A trip down the rabbit hole at Nocturnal Festival

A sea of people inside the Upside Down Room during Paul Oakenfold’s set at Nocturnal Festival on September 26, 2009. (Photo by Richard Brian)
A sea of people inside the Upside Down Room during Paul Oakenfold’s set at Nocturnal Festival on September 26, 2009. (Photo by Richard Brian)

“Oh, but it wasn’t a dream! It was a place! And you, and you, and you and you were there. But you couldn’t have been, could you?”

In San Bernardino last Saturday, it was as if the electronic music fans of Las Vegas magically appeared in OZ or had, perhaps, fallen with Alice down the rabbit hole.

And it kept getting curiouser and curiouser!

A wonderland wove throughout the National Orange Show Events Center, a maze of people, artwork and stages. Stilt walkers teetered above a river of jubilant spectators. Skeletons of umbrellas hung with colored lights looked dancing raindrops zigzagging through the masses. The bass bumped so hard you could feel the sound moving through you.

The attendees themselves at Nocturnal Festival were part of the entertainment. Some created elaborate costumes a la Alice in Wonderland, like Cheshire Cats, Mad Hatters and or classic Alices in blue and white smocked dresses. Others wore next to nothing.

I found myself, hundreds of miles from the familiar neon of Las Vegas, doing my best to blend in to the crowd. Utilizing my costume-making skills from high school, I was dressed head-to-toe in go-go/raver garb, with handmade crocheted hair dreads, fuzzy boots and a whole lot of plastic kandi bracelets.

“You have to admit, the rave culture brings out some artsy motherfuckers,” joked my friend Jessica. Despite being hours from home, around every corner I ran into someone familiar from Las Vegas. You can get out of Vegas to hear dance music, but all of the fans follow, as well.

An entire meet-up group from Las Vegas made the trip together, and there was that one guy I see at all the Vegas clubs, though his name escapes me. Familiar faces I didn’t plan on seeing were spotted, too. I hung out with my high school buddy and Vegas DJ SuPeR K! for a good portion of the night, as we searched for the lost Las Vegan Frankie Wankie, who had wandered off in his shiny shorts and couldn’t find the group he traveled with. Once located, I took him by his leash and led him back to his other Vegas friends. Now that isn’t something you’d see at one of our nightclubs.

All in all, I’d guestimate that a few hundred people from made the pilgrimage to the Nocturnal. Oddly, many of the headliners had either just played in Vegas or were on their way. But something about a massive just can’t be duplicated in the desert, no matter how hard we try.

Case in point, for me, was watching Oakenfold spin on Saturday night. In front of a sea of people in Nocturnal’s Upsidedown Room, Oakie was feeding off the vibe, playing tracks he could never get away with at Rain in Vegas. The crowd gave 100 percent of their attention to the man behind the turntables on stage. Go, Oakie.

Festivals such as Nocturnal seem to bring out the best in DJs and producers. Christopher Lawrence, who makes a few appearances in Vegas each year, captivated the audience at the largest outdoor stage. DJ Dan and Donald Glaude, both just at Moon a week prior, turned their energy up to closed out the night in a tent with such insane visuals even a sober person might think they had been slipped something.

But the crème de la crème of the night was something we’ll probably never see in our city: Ferry Corsten’s Twice in a Blue Moon: The Experience. On the Labyrinth stage was a full on concert that could have been an event in itself. While he spun original productions, the perfectly coordinated lighting and fireworks exploded overheard in time with the music, and messages on the video screen addressed the enraptured audience.

In fact, my only complaints were about the entire event were these: Parking was a bitch, but that’s to be expected. There were way too many prostitots wearing little more than pasties and a g-string, which made me feel old and as if I should protect them… or offer them a sweatshirt. And lastly, I did not go all the way to Cali to hear Dirty South close the festival at the Big Top Tent with “Day ‘N Night.” Maybe you can run from Vegas, but you can’t hide.

As far as funds to attend the festival, Vegas also can’t compare for those on a budget. A stay at the nearby Hilton was only about $60 bucks for the night. The 21+ VIP package for Nocturnal, complete with separate entrance, restrooms, food, ample seating and open bar all night long was only $150.

If you missed Nocturnal this year—now in its 15th year was reportedly their largest attended—mark your calendar for the next one. We may get the same DJs in Vegas, but something about being surrounded by tens of thousands of people vibing together just can’t be duplicated behind the velvet rope in a nightclub. Sure, there’s no place like home, but it’s nice to leave sometimes.

(Originally published in Las Vegas Weekly and at LasVegasWeekly.com.)

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