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Mysteryland Recap: How PLUR Revived Woodstock

Woodstock is reborn; this time with untz untz untz.

by Lauren Schwartzberg
May 27 2014, 6:30pm

The main stage at Mysterland, 2014, in Bethel, New York. Photo by Andrew Rauner. This Memorial Day weekend, May 24 and 25, the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel, New York—the site of the original, historical Woodstock festival in 1969—hosted the first American edition of ID&T's longest running electronic music festival, Mysteryland.

Founded in the Netherlands over 20 years ago, Mysteryland US marked a major moment for the intercontinental spread of electronic music and a revival of a youth culture in Upstate New York—but the founder of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Alan Gerry, was reportedly nervous about overdosing ravers. "They're all terrified someone is going to die," said Rich Flannery, a 23-year-old Woodstock native who lives about 15 minutes away from the festival grounds. He worked with Gerry part-time on organizing the festival and acted as a de facto middleman between Gerry's grounds and ID&T.

Flannery lived near Woodstock his entire life and has been begging for a dance music festival. Finally, though anxious, they invited the ravers in, while limiting the crowd to 21+ only. "Gerry's grandsons are my friends and they're loving it, so I think he'll be OK," Flannery added. 

Photo by Pearcey Proper

Kicking off a concert season that normally hosts "drunk country people wearing cowboy boots" listening to Lady Antebellum, Kenny Rogers and the Goo Goo Dolls, Gerry opted instead for a dance music festival with Kaskade, Steve Aoki and Moby headlining from an enormous, LED-lit house of cards. This was the first festival since Woodstock '69 where people were allowed to camp on the grounds, so about 7,500 of the 20,000 attendees packed up the tie-dye, headdresses and colorful kandi decorated tents to celebrate. Although the meeting of big room dance music and the legacy of Woodstock seemed unusual, they co-existed harmoniously for at least one weekend at Mysteryland. 

To enter the campgrounds, scantily clad, glowstick-carrying masses had to pass through the Museum at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, confronting the history and cultural significance of the space on their way to the grounds. This was no parking lot outside of a corporate monolith of a football field that could easily recover from relentless ravers with a one-day cleanup crew. Rather it was the sprawling grounds where a social, political musical movement came together to transform a generation. Could Mysteryland live up to its ancestors? 

Photo by Andrew Rauner

Once we passed through the rabbit hole, everyone faced their first not-in-Kansas-anymore moment: No cash allowed. The festival's cashless system required visitors to load money onto wristbands for the weekend. It was an earnest, positive, even helpful move in theory, that regrettably became disastrous in practice. The system would go down for hours and many were confused about where to replenish the wristband accounts, leaving dismayed before purchasing anything and again when the purchase was denied. For a festival that generally benefitted from its storied experience, with attention to detail like couches scattered around the grounds and a diversely curated lineup, this was the one misstep.       

But about the music... of course the screaming untz untz untz of festival power-EDM was consistently thumping in the distance, but it never overpowered. The wonder and pride of Mysteryland was its variety of incredibly produced, well-thought-out stages and activities throughout the grounds. During Mysteryland, electronic music became a genre to explore and experiment with instead of a shrine to top-rated DJs and big room anthems. 


Photo by Andrew Rauner
 

Carl Craig went back to back with Dimitri in the vinyl-only Sunday School stage as the on-and-off day one rain splattered down on the records. Just a few steps away, a makeshift confessional had ravers ritualistically cleansing themselves of "sin" before a day of debauchery. 

German techno titans Booka Shade played in a purple big top tent on a hill above a chrome "wishing tree" with leaves of festivalgoers hand-written wishes. The Sin Salida tent hosted face-painted actors dancing to Mexican punk and baile funk, while the sounds of Q-Dance brought Netherland's own hardstyle genre to the masses. For late night deep disco, Seth Troxler headlined Visionquest in Sunday School's Spiegeltent, a space a fully decorated as a club, with stained glass windows all on a giant grass field. The seven small tents and stages showed the decreasing relevance of big-room EDM, each becoming their own club, attracting a unique scene.

Day One's main stage sets were sparsely packed, maybe because of the day-long rain, but just as likely because they were the kind of un-self-aware experience the crowd at Mysteryland was moving away from. For a festival more Burning Man than Electric Zoo, the big room sounds and stage shows seemed dated and overdone at times. One highlight came during Steve Aoki's set when he brought out Dutch duo Showtek to formally introduce hardstyle to the American masses. It was one headliner acknowledging there was more music beyond the main stage.

Photo by Pearcey Proper

Day Two brought perfect weather and renewed energy and one thing to everyone's mind: Kaskade that night. 

Before then, trap ruled the afternoon with Branchez's washed out version making way for early-evening headliner Flosstradamus to scream "Remember your first trap song?!" before dropping a booming "Roll Up." 

Meanwhile, in the healing area across the festival, Moby sat on a pink plush grandfather chair in front of three teepees at the exact spot of the original Woodstock '69 stage where he spoke about the healing powers of music. A field full of rave-loving hippies—a number of whom could recall life-changing experiences listening to the early 90s dance music god—sat around a bonfire and listened to Moby preach a peaceful message emboldened by science. "The things you love and enjoy are actually really good for you," he said before explaining that mute stroke victims are sometimes able to sing along to their favorite songs. Just an hour later he entertained the main stage with a pure, joyous dance mix, practicing exactly what he preached. 

Kaskade's trancey debauchery brought Mysteryland to a peak. Hardstyle, trap, big-room EDM fans descended upon the mainstage, covering the entire hill and granting Kaskade the Most Crowded Set of the festival award. 

Photo by Pearcey Proper

In that moment it was clear how the seemingly juxtaposed elements of chilled-out-hippie Woodstock and rage-your-face-off Mysteryland fit perfectly together as both are guided by a philosophy of free-spirited pursuit of peace, love and music. PLUR might not have been a word in 1969, but the concept was. Woodstock 2014 just had more light shows and less bell bottoms.  

For all of Gerry's fears, I did not see one brutish security guard on the festival grounds. Not one authority figure telling people to stop running down the grassy hill by the lake, to not dance barefoot, to put out that joint. One tip from Woodstock '69 was repeated throughout the two days with everyone from bartenders to Moby warning, "don't take the brown acid."    

Photo by Andrew Rauner

Bethel Center for the Arts will make sure Mysteryland and all its remnants are gone by Tuesday, but with a three-year contract already signed, in only a few years Woodstock could become synonymous with Mysteryland. The baton has officially been passed and Gerry should be pleased as everyone left the grounds alive and happier than when they arrived.