For those who have read some of my previous pieces with Insomniac.com, it should be apparent that I am a rave veteran and that I tend toward the underground in my musical tastes. For those who haven’t read me yet, hello. My name is Layla Marino. I am an independent contributor for Insomniac.com and a recovering jaded raver.
This year at Countdown 2016/2017, the editorial staff gave me a challenge I never imagined I would have to face, due to my rampant and unapologetic (though slowly changing) underground status: cover the modern scene and give observations in a clear, concise and generally neutral manner. It was with some trepidation that I took on this task, as my last venture into festival territory was in 2001 at Nocturnal Wonderland. Now, 15 years later in the face of this assignment, I had a lot of questions. What’s changed? Would I be able to handle it? Are these huge blowout parties really worth it? What’s the draw? This article was my idea. Half curiosity, half self-flagellation, I pondered these questions and realized they were all part of a much larger one: Is the spirit of the community the same as it once was?
By the time I went to my last festival, the sixth Nocturnal Wonderland in 2001, raves had already grown to what was, in my eyes, an intolerable grandiosity. In 1996 in the US, the drum & bass, hardcore and underground hip-hop scenes were making a discernable break from the larger rave scene, and that rift exists to this day. If you can’t tell by now, I went underground. Since drum & bass was really my heart’s music and I’m generally not a fan of crowds, the small club atmosphere and nothing but 170-BPM breakbeat was where I’ve made my home these 15 years. Now, with the advent of dubstep and trap, as well as huge, elaborate and well-organized festivals with killer lineups such as Countdown, it seems the scene is jelling once again—and quite nicely, from all reports. So, it was with no small amount of curiosity—and a perspective more like that of a first-timer than a seasoned grump—that I headed into the dance once again to see what’s changed and, more importantly, what has stayed the same.
What is this weird, magical land I’m stepping into?
This is literally what I thought to myself when I stepped onto the grounds of the NOS Events Center on the first day of Countdown. Artwork has always been a big part of raves, and it used to get pretty elaborate, but the scale here far exceeded anything I could have imagined. Aside from the elaborately constructed stages and visuals, there was a whole world of awe-inspiring visual art stations, a huge installation sculpture in the “lake,” and trees everywhere lit up with artistically done lanterns. The outside of the stage tents even had visuals reflected on them. I wouldn’t say my gob was smacked per se, but it was very impressive.
To read Layla’s full review go here.