Updated: Apr 15, 2020
"Rave". The word has so many different connotations, denotations, meanings, expectations, memories, and opinions attached to it. There are people working night and day to put together unique and immersive experiences, talented lineups, and thriving communities for various events across the country, while others work night and day to shut them down. In Southern California, the underground rave scene has grown, changed, evolved and thrived over the past 20 years, and an incredible amount of that is thanks to production powerhouse Insomniac Events. In fact, thanks to Insomniac, Raves have evolved from secret, underground “illegal drug and sex parties” to large scale professional Music Festivals usually hosting about 50,000 people a night and boasting some of the highest paid electronic music producers in the world. While this cultural phenomenon has brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars, employment opportunities, and forged closer ties and positive experiences for humans and their communities, many still see the word “rave” as something bad or negative and there has been a lot of work done towards silencing raves forever. But last weekend, despite all of that, something truly special happened. It was in the air, so potent you could almost taste it on your tongue. It was the end of an era, and everyone was in peak performance, giving it their all for “one last time.” The news came in June, and now the time had come to celebrate. The looming news was that, due to new noise ordinances, Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino would no longer host the extremely popular rave known as Nocturnal Wonderland.
In 1995, at varying locations, Insomniac Events started throwing one of their most beloved festivals: The Nocturnal Wonderland. For a large part of the the last 25 years, the event has been hosted at either Glen Helen, or the NOS Events Center nearby. Glen Helen is a fan favorite, however, and although Nocturnal Wonderland will more than likely live on at the NOS, loss of the venue for the legendary event is extremely disappointing and saddening. Thankfully, Glen Helen went out with a bang. Decorated with hundreds of flashing lights, LED lit stages, original art, performers, and activities, Glen Helen was transformed into a steep and beautiful neon wilderness unlike any other. Popular producers such as DJ Snake, Zomboy and Jauz headlined the main stages, while house and techno artists reigned over the Sunken Garden. Dubstep and wonky bass music occupied the Labyrinth, including a Deadbeats takeover from Zeds Dead on Saturday. Notable acts on the bass stage were legends G Jones, Eprom, Bleep Bloop and Peekaboo, to name a few. Southern California locals Frostbyte and Sumthin' Sumthin’ delivered incredibly powerful sets to start the festival off right, including dozens of IDs, unreleased heaters and an eclectic range of bass music. Catching these local legends on such a massive stage, especially a stage hosted by a duo like Zed’s Dead, was an amazing experience and it was a special glimpse into the future for these young artists.
Meanwhile up-and-coming house legends such as Schade, Kenny Oliver, LondonBridge and Kendoll unleashed outstanding debut performances at the festival (*Cough* two of the aforementioned being Faded Morgana’s Clubhouse alum, by the way). The Househeads in attendance showed up in troves to catch these rising acts and each set went off just as hard as any headlining act ever could. Our friend Kendoll delivered an especially energetic set, never giving the crowd a reason to stop dancing or slow down with heavy hitters and bass-house/tech-house classics alike driving her set forward. At one point the young producer even smacked the audience in the face with a guest appearance from the beautiful singer Kaleena Zanders and then pitched us a fast one from left field by bringing in a few minutes of drum n bass to rile us up before the end of her set. It was an incredibly fun times an one of the highlights of the weekend. Speaking of Drum n Bass, LA local party-throwers Space Yacht hosted the Parliament Art Car on Sunday with a heavy all-star lineup which featured an insane DnB set from the legendary Mat Zo. It was a festival highlight for sure. Sacha Robotti was another incredible act to grace the Sunken Garden, setting an eclectic vibe to get lost in for the entirety of his set. It's hard to wrap my head around the talent this year. Every artist killed their sets at this festival, for the last time at this incredible venue.
Something Glen Helen offers that will truly be missed is their camping experience. Nocturnal Wonderland includes an immersive and exciting camping area set in the lakeside woods that surround Glen Helen’s Amphitheater. Noise ordinances may stop the massive sound systems earlier than ever, but the inclusion of multiple silent Disco’s in the camping areas from 1am-6am after both nights of the festival gave the event a truly “nocturnal” experience where attendees could dance to their hearts content throughout the night. Beautiful colored lights hung above sprawling roads in the luscious, green forest, and eventually they led us to an area where decks had been provided for the crowd to keep the party going. Our extremely talented friends Morelia and Chef Boyarbeatz played the campgrounds for these early morning sets and both went off. Chef Boyarbeatz went b2b with Frostbyte for his second set of the festival, which boasted a range of unreleased and beloved bass classics. The energy kept the crowd going into the very early hours of the morning. Meanwhile, Morelia went up AGAINST Gentleman’s Club on the opposing channel (two artists would play at once but on separate stations at the Silent Disco areas). Although the odds looked stacked against him, Morelia was able to draw in most of the attendees with his incredible mash-up of drum 'n bass and his infamously energetic style of house music. For a rising house artist being put up against dubstep powerhouse’s such as Gentleman’s Club, I’d say that was pretty incredible. Kendoll also returned to the stage with a second set at the silent disco campgrounds that night, along with House of Hustle artist Thomas Garcia who provided an epic house set at the earliest hours of Sunday morning, setting the vibe for the day to come.
Glen Helen will be missed, but the memories created at this legendary venue over the years will last a lifetime. The magical environment has never disappointed, and in this final chapter of Nocturnal Wonderland at Glen Helen, there was no exception. Nocturnal Wonderland 2019 created a stunning music and arts festival where fans could see their favorite artists and discover something new all in one eclectic area. This year Insomniac put on an array of rising artists such as Kendoll, Chef Boyarbeatz, Morelia, Frostbyte, Kenny Oliver, Schade, Londonbridge and more, while still maintaining legendary acts such as DJ Snake, Mat Zo, G Jones, and Camelphat b2b Solardo. It's hard to pinpoint exactly which sets were my favorites because everyone did so well.
It’s going to be hard to find a venue with such a magical and impactful presence as Glen Helen has had in Southern California. The euphoric and almost magical atmosphere at the campgrounds. The view of the distant mountains while listening to amazing original music. The sunsets. Damn, Sunsets at Glen Helen just hit different. And although we’re going to have to make do with a change of location, it’s going to be okay, because we’ll always have the memories we’ve created at any of the amazing Nocturnal Wonderland’s that have taken place at Glen Helen. It’s beautiful that so many new talented artists were able to experience performing at this venue, and even more beautiful that each of them did so with style, energy, and boundless talent. Their careers are just beginning as the sun sets on this chapter of Southern California’s music community.
“Rave” may have many meanings, but when I think of the word I think of that place. That steep hill with the stage on top, that view of the highway that once caught fire during the festival, that road to the campgrounds covered in dirt, that loud booming bass echoing through the lush green valleys. Nocturnal Wonderland was my first rave, and even though I attend events like it less and less these days, I’m glad I experienced it's ending at Glen Helen. No longer amongst attendees, but musicians and visual artists and those working to create this beautiful culture. It's a proud moment to see how far everyone has come. This is where I first experienced this culture. And now this is where I watch myself and my friends achieve their goals. This is the start of a new era, with new artists waiting to experience the next chapter with their fans. This is Goodbye to Glen Helen, and this is thank you for everything.