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Contributing writer Brian Anderson had the dream job of following the Insomniac road from Nocturnal Wonderland to Beyond Wonderland over the last two weeks, and here, he reports back on his wanderings from the wondrous worlds…

Nocturnal Wonderland took its first somnambulatory spin at San Bernardino’s San Manuel Amphitheater on  September 21st, and the debut was an Insomniac electronic dream come true.

From outside, the event looked and sounded like a foray into a sci-fi world, complete with ray beams and sonic booms . Yet, the instant our crew stepped inside, the event unfolded into a multi-layered EDM lovers’ dream. The lineup was stacked with top-notch artists, audio-visual installations, music, rides, and and an array of costumed headliners that brought a brave new world to life.

Nocturnal Wonderland originally launched its theme on the back of Alice in Wonderland, and traces of its origin can be clearly seen today.  Author Lewis Caroll’s inspiration for a brightly colored and fantastical world tips into the ominous at Nocturnal with a larger dose of the chaotic and mad elements always looming.  Headliners in attendance jumped into the expanded theme with over-the-top thematic costumes, elaborate kandi, and even t-shirts with original sentiments such as, “F*ck the Molly, where’s Holly!” hinting at promoter Pasquale’s recent nuptials with self-professed “professional glamour girl,” Holly Madison.

Insomniac went all out on four particular stages at the event. First, the Queens Ground stage setup was incredible. The stage, set in front of a gothic style church, was a wholly new experience for this sometimes jaded concert-goer. Stained glass windows made for perfect visual installments, and pyrotechnics as well as laser light shows were on point. What set this stage off, however, was the live graffiti artists spraying their own art pieces up in front of the entire crowd during Andy C’s mind-blowing drum and bass set. QG was mainly focused on the heavier side of EDM, resulting in the headliners’ nickname for what was known as “The Bass Stage.”  With the ever-solid Datsik headlining, and frenzy-inspiring Carnage, fan-favorite Kill The Noise and all-around-incredible-vibe-bringing Bro Safari performing throughout the rest of the day, Queens Ground lured the real Trap and Bass fans out more than any other stage.

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The Sunken Garden stage was also a pristine example of Insomniac’s commitment to maintaining their high standards. In the overall dreamscape, the stage could be described as a sequence where the dreamer runs head-first into a giant owl’s nest where an oversized owl is perched, waiting for your arrival in the very center. Located between the Main Stage and Queens Ground, The Sunken Garden had the best dancing area of Nocturnal Wonderland. The grass amphitheater was able to comfortably accommodate thousands of people who were there to see Dash Berlin, Markus Schultz, Martin Solveig and more favorites who kept the dreamers going on their journey.

Nocturnal Wonderland’s main stage, Labyrinth, was hands-down the center of the entire event. The stage contained a massive “Whispy Woods,” an interactive tree character with hundreds of multi-colored lanterns and ornaments hung from its branches. The artists were set up between huge teacups at the base of the tree. Occasionally the eyes of the tree would focus on the crown and the lights would dim, plunging headliners back into the darkness of the Nocturnal dreamword. In particular, this stage exemplified Insomniac’s talent in displaying a  well-choreographed festival. With such a light-hearted theme for the main stage, the event maintained a constant uneven feeling of light and dark. It contained the most diverse lineup including, soul-shaking Excision, icon Fatboy Slim and the beloved Bingo Players all performing on it.

It was the tented stage of Alice’s house that brought back memories of the childhood novel.  Though the stage might be imagined as a setup that partook in the “drink me” potion and shrank in size, this setup had some of the best sound and visual show production of the entire festival.   There were lasers going all over the place, smoke machines in full swing, and projection mapping on the ceiling that left spectators in awe. Damian Lazarus, Green Velvet and Lee Burridge  were some of the Deep House djs spinning throughout the night, and they definitely knew how get a full-size crowd grooving.

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Still in a dream one week later, Palo Alto was launched into the fantastical Beyond Wonderland Bay Area for the second year in a row. Spanning the length of two days, Beyond brought one of the most solid lineups Insomniac has ever featured. They not only brought in some of the most in-demand DJ’s from around the world, but they created an over-the-top crowd pleaser that did not disappoint their loyal headliners. There was never a dull moment in the two-day marathon, and Insomniac outdid itself in entertaining the festival fans.

The production of the main stage, Queens Domain, was truly groundbreaking. Our team concluded that Queens Domain earned its regal title over all other stages.  The “Alice in Wonderland” theme was in full effect with an animatronic “smoking” caterpillar taking up the majority of center stage. This stage hosted some of the biggest names of the weekend including: Tiesto, Calvin Harris and Hardwell. Throughout the day, regardless of the artist, this stage had a huge sea of people riding the wave a Disneyland fit for adults.

The Mad Hatter’s Castle stage wasn’t nearly the size of the main stage, but it held its own. The sound system was louder, the laser light shows were incredible and there was always plenty of room to maneuver around the crowd. The large screens provided unique visual shows that the main stage couldn’t support. Throughout both days, just about every genre of EDM was played; whether it was D-Block & S-Te-Fan playing hardstyle, Zeds Dead playing dubstep, or Avicii bringing the house music and every other genre he seems to be traversing at this juncture. This stage had the best crowds of the festival, with an easy-going and overall stellar vibe.

The other major stage was Cheshire Woods, which like its ever-changing feline namesake, took on a new personality for its stage each night. On Saturday it was deep house with artists such as Francesca Lombardo and Art Department spinning on the decks, but come Sunday it was all bass. Hosting the heaviest and most dynamic artists at the festival, the people who made their way here got the pleasure of intense drops, booming bass, and constant head banging. Carnage closed out the night with his special encore from earlier in the night, but the best sets at this stage had to go to Zomboy and Datsik. No one quite got the fans going the way they did, and it was incredible to see their ability to control a crowd.

Walking around the venue was an experience in itself. Performers dressed as mushrooms, lambs, and just about anything you could think of brought an ambience that earned Wonderland its title.

When it came to the details of the real world, the free water refill stations were life-savers, and members of Insomniac’s Ground Control crew were all very friendly and informative.  Following the Insomniac map from Nocturnal to Beyond Wonderland proved that this is an operation that continues to outdo itself, and we can continue to look forward to new and untapped worlds for many years to come.

Now that both Nocturnal and Beyond Bay are over, Insomniac is currently focused on their up coming event, Escape From Wonderland. Escape is one of the best Halloween themed events in Southern California, selling out both years since it’s inception. This year it’s been relocated from the NOS Event Center to San Manuel Amphitheater, the same venue Beyond Wonderland Southern California and Nocturnal Wonderland were located. So far, no lineup has been announced, but knowing Insomniac there’s a good chance there will be a ton of top notch talent at this event. Mark your calendars for October 26th, it should be a night to never forget.