and warm, welcoming old-school vibes were too strong to resist. —Rich Thomas
Arts & Crafts
With a steady stream of DJs providing a soundtrack, the arts & crafts area within the Silent Disco tent was the hub of campground creativity. Custom tie-dye T-shirts could be seen hanging up all throughout the campsites, and the colorful bandanas came in handy when the Saturday night winds whipped up a little extra dust. While the interior of the festival is where Insomniac Experience Creators put their imaginations to the test, the campground is a DIY paradise. Props to the arts & crafts team and the guest services crew for always going the extra mile and making community activities so much fun for our campers. —Rich Thomas
Never too crowded and with just the right amount of sound selection rolling in from the nearby reggaemobile, the Nocturnal water park was the place to be until the festival doors opened. It was also the prime spot to cool down on Thursday and Friday, when the weekend weather was at its hottest. For Headliners who wanted a little more action, the dueling water slides provided some friendly competition. Needed to get that morning workout in? The mini jungle gym was your spot for some back, chest and tricep exercises. G.T.R., ya’ll: gym, tan, rave. —Rich Thomas
Electric Sky Co Fired Up New Flavor, S’mores Stars
While the forecast may not have said “cloudy,” those in the vicinity of San Manuel Amphitheater saw a completely different story. Electric Sky Co set up shop in the heart of vendor village, hooking up the vape community with all the essentials for blowing the fattest of clouds. From tanks to mods and everything in between, the ESC booth had it covered. But the main reason to pay them a visit this weekend was to cop S’mores Stars, the new flavored added to their line of juices and inspired by Nocturnal’s camping experience. The light notes of chocolate and charred marshmallow complements the smoky wood-fire undertones. My only problem was going through the 60-mil bottle way too fast, but that’s a personal one. —Sam Yu
If you’ve ever worked an Insomniac show, you’ll know that production pups are a necessity. Carter Hale jumped into our team this year and production life has never been better now that the fluffy new mascot has repped our crew. Between the between-set cuddles, the lovable licks, and the fact that he favors certain members of our team (not salty or anything), Carter has provided us with endless entertainment and enjoyment this entire weekend. Sorry Winston….there’s a new pupper in town. —David Matthews