I Traded Kandi Bracelets For a House at Mysteryland
Just when I thought I'd have to sleep in six inches of mud, barter culture pulled through.
Photo by Jackie Lee for Mysteryland.us. All other photos by the author unless otherwise indicated.
Last weekend, when the original Woodstock grounds opened up for the very first time since 1969 for the North American debut of Mysteryland, I knew things would be different. Sure, there were still hippie-buses decked out in psychedelic colours and scraggly-haired men covered in love beads, humping the air. But the 20,000-strong crowd that descended on the verdant fields of Bethel Woods, New York this time around were children of the digital age - more likely to wear Go-Pro cameras around their heads than flower crowns.
Mysteryland's Boat stage, with the camping grounds in the distance
Still, I wanted to see if "back then" was really so different from "these days." Old fogies like to pretend that "Millennials" are air-headed narcissists who prefer EDM songs about selfies to political anthems by Bob Dylan. You might argue that the Woodstock ethos is still around—we just call it "PLUR" now. But what exactly does "peace, love, unity, and respect" look like these days? To find out, I decided I would survive the weekend without spending a dime, relying instead on a system of gifts and barters, just like in the idealistic days of communes and utopian societies.
It helped that Mysteryland was also the first cashless festival in North America, meaning that everyone's wristband came with a chip that you were supposed to pre-load with money. Unfortunately, the system crashed several times, so you were pretty much fucked if you needed to buy anything during those outages. However, it also meant that the crowd was way down for trade sites.
Festivalgoers topping up their wristband chips with money
Of course, in order to kick start a system of trades, you need something to actually offer. These two entrepreneurial ladies named Alison and Roxanne were sitting on a grassy knoll making flower crowns. Apparently there's good money to be made selling flowery things at EDM festivals - so good that they've started a busineses around it. They made me a customised garland for free, and suddenly, the wheels of PLUR were in motion.
I noticed a giant hot air balloon casually resting on a nearby hill. It was actually a branding stunt (surprised?) by a Swedish hard cider called Rekorderlig. I tried to barter the flower crown for a balloon ride, but the stupid storm clouds dumping stupid rain on everyone made that trade impossible.
Instead, one of the seemingly endless supply of hot Swedish girls working for Rekorderlig offered me an American flag bandana. I accepted immediately once I saw that it had a Duck Dynasty logo, because if I didn't, then the terrorists win.
Obviously, I had to check out the main stage - a staggering castle built out of giant playing cards that was pumping out big-room house, fog, lasers and video projections in spades. "Put your hands up!" screamed Fedde Le Grand, as did pretty much every single headlining DJ that weekend.
I spotted a girl with collection of kandi bracelets in the crowd. She was a seasoned raver named Vivi, and in between head bobs, she confessed that she'd been making kandi all year to get ready for this festival. Now that's dedication.
Vivi accepted the Duck Dynasty flag, and gave me two bracelets that fittingly said "Mysteryland" and "The Rabbit Hole." (We did the PLUR handshake. Duh.)
Next, I headed to the Big Top tent - where a school bus stage hosted too-Euro-for-the-main-stage acts like Booka Shade, Joris Voorn and Chris Liebing.
Packs of shirtless juice-heads, French yuppies, grey-haired hippies, colourful kandi kids and Asian bros roamed freely inside. Here are Ed, John and Brian from New Jersey, who kindly offered me the hottest commodity of the weekend - fresh pieces of gum.
Meanwhile, the Q-Dance tent was busy converting newcomers to the sounds of hardstyle - that Dutch-born genre of kick drum-heavy, gnarly dance music that's slowly seeping into America. Ravers who'd never even heard of Showtek, Wildstylez or (the rather unfortunately-named) Coone were still shuffling around like rabid madmen.
Jennifer was one of those hardstyle converts. While pulling off a couple of her own kandi bracelets to trade, she couldn't stop gushing about how much of a highlight the Q-Dance tent was for her weekend.
Next, it was time to hit up the all-vinyl tent, where Carl Craig and Dimitri were going back-to-back, spinning the platters that matter.
In the dancing crowd of vinyl purists, I found this Brooklyn-dwelling Burning Man-type named Christopher Zeus. "I fucking love trades!" he shouted, draping a bunch of Mardi Gras beads around my neck. "I've had these forever. I hope you find a good home for them." Magnanimously, he wanted nothing in return.
I danced straight into this hairless twink from LA who was strutting around like he belonged on a Bravo set. "Oh my god, I'm gonna get you white girl wasted," he promised, grabbing my Mardi Gras beads and pushing a water bottle of moonshine straight into my mouth.
It tasted wonderful.
I stumbled over to the Sin Salida stage, where a "creative collective" of artists dressed in full Dias De Los Muertos get-ups were drumming and dancing to baile funk.
I started dancing with these babes for a little bit...
... until this monster in a Beanie Baby onesie came charging out of the darkness. He scooped me up and gave me a massive bear hug. I had fleeting visions of my childhood until I realised my nose was buried in his chest hair.
Making my way back to the main stage, I saw Steve Aoki performing his usual stunts - that is, throwing cakes and taking photos like this one.
Everyone actually looked a little bored; by the middle of Aoki's set, the crowd was noticabley thinner. I wondered if this was a sign that the public's appetite for formulaic, stunt-based EDM was waning. Before I got a chance to ponder that thought, this dude pulled me into a light show. Lightshows are pretty much the bread and butter of any EDM festival, and this glover was onto some next-level shit - his reflective, mirror-like mask allowed me to see my own bewildered face gazing slack-jawed at the light trails.
Pro tip: never look at yourself getting a light show because you will look like an ass.
After Aoki's set, I made my way to the massive camping site informally known as tent city. The spurts of rain had soaked into every part of me, and mud was in parts of my body that I didn't even know I had. But the showers weren't working. And people were pissing everywhere. And someone was shouting, "Fuck sleep!" And the Bang On! crew were throwing an after-party in their bus. Oh, and the sky was crackling with smuggled fireworks. Sleeping here was going to be a struggle.
Just when I started to despair over the likelihood that I'd have to try and snooze in ankle-deep mud, the single greatest thing that has ever happened to me at a rave went down.
I was crouched under a dripping tent with a group of strangers dressed as Super Mario Bros and Power Rangers. One of them was a local nurse named Sara LaFleur. I told her how I was considering sleeping in a friend's car. She reached into her pocket and gave me the keys to her house - warm bed, cold shower, and refrigerator full of food included. It turned out that she lived across the street, but wanted to camp with her friends.
She barely knew me. She had no guarantee that I wasn't going to steal all her stuff or eat all her food or do weird shit like spit on her toothbrush. But she still trusted me. I'm still not really sure why. That's when I realised that it doesn't matter if you call it "flower power," "PLUR," or just "not being a dick to your fellow human beings." Whether in 1969 or 2014, music festivals remain surprisingly effective vehicles for spreading an ethos of universal love and respect.
And that is how I traded a kandi bracelet...
...for a house at Mysteryland.