Mysteryland USA establishes itself as a ‘niche’ festival favoring underground over mainstream
Four years ago, if you had told me that I would grow up liking techno, I would have thought you were crazy.
I’ll admit that there was a time when I was spellbound by the Avicii’s, Kaskade’s and deadmau5’s of the world. I still am, but to a lesser extent than when I was, say, 18 or 19 years old. Most of us have been there — in that early phase of our young lives when progressive house kingpins excited us most about dance music. Years later, we grew up. I grew up.
A “niche” lineup
Already in its second year, Mysteryland’s US iteration faced serious competition from not one, but four major music festivals across the country: EDC New York, Movement, Lightning In A Bottle and Counterpoint. Whereas EDC catered to a more mainstream crowd and Movement was designed for what you might call techno heads, Mysteryland USA fell at the center of the festival spectrum. Its organizers, SFX and ID&T, carefully hand-picked this year’s multifarious lineup — which noticeably downsized the fest’s Main Stage acts compared to 2014’s inaugural run. The shift afforded revelers the prized opportunity to unearth “smaller” visionaries like Paul Ritch, Lee Foss, Mija, and Goldroom, to name a few.
In a word, Mysteryland USA acted as a “niche” festival. Diplo, Dillon Francis, Porter Robinson and Kygo helped sustain 2015’s roster, as it would have been difficult to trump Movement had the festival opted for a solely techno and deep house bill. By uniting international dance music globetrotters with techno legends Richie Hawtin, Maceo Plex, Adam Beyer and Nicole Moudaber, Mysteryland USA welcomed a balanced crowd that leaned neither bro-ey nor rave-ey. Oftentimes emulating a European rave as opposed to the loathed, neon-boasting festival culture that America has bred, the festival set itself apart from most by emphasizing minimalism in all aspects of the word. From more modest production to minimal genres including deep house, tech house and techno, Mysteryland USA was not devised for those seeking an over-the-top experience. Here, it is not the Main Stage that is the heart of the festival, but rather the myriad “underground” acts performing around it — such as the stained glass-garnished Spiegeltent or the shrouded Zeitgeist stage residing on the festival’s hilly outskirts. And thus, a budding air of maturity tinged the festival grounds throughout its three-day course.
An authentic camping experience
Camping at a festival is undoubtedly an experience in itself. As a newbie to living in the great outdoors, it was only during my time at Holy Ground that I realized just how much occurs behind the scenes. A figure in an Iron Man costume danced down a graveled road with a boombox on his shoulders, while just a few feet away someone dressed in a Pikachu onesie cracked open a Bud Lite as he sat in a blue, foldable chair. In reality, the people you meet and the activities you jointly partake in are the root of the “true” festival experience.
Take, for example, the BangOn! NYC bus. Though wayfarers had yet to be indoctrinated into one of Brooklyn’s prided warehouse parties, BangOn! is a brand that most New York City dwellers have familiarized themselves with since its 2012 inception. Enter its signature silent disco: a gathering of night owls donning a pair of BangOn!-branded headphones while dancing to music in absolute silence. Held each evening from 2am until 6am, the line for Mysteryland USA’s first-ever silent disco series stretched across The Plaza Central each of the three evenings.
BangOn! got involved with Mysteryland very last minute. Someone had said they heard about our boombox, and we said, “Hey, we’ll bring it up.” So we drove it up here, and we started playing music until 6 in the morning on a Friday night. It’s really special for us because we really aprpeciate being able to get into a big, wide open area where we can do larger-scale stuff. The sky is the limit, literally. – Tim Monkiewicz, BangOn!/The Golden Pony
Along the way, we also met a troop of campers who dub themselves “The Fam NYC:” a thousand-strong crew that shares a common love for electronic music, spearheaded by Manhattan resident, Peter. Perhaps one of the largest organizations throughout Holy Ground, reaching around 180 campers, their site extended across a football field-sized plot along the Friendship camping area. A black flag encompassing The Fam’s logo stood erect amongst the grounds, marking their kingdom-like territory for all to recognize. Nearby lay an 8.5 ft x 17 ft geodesic dome, composed of 65 neon green conduit pipes and 40 hours of intensive planning ahead of the festival’s arrival: a construction largely thanks to the efforts of what friends refer to as “Greek Pete.” Adorned with scintillating disco balls, hammocks, inflatable palm trees and twinkle lights, the dome served as a spectacle for other nomads to admire as they meandered to and from their tents.
With around 10,000 campers in tow, it was evident that guests were in it for more than just Friday’s exclusive opening party featuring the likes of A-Trak, GTA, Richie Hawtin, Maceo Plex and Josh Wink. In the span of three sleepless nights and four short days, hundreds of individual communities lived inside of the festival together, sharing each other’s lives and belongings with friends and strangers alike. I witnessed campers approach their fellow nomads, asking if they needed help carrying their bags or setting up their tents — a testament to the unraveling of new friendships and the deepening of current relationships that a festival alone could not possibly offer. At Mysteryland USA, the sense of camaraderie was not only understood, but collectively embraced; for the first time in a long while, generosity was present in overwhelming doses as we were all in this experience together.
A journey of self-discovery
Mysteryland USA welcomed a luscious medley of stage curators ranging from Drumcode to French Express to Q-dance, and everything in between. As Porter Robinson performed a dazzling live show before a pair of trojans at the bottom of a deep valley, Damian Lazarus delivered a hypnotizing set several hundred feet away at the Spiegeltent stage, compliments of Verboten. On Sunday, fans were faced with the tough choice of choosing between Nicole Moudaber, The Martinez Brothers, Bakermat and French Express B2B Moon Boots, while diehard Diplo zealots secured their front-row spots at the Main Stage early on in the evening.
In playing host to a vibrant array of artists, genres, and stages, Mysteryland USA undoubtedly invoked a wave of wanderlust that tugged at our thirst for more. Many were on a mission to identify what lies beneath the surface of dance music — far beyond Netsky’s blood-rushing drum & bass tactics and Griz’s trademark saxophone. Those who were able to set themselves free and to follow the music found themselves basking in the incredible talents of Lee Burridge, Skream, Guti and Ida Engberg. They felt lost, and confused. But somehow, they were still lured by this enriching revelation and journey of self-discovery.
Four years ago, if you had told me that one day I would opt for Drumcode over Mad Decent, I would have thought you were lying. For the first time in my life, I made the choice to sit out on the heroes who once fueled my adoration for electronic music in favor of obtaining something different. And at that moment, I knew I’d found it.