Submerging into the Ocean of White: Sensation takes over Oakland’s Oracle Arena
Walking in to Oakland’s Oracle Arena for Sensation Ocean of White felt like arriving at an underwater gala: the guests were clad in white, the air buzzed with a light chatter, and the blue-tinted room was overrun with elegant, ocean-oriented decorations. Gargantuan jellyfish circled the room, while LED panels projected seaweed prints across the walls. There was a sense of sophistication evident in the design, from the spiral staircase surrounding the stage, to the double catwalks extending outwards from the massive centerpiece.
As I waited for the famed, cinematic introduction, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was not at a “rave,” but rather an avant-garde theater production. Suddenly, an explosion of firecrackers diverted the attention to the center of the room. Rumbling percussion grew and grew, only to be backed by a bulging sub-bass. Lasers sprouted from the stage and a chaotic mass of sight and sound drove on; the powerful crescendo culminating with the deep, fantastical voice of Sensation, welcoming us to the Ocean of White.
Mr. White started things off with what I would easily deem the perfect opening set. Sensation’s resident DJ kept the music strictly minimal tech-house and house, keeping the energy low but slowly drawing us deeper into the groove and flow of the music. In today’s US dance scene, our minds are conditioned to expect a barrage of highly energetic music. In many ways, we forget that it used to be building the excitement throughout the night. Mr. White (and Sensation as a whole) returned to this mantra of steady energy progression.
The almighty Nic Fanciulli was up next, continuing the tech-house trend with plenty of delectable techno to go along with it. As the UK craftsman got to work, the subtle pickup in energy was clear. Each kick was accompanied by a massive, moving sub-bass, and the mood was noticeably deeper and darker. Circus-like melodies pervaded the tracks, giving an eerie mood to the set, while psychedelic wails and heavy LFOs added to the sense of strangeness.
As the beat drove us deeper into the night, it was if our ears and minds gradually adjusted to the groove of the house and techno. Each absence of a particular percussive element became more noticeable; the return of the kick more heavily celebrated; a bassline with a few more notes remarkably more invigorating.
By the end of Fanciulli’s set, the crowd was in cheery unison. The Englishman had moved into extravagant territory, laying down jazzy and jungle tech-house selections. Fountains meanwhile blossomed on the catwalks and large luminescent orbs glowed blue. Two hours in and we had unquestionably submerged into the intoxicating world of Sensation Ocean of White.
Prok & Fitch took the decks next, captivating the audience with their keen sampling and fluid mixing. Keeping with the tech-house, the Brighton duo opened with a slew of their own Toolroom Records work. As the blissful chords of Chris Malinchak’s “So Good to Me” trickled from the speakers, the audience released a collective sigh of dreamy content, before Prok & Fitch introduced their groovy bootleg of the French Express single. Prof & Fitch then proceeded to ramp up the energy with two pulsing mashups to Breach’s “Jack” and Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie,” before running us into the ground with Sander van Doorn, Mark Knight, and Underworld’s massive collaboration, “Ten.”
Sander van Doorn, Mark Knight, Underworld – Ten (Original Mix)
With the energy swelling at a justified peak, Prof & Fitch unleashed Norman Doray’s massive August release, “Filtre,” supplemented by the infallible “One More Time” sample. Capping their set off with one of the biggest tracks of the moment, the duo dropped Hardwell’s remix of Funkagenda and Mark Knight’s jazzy Toolroom classic, “Man With the Red Face.”
Next came a brief, pre-produced segment of the show called “The Mix.” The lights soon dimmed and a dark symphony of distorted synths battered the airwaves. The Prodigy’s classic “Smack My Bitch Up” entered the cacophony, only to sputter into a thunderous dubstep explosion as Noisia’s wild remix took over. Faithless’s “Insomnia” was combined with Hardwell’s “Spaceman,” while The Mix concluded with the class stadium anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
By the time Fedde hit the stage, the mood had vastly transformed from the night’s humble, temperate beginnings, to a riotous enthusiasm. Fedde knew this, but in the style of any good DJ, he teased out the energy throughout his entire set. Fedde opened with Roul & Doors stripped down house track, “Melody in Harmony.” Something about the simple melody over the uncrowded beat had a spellbinding effect on the stadium.
Fedde kept the energy at a comfortable place with a few more Flamingo Records tracks courtesy of Flippers, Minimize, Paris & Simo and more, before notching up the intensity with his August release alongside Michael Chelfan, “Lion.” Throughout his entire set, Fedde could be seen diligently at work, aligning tracks and sampling at a dexterous pace. While the tracklist got a little more predictable in the middle section, Fedde finished strong with David Puentez’s remix of Azzido Da Bass’s “Rawk” and Julio Bashmore’s sexy house track, “Au Seve.”
Sensation Ocean of White completely exceeded my expectations. I had anticipated the decorations and theatrics to be clean and elegant, and they were, but what really blew me away was the sound. With the size of modern festivals and events, I’m consistently disappointed to find audio production lacking in comparison to other elements of the show. I can gratefully say that Sensation Ocean of White brought a massive, masterful sound system to the Oracle Arena. The subbass was prominent, the lows clean, and most of all, the mids and highs weren’t piercing my eardrums to the point of discomfort.
While I knew of both Nic Fanciulli and Prok & Fitch, having a few of their tracks in my library, I had no idea what to expect from their sets. While Fedde was undoubtedly the most invigorating set of the night, I ultimately found myself more drawn to both Nic Fanciulli’s and Prok & Fitch’s sets for their ability to slowly build the groove through their minimalistic approach. I’ve walked away with a new found respect for the careful planning that goes into Sensation’s selections of artists. In the end, only one word comes to mind: bravo.