Belgian's dance music megafest recently celebrated their 15th anniversary. Agnes Klos reports back from the first weekend of celebrations
The summer breeze whispers of a magical place imbued with stories, a place where imagination is nourished, wisdom is cherished and a new generation of musical storytelling is cultivated. Nowadays spanning two weekends to meet the high demand for tickets, Tomorrowland is a global-trendsetting sonic experience that encompasses all genres, styles and sub-styles of electronic music, and attracts some 400,000 ravers to the small town of Boom every summer.
The scenic headquarters of Tomorrowland – the recreational nature park De Schorre, filled with rolling hills, shimmering lakes and an amphitheatre-style arena surrounding the mainstage – is home to 18 stages (including the stage at DreamVille for the pre-party, The Gathering) and welcomes over 1,000 artists. This stunning setting is awe-inspiring by day or night.
For 2019, Tomorrowland returned to its 2012 theme, The Book Of Wisdom. This year the fairytale-like bookcase (a stunning set of giant books placed both horizontally and vertically, which opened and closed with integrated LED screens) was the basis of the backdrop used to create mosaic artwork by recycling works from past 15 years. People from over 200 countries flocked here to witness the landmark event, united by their love of music.
The tingling sensation of an impending musical heaven was already in the air on Thursday, when the first visitors began to arrive in DreamVille (a vibrant city of 38,000 guests per weekend) and The Gathering kicked off with stomping beats on the hand-held globe stage.
On Friday at noon, the feast of first impressions really began, with the arrival of excited, smiling music-hungry ravers who flooded into the Main Stage valley. The three-hour DayBreak Session belonged to the one-and-only Carl Cox, who transported SPACE from Ibiza to Boom, and it was not long before the entire crowd was set on fire with massive hits such as Space Date by Adam Beyer, Layton Giordani & Green Velvet. Building on all that pumped-up energy, Belgian techno ambassador Amelie Lens proved again with her signature fusion of classic beats with a fast, futuristic edge - like the monster hit Energize – why she is one of the most in-demand DJ/producers in the world.
Other mesmerising soundtracks of Friday’s Main Stage were provided by DJ Diesel (AKA basketball star Shaquille O’Neal) and Tiësto. While DJ Diesel blasted the ravers with his powerful blend of trap, hip-hop and dubstep, Tiësto used his expertise as an excellent remixer to bring a broad array of vocal-loaded hits to sing along with. That was followed by an explosive performance from EDM-pop duo The Chainsmokers, who caused waves of ecstasy, hands shooting in the air and shrieks of joy, especially when dropping Losing It by Fisher.
Other highlights on the Friday were Dax J in the Cage with his trademark raw, uncompromising techno, Above & Beyond’s melodic yet uptempo club tracks at the mushroom-stage Youphoria (hosted by Anjunabeats) and the most interesting emerging new talent from Belgium, Cellini, who brought a record bag full of crafty cuts to the tipi-tent of Atmosphere.
But one of the most amazing spectacles – of the Friday, of the weekend, and quite possibly in Tomorrowland history – came in the form of Eric Prydz‘s epic world premiere of Holosphere at the Freedom Stage. The Swedish maestro debuted his insane, technologically-advanced show during which he put himself into a massive LED sphere, projecting holographic 3D effects (a burning sun, an astronaut, Planet Earth) with a curved massive LED wall behind him for simply an unbelievable set. Also on the same stage, but on Sunday, hearts melted as a 60-piece orchestra made up of talented young Dutch and Belgian musicians presented classical reversionings of some all-time Tomorrowland anthems.
On Saturday, incredible performances were delivered by Paula Temple (playing relentless techno on the stage hosted by Russian techno goddess Nina Kraviz), Oscar & The Wolf (playing live on their own stage at Lotus), and Tales of Us, who were hosting their own Afterlife stage for the very first time at a festival and showed off their deeply moving, emotional sound.
Nico Morano and Catz N' Dogz (on the Core stage, hosted by Dirtybird) united fans of melodic progressions, euphoric drops and gentle breakdowns; Caspar & Don Cabron – two brothers, resident DJs and Ketaloco party organisers – mastered the deeper sounds and produced eargasm on the dancefloor; Armin Van Buuren made the hearts of everyone at the Main Stage beat faster with his emotionally-charged galloping trancers; and Bonzai All Stars resurrected the vibes of 90s Belgian raves in the Rose Garden.
The last day, Sunday, was filled with dancefloor devastators and dynamic performances. A gateway to another world was opened up with Come With Me served by hard trance diehards Cosmic Gate. The Belgian techno star who's taken the world by storm, Charlotte de Witte, celebrated her birthday and had the Atmosphere tent bursting at the seams with the amount of fans who gathered to hear her darker-than-usual but truly excellent set of headstrong, captivating techno.
Meanwhile the Kara Savi Stage was hosted by new psytrance imprint Alteza Records. The label is the brainchild of Vini Vici, and the Israeli duo entertained trance lovers with their immensely diverse output, followed up by Infected Mushroom with their Retro Live Show – the full sonic force of a live band throwing the crowd into a frenzy. DJ Murdock, who was celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Rampage this year, delivered a sizzling helping of dubstep and drum & bass with MC Mota in L’Orangerie (a stage which was transported from the French Alps after the winter edition of Tomorrowland). Timmy Trumpet infected everyone with his endless bundles of energy and his performance turned out to be yet another electronic monster, especially when Russian singer Vitas joined him onstage to sing viral hit The 7th Element live.
After kicking off his performance with the iconic Sweet Disposition vocal by The Temper Trap over a brand new track, Danish DJ/producer Kölsch presented a set composed entirely of his own music and ended with the classic All That Matters, bringing Troels Abrahamsen to sing the song live under a firework-filled sky. Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike (brothers who started out as ‘gophers’ for the Tomorrowland artists and have become the headliners) ft. Steve Aoki & Friends took us down Memory Lane with 15 years of anthems, and to finish off every evening, we received a special treat – the 15-year spectacle. By weaving together indigenous and contemporary thoughts, a crescendo of sky-piercing organ chords, instruments and iconic tracks, Tomorrowland invited all music-lovers on a vivid collective journey – exploring the past and encouraging all to help build a brighter future.
With a finger-licking line-up, elaborate stage design, heart-stopping visuals, breathtaking lasers and rip-roaring fireworks, Tomorrowland knows exactly how to bring the madness. In the span of just a few years, Tomorrowland has achieved what many other festivals dream of for decades – a global reputation as one of the world's largest and most notable music festivals. Selling 200,000 tickets per weekend in record time and having its own YouTube channel, radio station (Tomorrowland One World Radio) and even aeroplanes, Tomorrowland is simply a cultural phenomenon.
Words: Agnes Klos & Gino Van Herp Main pic: Agnes Klos & Gino Van Herp Insert pics: Tomorrowland
Tags: Tomorrowland, Boom, Belgium, festivals, European festivals, Carl Cox, Charlotte De Witte, DJ Diesel, Tiesto, Chainsmokers, Dax J, Above & Beyond, Cellini, Amelie Lens, Eric Prydz, Paula Temple, Nina Kraviz, Tales Of Us, Afterlife, Oscar & The Wolf, Nico Morano, Catz N' Dogz, Armin Van Buuren, Bonzai All Stars, Cosmic Gate, Vini Vici, Infected Mushroom, Rampage, DJ Murdock, Timmy Trumpet, Kölsch, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Steve Aoki