Trying to Explain Tomorrowland to People That Have Only Watched Their YouTube Channel
I went to Belgium to find out if the festival actually exists.
Tomorrowland, for anyone that has never been, is essentially the biggest dance music festival in the world. This year - the festival's tenth in existence – saw a second weekend added, a capacity of 360,000 people (which is double Glastonbury's meek 175,000), and a butt-load of hench, young, beautiful people attempting to get down to Avicii in the worst clothes possible.
I had never been to the festival before. In fact, being from England, I didn't even know a friend-of-a-friend that had been. My understanding had been formed exclusively from the shit-heap of hi-res videos uploaded to the festival's official YouTube channel: beautiful women, the biggest names in dance music, stages that look like prototypes of Dubai theme parks, fireworks, dwarves, mushrooms and helicopters. It looked like an insane world, full of insane people, and I couldn't believe that it did, in fact, exist.
But it does – and I went there last weekend to experience the fuck out of it. Here's everything I am able to remember.
Unlike other festivals that claim to be a big deal by, IDK, plonking a Red Bull branded VIP bar in the middle of a field or selling luxury falafel, Tomorrowland is a fucking huge deal. Why? For a start, an entire terminal (AN ENTIRE TERMINAL!) at Brussels airport was given over to the festival; a landing spot for dedicated "party planes" that had been arriving from places as far flung as Brazil, Australia, and the US. The planes had Tomorrowland branded airhostesses, DJs, and a pre-party-plane-departure-lounge-party. Have you ever seen something similar at Latitude? No. You haven't. Because only festivals that are a huge fucking deal get to commandeer parties on Boeing 747s.
Unfortunately, because I have a job and rent to pay, I had to miss the party plane and get a regular, non-party plane with regular non-party people.
I entered the site at about 2PM on the Friday – which resembled some sort of bastardised Willy Wonka outtake when the crew members had decided to get on the hallucinogenics. Giant mushrooms, windmills, candy canes, and signs with impossibly cheeky slogans like "Tomorrow is a Mystery" and Live Your Dream" plastered everything.
The first thing that became apparent is that Tomorrowland isn't a festival; It's a theme park for wreckheads. Imagine Disneyland, if the first and second summers of love had achieved anything more than tie-dyed smiley face t shirts and casual sex. From the branded plastic pint glasses to the tulip petal bins, to the Tomorrowland daily newspaper, to the fairytale street cleaners, Tomorrowland is also like Disneyland in the sense that nothing ever breaks the illusion.
It also became apparent that a LOT of people at Tomorrowland arrive in fancy dress. And it seems that the more effort you put in, the more Brazilian girls will want their photo taken with you.
I walked around the site for a little while, attempting to purchase a drink (which are bought with pre-purchased tokens rather than actual currency), when I found myself in one of the festivals premium ticket areas. The premium ticket allows access to various 'comfort' zones. One – a bar about ten metres high, in front of the main stage, with incredible views in a lounge setting.
The other – a pool party where you could mingle with festival dancers and men riding inflatable dinosaurs.
Anyway, because it's hard to distil three days in which over 400 artists perform across 15 stages into a coherent story – especially as every stage apart from the main arena had a different name each day - here's a run-down of what happened on each stage.
The Main Stage
The main stage was easily the biggest thing I've ever seen at a festival. Set at the foot of a semi circle of hills, it was like a natural coliseum but filled with gurning Europeans and techno Vikings rather than Romans and gladiators. Tomorrowland, as you can probably tell from the aforementioned Willy Wonka reference, loves themes. This year, for whatever reason, the main-stage was Steam Punk themed. A huge CGI face looked down on the hordes below, while between acts, a Hollywood-style voice over would boom out some bollocks about the fictional backstory of Tomorrowland. I stopped listening after I heard the phrase "sacred duty" but if you care about that sort of thing you can watch this video.
While this was going on the entire stage would burst into life, huge bellows pumped, wheels span, steam hissed, fire came out of everything and eventually the announcer would declare "PLEASE WELCOME.... AVICII!!!" and a metric fuck tonne of balloons, streamers and confetti would erupt into the sky. The first chords of that "Hey Brother" song filled the air and the crowd went fuck-king-mental.
The Big Wheel Candyland Arena
Despite it's bubblegum aesthetics, this stage was where most of the more credible acts played over the weekend. On Friday night Carl Cox curated a line-up that included: Umek, Loco Dice and Adam Beyer. But more importantly, Carl dropped Laurent Garnier – "Jacques in the Box" sometime after my fifth vodka of the night and it was amazing.
On Saturday it became slightly less credible as it was transformed into the 'Super Me & You' stage where artists including Nero, Laidback Luke and Martin Solveig donned super-hero costumes. I don't have any photos of this because fuck trying to get to the front of that crowd. So here's one of a girl with a neon hula hoop while Nero perform in the background.
The big scary face stage
Then there was this place. It was probably the coolest looking stage, but unfortunately it only ever seemed to play music that sounded like trap remixes of Fake Blood – "Mars". It did, arguably, attract the best crowd though.
Like this red-faced cyber demon.
And this girl who looked like she'd just been kicked off the set of a Netherlands tourism advert for nailing too much ket between scenes.
The psychedelic band stand
I tried to avoid spending too much time at this stage as, although the music was probably the best of the weekend – Jamie Jones, Dixon and Art Department on Friday, the Sven Vath curated Cocoon on Saturday – it didn't feel like the 'proper' Tomorrowland experience. Tomorrowland to me has always seemed more about the spectacle than the music and as easy as it would've been to lose myself for a whole day at Cocoon, a couple of giant lily pads periodically spurting water wasn't cutting it.
Despite it's ostentatious get-up and hyperactive frat-bro who has just discovered dance music aesthetic, Tomorrowland is kind of beautiful. Sure, there are far too many topless stead heads, the more snobby dance music fans might find all the slogans, butterflies, and "OMG EDM" jarring – but Tomorrowland isn't about that.
Instead, it's a big, brash circus of bells and whistles, fireworks and confetti. Essentially – a massive fucking party, with over 300,000 other people, all here to celebrate dance music. If you're going to attend, and want to have fun – which you probably do because it costs a lot to get here – then leave your pretentions, inhibitions, and nihilism at the door. Get caught up in hype and do not give a single fuck. You'll have a great time.