In trance we trust: Dreamstate’s rise to become America’s premier trance destination [Event Review]
Trance fans are considered some of the most dedicated in the dance community, and Insomniac has wisely tapped into this ardor with their beloved Dreamstate series. The flagship event was first held in Southern California in 2015, selling out in just hours.
With this success in mind, Dreamstate has evolved into a cornerstone brand of Insomniac, spreading first to San Francisco, then internationally to Australia and Mexico as its own standalone event. In addition, trance fans attending bigger Insomniac festivals have been pleased to find the company designating whole stages to Dreamstate, curating nothing but top talent with each takeover.
Twelve months passed by swiftly, and all of a sudden it was already time for Dreamstate to return to its original home at San Bernadino’s NOS Events Center for a second two-day bout of pure trance. Eager guests flooded the gates promptly at its 5pm start time on Friday, this time better preparing for the cold weather with multiple layers and colorful varieties of onesies.
photo credit: aLIVE
Just like last year, where the debut Dreamstate served as a launchpad for Insomniac to cultivate a behemoth brand, the second Southern Californian edition saw Pasquale Rotella and his team testing the fervor of American trance addicts by transforming the festival into a fully immersive experience, complete with four different stages filled with every flavor of the genre imaginable. The theme of this year’s Dreamstate was “terraforming our new society,” and each stage expertly followed this message.
The Vision stage, for example, had geometric, orderly decor — triangular screens burst with sharp, LED visuals while lasers covered the enclosed crowd, painting a futuristic and organized view of Dreamstate’s ideal look. Fueling The Vision further was the music it hosted, which comprised of most of the weekend’s forward-thinking uplifting and tech performers that are propelling the genre into the future. Their multifaceted sets, which covered the total emotional and sonic scope of trance, weaved together an ideal “vision” of what Dreamstate and the genre as a whole might become.
Highlights of The Vision stage included Pure NRG closing the festival out on a powerful note on Friday, recreating a multitude of uplifting tunes like “Falcons” and mashing them into each other live as part of their innovative setup. FSOE newcomer Niko Zografos was granted an extended set on Friday as a result of Allen & Envy’s cancellation, doing a fantastic job substituting for his more experienced counterparts with a pounding, jubilant song selection. John Askew and Will Atkinson dominated the stage on Saturday, presenting their audiences with raw, uninhibited tech trance.
photo credit: Holy Mountain
The Sequence was dedicated entirely to psy trance, which is one of the first instances ever in America where the smaller subgenre earned such attention at a large-scale event. Like it’s groundbreaking list of artists, which included heavyweights like Coming Soon!!!, Astrix, and Vini Vici, The Sequence stage held the most futuristic setup. The smaller enclosed area looked almost like a spaceship, setting the decks up on top of vivid, layered LED screens. Where The Vision outlined Dreamstate’s potential, The Sequence demonstrated the great bounds it has already made.
Psy trance’s immense growth over the past couple years in America was truly embodied at The Sequence stage. Both nights saw the room filled to the brim with excited fans looking for more experimental sounds in their music. Vini Vici, Astrix, and Astrix & Ace Ventura under their Alpha Portal project caused the building to overflow throughout a good portion of Saturday night. Avalon, who closed Saturday with the most authentic, full-on psy set of the weekend, also filled the room to its brim — an occurrence one might not have thought possible as recently as two years ago.
The Timeless stage hosted an array of veteran trance heroes, which drew an enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd to its intimate boundaries. Production was minimal there, but ultimately this did not matter as the ageless music was the clear centerpiece. Psychedelic visuals cast a glow over the small tent as faces lit up with smiles and feet moved feverishly to classics like Rank 1’s “Airwave” or Super8 & Tab’s “Helsinki Scorchin’” played by the likes of Binary Finary, Talla 2XLC, and Richard Durand.
An added bonus of Timeless was that it was the only stage where DJs were granted extended two-hour sets, allowing them to properly douse the area in blissful nostalgia. Through old-school sounds and electric energy displayed at this stage throughout the weekend by its attendees, the message of the stage was driven home: all it takes for something to stand the test of time is beautiful, yet finely-crafted simplicity.
Finally, The Dream stage tied together all the aspects of the other stages to fully define Dreamstate as a whole. ATB, Paul van Dyk, Rank 1, and Aly & Fila headlined this stage, enchanting the crowd with a mixture of uplifting clips and their own gems from years past. Meanwhile, newer icons in the scene such as Ben Nicky brought eclectic mixes of tech and psy to their sets, adding variety to the lineup.
While The Dream was set in an open hangar space, frigid temperatures hardly affected the steadfast crowd as they huddled together under the overhang and embraced each other while singing passionately along to anthemic tracks blasting through the speakers. The experience was indeed dream-like for all those bearing witness to talent there. Naturally, this stage boasted the most elaborate setup, showcasing its full potential — sound was crisp and well-articulated, while elaborate networks of lasers and visuals played out consistently throughout both nights.
Photo credit: Jake West
Dreamstate’s expansion could be defined as a resounding success for the brand, however, it was not completely without fault. Jumping from just one stage to a large-scale festival with four stages was quite a leap, and this translated to many of the stages maintaining a “half-full” status throughout a good portion of the weekend in addition to many difficult set time intersections. As a result of such a swift expansion, some of the stages were not attended to with the same care as others. Timeless and The Vision stages, for example, experienced sound issues that endured throughout all of Friday and were hardly improved upon for Saturday.
Fans also expressed disheartenment at set time length and heavy conflicts due to there being four stages of such stellar talent — most agree that one hour is not enough time for a trance DJ to properly tell a story in their sets. Perhaps a good improvement for Dreamstate to consider would be to reduce the stages to two or three, and book fewer DJs while giving them each longer set lengths. Doing so would mirror many of the hugely successful trance festivals in Europe such as Luminosity, while still providing a large menu of artists to choose from.
These slight pitfalls ultimately failed to dampen the overall positivity flowing from artists and attendees after the weekend had passed. Insomniac is a company that knows exactly what it takes to put together top quality events, and they unquesitonably delivered with Dreamstate 2016. A combination of incredible music coming from the best of the trance paired with passion, love, and fervor rarely exhibited outside of the trance family has solidified Dreamstate’s standing as a key building block in the genre’s renaissance.
After successfully terraforming the Dreamstate society as one, we look forward to seeing the brand’s continued growth entering into year three as America’s premier trance destination.