Eat Sleep Rave Repeat: A Mysteryland USA Review
Photos by Marjana Jaidi
Bethel Woods, New York -- On the bucolic grounds of the original Woodstock, a crowd of roughly 20,000 ate-slept-raved-repeated last Memorial Day weekend. The occasion marked the first ever edition of Mysteryland USA, which is produced by the Dutch entertainment company ID&T (also responsible for brands such as Sensation and Dirty Dutch, and owned by the publicly traded New York-based SFX Entertainment). The brand markets itself as the longest running electronic music festival in the world, with the original Mysteryland having taken place in the Netherlands in 1993.
Those in the music and festival industry were curious to see if Mysteryland could differentiate itself and draw a critical mass of attendees as the EDM (electronic dance music) calendar also featured the Movement Electronic Music Festival in Detroit and the East Coast edition of Electric Daisy Carnival in New Jersey on the same weekend. By most accounts, the event was successful and rumor is that ID&T secured the Bethel Woods site for several years, so here’s what you can look forward to if the event returns to the states.
Location and Lodging
The remote locale in upstate New York combined with the option to camp on the grounds meant attendees were committed to the festival, as compared to events based in a major city where many attendees return home each night. That is, for better or worse, the festival is the main attraction. Note that those who chose to camp were prohibited from reentry upon exiting the grounds. While we heard camping could get sloppy, Airbnb options were affordable and civilized.
Mysteryland channeled Tim Burton with surrealist setups like a vintage-furnished half-living room and the “Alice in Wonderland” inspired Main Stage made of giant playing cards in the form of castle-like turrets. The new-age spirit of the original Woodstock era was also referenced in the merch shops selling tie-dyed Mysteryland swag and yoga classes in the “Healing Garden” area. Co-founder of ID&T Irfan van Ewijk said of the ethos, “We want to create a multiple day life and art interactive experience… in between the creative underground festivals, but also the big commercial dance events, and also the real off-site creative events like Burning Man.” This spirit was reflected in the whimsical fantasy-like installations and artwork across the grounds.
Finally, the producers of Mysteryland drove home a message of inclusion. “Dump your prejudices here” read a pastel hued sign on a tree, because this festival does not endorse sipping hatorade. Perhaps in reference to the recent beef between “underground” DJs and “commercial” acts (see EDM's Mainstream vs. The Underground: Time to End the Hate for a thorough discussion) an MC on the Main Stage proclaimed that whatever your musical preference, well, it doesn’t matter because we’re all here to have fun and turn this verdant field into a mosh pit!
In keeping with Mysteryland’s goal of universal appeal, the many and varied mutant offshoots of electronic music were represented in the festival’s lineup. The towering Main Stage featured names recognizable even to the EDM-oblivious, such as Kaskade, Steve Aoki, and Moby. Mysteryland also gave a nod to the growing popularity of moombahton and trap acts such as Flosstradamus and Dillon Francis as both played the Main Stage separately, then came together for the mash-up act 'Dillstradamus' on the Boat Stage during the prime Sunday closing slot at the same time Kaskade played the Main Stage. Other trap-tastic acts such as Brillz, Loudpvck, and Bro Safari played on the Boat Stage, which resembled a pirate ship with oversized butterflies for sails. Mysteryland also brought its own bit of Dutch flavor with a stage dedicated to Q-dance, a Netherlands-based company focused on hardstyle and hardcore electronic music. At The Sound of Q-dance stage, crowds thrashed to the aggressive high-BPM sets of artists like Ran-D and Audiofreq.
Mysteryland also worked in conjunction with the well-regarded promoter Sunday School to create a “mini-fest” of techno and deep house acts from the underground circuit. The large format Big Top stage featured mostly techno DJs such as Joseph Capriati, Marcel Dettmann, and Chris Liebing. At the intimate Vinyl Only stage, old school names such as Victor Calderone, DJ Sneak, and Carl Craig mixed with newer acts like Frank & Tony and Thugfucker. The jewel of Sunday School was the Spiegeltent which took on the form of a carnival funhouse from the outside, while the dark interior approximated a full-on club complete with wooden floors, booths, and mirrors. Spiegeltent highlights included a five-and-a-half-hour four-way tag team by Visionquest (Seth Troxler, Lee Curtiss, Ryan Crosson, Shaun Reeves) and the genre bending set of electronic music godfather Pete Tong. Resident Advisor favorites such as Justin Martin, Heidi, and Scuba also played the Spiegeltent.
The 21+ age restriction kept out the babies with their braces still on. While attendees were still getting “turnt up” (or whatever the kids call it these days), the well-behaved masses were decidedly less newb.
Much of the audience was dressed normally, or at least “festival normal” with a sea of strappy tanks, denim shorts, and faux Wayfarers. Also in full-effect was standard EDM gear of the neon furry leggings and candy (plastic beaded rave jewelry) type. Others recycled their Coachella outfits with desert-ready boots, tribal-inspired geometric prints, and fringe layered on fringe. A few did a Woodstock throwback with tie dye, Joplin-esque sunglasses, and psychedelic hippie print fabrics.
ID&T has extensive experience with festival production, and the execution of Mysteryland’s first appearance in the US was better than most. Traffic was manageable, lines moved along, and aside from one errant streaker the event was free of major incidents. Food and beverages weren’t cheap (some booths charged $15 for a sandwich), but festival food never is. The Smorgasburg-catered options were tasty instead of barely serviceable, which festival food often is. The only real gripe we heard was that the cashless payment system was wonky on the first day, but was straightened out by the time we tried it out on day two.
Mysteryland managed to finish without molly-deaths, DUI accidents, or Woodstock ’99 style fiascos. In fact, perhaps this festival was the counterpoint to that. One could argue that 90’s alt-rock was partially a product of dazed and confused Gen-X angst, which culminated in the aimless riots of the last Woodstock. In contrast, present times are marked by amorphous, hyperactive universalism. The Internet has made all things everywhere and anytime, and it’s not cool to stick to one style of music anymore.
So I posit - what genre is more universal than EDM? That is, music, that’s (usually) produced by some electronic device, to which you (usually) dance? What festival is more global than a Dutch one, that also sometimes goes to Chile, that’s owned by an American conglomerate with DJ’s that spin records with lyrics in every conceivable language, or no lyrics, or that no one even cares what the lyrics are anyways because they’re too busy eat-sleep-rave-retweeting about it?
Anyways. We’ll probably see you next year, Mysteryland. Goodbye for now. But first, let me take a #selfie.