UPDATE: According to Fontana Herald News, Timothy Hoang, a 23-year-old resident of Westminster, became unresponsive on Saturday, at approximately 1:45 a.m., in the medical tent of Nocturnal Wonderland. He was then transported to the Community Hospital of San Bernardino, where the San Bernardino County Sheriff Coroner’s Division pronounced him dead. Anyone wishing to contribute to Hoang’s funeral expenses should visit the GOFUNDME campaign that was set up on his mother’s behalf.
“Welcome creatures of the night! Prepare to enter a strange and unusual fantasy land.” An Australian man’s voice, accompanied by the sounds of rainforest critters, played through a PA system, said something to that effect to the guests awaiting security screening at Nocturnal Wonderland. Those in the know and those who had caught wind of the epic EDM festival had traveled from throughout the country (and probably from throughout the world) to become a part of the altered reality inside Glen Helen Regional Park, in San Bernardino.
Before I and my surrounding festival goers had gotten to the gate of the two-day festival, I observed with some curiosity the fashions of my fellow hikers. As an outsider with little to no experience with EDM music or rave culture until this evening, I had never experienced an event by Pasquale Rotella (the renowned DJ / Producer of Insomniac Events). The majority of people around me, it seemed, had; and there were two aspects of their attire that many of them shared. The first was that they were dressed in a manner evocative of colorful prizes from a gumball machine, and the second was that they were parading a lot of fleshy bits. In fact, I do believe that I was in the minority of people because my butt cheeks were not exposed.
As we left the parking lot to begin a long walk passed a final threshold of normality, A few Christians held up signs and bade us to resist evil temptations and put our faith in Jesus. One festival-goer muttered, “Dude, the main reason we came here is because we want to sin, and Jesus accepts everybody.”
A half hour later, I was among thousands of people scattered throughout the event. There were three major stages — dubbed: Wolves’ Den, Labyrinth, and Sunken Garden — and one minor stage, called Boombox Art Car, which consisted of a gigantic set piece shaped like a boombox. Apart from the stages, the grounds were bedecked with various types of relaxation zones, where people could get out of the heat; trippy set pieces, which doubled as colorful light sources by night; miscellaneous photo op and art stations; food, drink, and clothing vendors; and plentiful porta potties.
This was about an hour or two before sunset. The DJs were just getting started, and the crowd was instantly engaged. Individuals, couples, and groups variously danced, kicked back on the grass, bought stuff, or joined the large queue to receive free filtered water. Many of the people in groups of two or more dressed alike, carrying flags and signs. The writing on those standards ranged from company names to amusing slogans and commentary, like: “It’s time to go if you don’t like techno,” “Call of Booty,” and “Where are my parents?”
One uniformed group of girls identified themselves as the iHeartRaves Unicorns. Their spokesperson, who goes by the name Daisy Dew Drops, revealed that she and her fellow group members traveled from different parts of the country to represent iHeartRaves clothing at Nocturnal Wonderland. She explained, “We wear [the clothes] and are really passionate about the brand, so they have us come out here and spread love and joy and give out candy and have a lot of fun! We’ve been camping since Thursday, and this is absolutely incredible. I like that it’s very intimate with everybody; you’re really close to your neighbors. You get to know people; you get to see the same people around the festival…there’s a huge vibe here.”
As for the DJs, of whom I knew nothing; the girls said that they’d planned out their festival strategy long ago, in terms of which stage they would attend at a given time. They rattled off their favorite DJs: Kill the Noise, Space Jesus, Slushii, Liquid Stranger, but even the headlining musical stars were not the principal attraction for them; it was the scene. “We’re excited for all of the artists. Even if we don’t know them, we’re going to jam out to them and just listen to some new stuff and having a good time.”
Further along the grounds, I came to another group of people. The seven members of this group of friends all wore alien antennae. The only male among them identified himself as Andrew Decasas, and he said that they were locals, from San Bernardino. This was his second time at Nocturnal Wonderland. As in the case of the unicorn girls, these folks weren’t so much here for an act as to just be a part of the scene. When asked what he loves about the event Decasas explained, “You just vibe with everybody, and we’re a family so we vibe with our family.” Pointing to his antennae, he continued, “This distinguishes us from everybody else, but still we’re all one as a family, you know…You can go walk up to any stranger, and they accept you as who you are, and you just vibe with them and you become a family right away.” It wasn’t very long before I felt what he was talking about.
Everyone was extremely polite, and getting back to that exposed flesh — in addition to all the booties, many of the women wore only paint or pasties to cover their breasts — this was so common throughout the grounds that it became unremarkable. Furthermore, I didn’t observe any creepy or lecherous behavior on anyone’s behalf, and Decasas’s statement about family came back to me. This was a safe zone, and everyone behaved respectfully toward one another; if any women or men wanted to walk around half-naked or more than half-naked, then they had the liberty to do so without consequences. Beyond that, as the sun set and the sole illumination came from the stages, art installations, vendor kiosks, and a few glowing hula hoops and accessories, it became too dark to even see anything in detail throughout much of the festival grounds.
After checking out a few DJ sets and really enjoying those of Kill the Noise, the aforementioned Space Jesus, and especially BlackGummy, I started to make my way to the exit for my long journeys back to the parking lot and then back to Orange County. By that time, at around 11, the grounds were flooded with tens of thousands of people. I alone fought against a cascading stream of fresh-faced partiers — well, maybe they weren’t all fresh; there was one guy yacking into a dirt patch, while his friends patted him on the back and said, “Get it all out; the night is young!” These folks were pouring in from both the adjacent campground and from newly arrived cars, whose headlights created a light trail stretching quite a ways into the distance.
As I looked back at the festival grounds, it seemed as though the lights from the stages, the installations, and those which had been wound around and all the way up several tall trees created the glowing outline of a distant city — a city that may have been rife with sin, by some people’s reckoning, but a city without crime; a city that shined with the external and internal beauty of its citizens; a city that had a damn fine vibe. Next time, I gotta get me one of those camping spots.