It’s often the little moments that stick in your head. This year’s edition of Mysteryland has plenty about it that is worth remembering — the design of the main stage, for one. In typical opulent ID&T style, it's a magnificent owl tasked as keeper of the DJ booth, its moving eyes peering down upon the crowd with a view of the water behind it. The joy is watching it truly come alive at sundown (aided by lasers, lights and flamethrowers of course), when the structure somehow seems to grow in stature to tower over the thousands gathered.
However, the beauty of Mysteryland is in the wealth of little details. That moment as you’re moving through the crowd to find a comfortable spot, when the sound of a ‘pop’ draws your view skywards — to see a breathtaking amount of confetti raining down, illuminated by strobe lights.
Mysteryland takes place a stone’s throw outside of Amsterdam, and this year celebrates its 20th anniversary, making it one of the world’s longest-running dance events. Importantly, it also set the template for the multi-genre, spectacle-heavy day events that are now happening all over the world. Organisers ID&T branched out to Tomorrowland in Belgium, and while that event would come to eclipse its parent in terms of hype, Mysteryland has an otherworldly atmosphere all of its own that arguably makes it one of the best dance events in Europe.
Helping create this otherworldly vibe are the grassy fields and rolling hills of the Voormalig Floriade, which has hosted the party and its 60,000 attendees for the past decade. The crowd does feel evenly dispersed across the 15 different stages, creating a genuine ‘exploration’ vibe as you walk the grassy fields, cross the rivers and climb towering slopes (or otherwise slide down them), in order to get from stage to stage.
The grounds of the Floriade are split into two main regions, each housing an even split of the different arenas. The main stage dominates the northern area of the grounds, and in the early afternoon the bustling crowd is treated to a perfectly crafted set from Joris Voorn. He’s one of Amsterdam’s most iconic house and techno veterans, but his presence demonstrates the edge of sophistication that Mysteryland holds over the more commercial events that have come in its wake; as well as the consummate musical taste of the Dutch.
Voorn knows how to lift his sound appropriately for a festival crowd, and today he comes out firing with a jackin’ set of tech house that is furiously groovy, and doesn’t let up in energy. A set from another Amsterdam veteran Fedde Le Grand later in the day reveals how much he’s embraced the EDM revolution; Voorn on the other hand manages to strike the perfect energy, while remaining true to his sound. It’s difficult to imagine him playing the main stage of Tomorrowland or Ultra Europe, but today the crowd is lapping it up.
By now, the infamous ‘Dutch effect’ is already shifting into high gear; those beaming smiles, and the joyous, uninhibited dancing to Voorn’s slamming grooves. As opposed to drawing a large amount of festival tourists, the crowd is largely made up of locals today, reflecting how much the event is a cultural institution for partygoers, with many who have been to nearly every single event. And today, the energy at Mysteryland is nearly indescribable. One of the most up-for-it crowds you’ll ever encounter, smiles begin to spread across everybody’s faces as the day moves on, like a spell rippling across the festival grounds. It’s like the Dutch have a natural affinity with partying, and they’re ready to embrace the fantasy experience for all it has to offer.
Porter Robinson begins a trio of performances from the EDM big-league later in the day, which concludes with Steve Angello and Steve Aoki. However, Robinson brings the most class out of all of them. It’s a dynamic set that roars through big room house, trance, hardstyle, and all manner of other noisy diversions, at a blinding pace, though it feels there’s been real thought given to pushing boundaries. Another reminder the main stage can still be played with style.
If that ain’t your thing though, there’s still plenty to enjoy at Mysteryland. In the far north corner of the grounds you’ll find the Electric Deluxe Presents tent, catering to Holland’s healthy love of proper smashing techno with acts like Joseph Capriati and Speedy J. Another key spot on the northern side of the festival is around the corner from the main stage, taking you along a path hosting a row of art and craft stalls, as well as infinite other little details. Roaming costumed performers, art installations, forest decorations, handwritten notes on wooden plaques. It all amounts to so much more than the sum of all the different parts.
Keep walking, and you’ll find the Studio 80 tent right next to the Visionquest room. The former is named after the Amsterdam club of the same name, and hosts a classy cast of house and techno heroes during the day that includes Eats Everything, Cassy, Steve Rachmad and a particularly spirited (not to mention pumping) closing set from 2000 And One. Earlier in the day, Tiga plays one of the most memorable sets; his sound capturing the fun-yet-authentic vibe of the tent, and showcasing his recent shift towards harder techno that’s also kept the electro-pop edge of his early career. His brand new Audion collab 'Let’s Go Dancing' goes down a treat.
Visionquest on the other hand host one of the smaller, yet most interestingly designed arenas of the event — a circular wooden structure with a tiered wooden dancefloor, somehow recalling the feel of a church, while the colourful canvas roof otherwise recalls a circus tent. Label diva Dinky plays a beautiful, gentle live set earlier in the day that sees her jumping on the mic, while heavies like Seth Troxler and Shaun Reeves step up for an intense few hours later on.
You could spend your entire day enjoying the fruits of these few stages, but an adventure to the south of the grounds is essential; it’s where the expanse of the Floriade really opens up. To get there you’ll have to cross a windy path over a lake that’s spotted with giant lily pads, a swirl of balloons suspended above. Beyond, it really does become clear how much effort ID&T have invested to fill every inch of the festival grounds with colourful detail. Flags dot the hills, arranged in circular formations to be admired from a distance.
Structures built from tall wooden slats pepper the landscape, mini villages are to be found everywhere, and around every corner there is something wonderful and strange to greet you — there’s a ‘Healing Garden’, wooden giraffes peering curiously out at you, a cast of Wonderland characters having a tea party. You might stumble across a giant teddy bear you can plonk yourself under for a rest.
The biggest stage of the southern area is the Q-Dance arena; reportedly responsible for selling a whopping 20,000 tickets all on its own, and it shows how much the Dutch really do love their hardstyle. Like the main stage it’s an eye-boggling affair, a spectacular 3D ‘head’ flanked by a menacing array of speakers. The dancefloor stretches back to a viewing hill that is itself a spectacular formation, and can be seen from far afield, somehow carved by Dutch farmers into a pyramid formation with a mysterious black vault perched on its peak that hosts a secret room.
Both the main and Q-Dance arenas host spectacular ‘end shows’ in the final half hour, where ID&T really do pull out every trick in the book. However, every time you fold out your map during the day, you’re simultaneously instructed to, ‘Go On and Get Lost!” This ends up being the Mysteryland status quo. The setting is just too wonderful for any one spot to hold your attention for long, and you find yourself wandering aimlessly from stage to stage, wide-eyed.
20 years is an impressive history for any dance event, stretching back nearly for the duration of electronic dance culture itself. You could definitely feel this heritage at Mysteryland, as well as all the genuine love and care from the organisers for creating a genuine fantasy world. It’s a party that trades excess for style, where it’s not just about the smoke cannons on the main stage, but also all the little details in-between that flesh out the experience. Mysteryland is an authentic Dutch cultural event; and it’s one of the very best dance culture has to offer, too.
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