Mysteryland US creates a community, instead of a crowd, during inaugural event
For twenty years, Mysteryland has enchanted European fans with an immersive experience unlike any other, so when the festival’s stateside debut was announced many had high hopes that the Bethel Woods iteration of the world’s longest running festival would live up to the original’s charm. Despite a handful of complaints, many of which were hiccups in the grand scheme of things, Mysteryland US was a success that provided a refreshing change of pace from the increasingly muddled US festival experience.
Creating a community instead of a crowd.
Just over 2 hours away from New York City at Bethel Woods, the inaugural Mysteryland US was a destination for some and an obstacle for others. Fair-weather dance fans and those without the desire to spend a few days in the dirt were better suited to some of the weekend’s other festivals, leaving Mysteryland nearly devoid of the reckless hedonists that have suddenly become synonymous with festival culture. Perhaps it was its location, tucked away at the home of the original Woodstock, or maybe it was the lineup, but it was as if the promoters understood that there is a growing market of seasoned dance enthusiasts dying for a festival to call their own — diehards who are sick of watching geeked-out teens being dragged unconscious out of a technicolor nightmare.
With three tents dedicated to underground sounds courtesy of Sunday School scattered throughout the grounds, Mysteryland embodied the more mature sensibilities of veteran fans — a risk that was at first met with dismay by those eager to see the standard, start-studded lineup of every other festival, before being embraced by those with a taste for the music beyond massive drops.
Whatever the underlying reasons, Mysteryland’s true success came in the form of the community that it fostered, not its stage production, performance troupes, or an endless showcase of predictable productions.
School is in session.
Tucked away at the bottom of a deep valley, the Mysteryland Main Stage stood tall, its alabaster towers peaking out above the tree line. Host to Steve Aoki, Kaskade, Showtek, Nervo, Moby and many more, the castle of cards provided just the right amount of Main Stage debauchery without overwhelming or isolating those who prefer their music a bit more subtle. Q-Dance, however, did not fare so well, and hardstyle fans found themselves shunned underneath a hot tent with lackluster production – a far cry from the Main Stage caliber stage designs that the genre receives overseas. Although impressive (and visible from all corners of the festival), the Main Stage was not the center of attention; instead the crowd’s focus was drawn to the Spiegeltent, an enclosed dance club adorned with stained glass windows.
A church of sorts, the wooden hotbox proved ideal for 7 hours of Visionquest worship on Saturday and one of the weekend’s most impressive sets courtesy of Justin Martin on Sunday. Nearby, at the Vinyl Only stage, Sunday School continued its sonic education series, delighting fans with a pristine sound system and warm vinyl grooves. The always-ornery DJ Sneak took some time out from beefing to twist up a flawless performance on Saturday, validating the veteran DJ’s right to talk shit on his youngblood competition. The third and final stage of Sunday School’s takeover was set under the Big Top, a stripped down carnival tent-turned-techno cavern that hosted Dubfire and Pan Pot amongst others. Dillstradamus, Big Gigantic, Figure, and more hosted their own raucous party atop the Boat stage, a jagged wooden ship of twonk and twerk that satisfied the bass-fiends in attendance and was responsible for some of the rowdiest crowds of the weekend.[/max_85]
Paths less traveled.
The original Mysteryland was an expansive trek throughout the woods in Holland, an experience that rewarded exploration with unique art exhibits, interactive performances, and countless stages. Its US iteration scaled back both the size of the festival and the scope of its offerings, an initial disappointment but an understandable precaution: as the menacing mud pits and temperamental Birdie Bucks indicated, this was clearly a test run, and in twenty years who knows the breadth of the festival’s possibilities. That’s not to say that Mysteryland US did not have its fair share of personality. Couches were strewn throughout the grounds, providing respite for weary legs, a house of mirrors allowed you to see your own true self, and a mischievous band of Dia de Muerte performers served up strong tequila and sultry beats at the Sin Salidi taqueria.
A return to festival roots.
Beyond the EDM arms race of bigger and better stage design and the ever-present contest so often associated with festival marketing shticks, Mysteryland took a back-to-basics approach to the festival experience. It’s often a complaint from the old guard, the jaded fans who have seen the culture drastically shift in the last 5 years, that festivals are full of mouth breathing heathens, kids who can’t handle their drugs, and all manner of bros and hoes, but at Mysteryland that stereotype was the exception, not the rule.
It is not the size of an LED screen that defines a festival, but rather the type of people who chose to attend it.