It’s been eight years since my last EDM festival. In between Ultra Music Festival 2008 and Sunset Music Festival 2016, my exposure to the EDM scene was limited to attending various events at clubs in my hometown of Orlando (including the memorable experience of seeing DeadMau5 at Firestone). Sunset Music Festival was a great reintroduction to the scene.
To find our fellow ravers, we had to look no farther than the hotel parking lot – both days, they were everywhere along our route from the Tampa Riverwalk to the Raymond James stadium.
Since my time away, there have been many changes in the festival scene. The artist line-up is certainly very different now. Technology has advanced so much that Sunset Music Festival went cash-free, instead incorporating usage of RFID wristbands. Ravers now create large meme-like signs, and the dancing style is different. But change is not always bad.
The RFID wrist bands were very easy to use. We were able to get one of them early and filled it with money using the Sunset Music Festival website. Inside the festival, the wristbands were easy to use: tap the wristband against the receiver to pay, similar to the pay by phone options available in today’s stores.
Lines are a reality at every festival, but the line to pick up our wristbands moved quickly on the first day – most people had obviously gotten theirs in advance through the mail or at one of the local pickup locations.
The security line was far longer by comparison, keeping attendees in the sun for upwards of 20-30 minutes on the first day, and an hour on the second day of the festival. Still, thanks to multiple points of entrance and a professional screening staff, the security process moved steadily, although many people did not have their pockets empty and bags open for inspection.
After getting through the line, we used the Sunset Music Festival app to decide which stage we were going to check out first.
I have been to many different festivals over the years, but I have never seen stages so elaborately set up. Two of the stages were designed to provide shade and additional lighting for the dance floor, creating a semi-indoor experience while being completely outside in the fresh air and open space. We quickly picked up on the musical patterns at each stage while exploring them throughout the day:
- The Sunset Stage was the main stage, featuring the top EDM artists of today
- The Eclipse Stage featured almost exclusively trance music on the first day, and almost exclusively dubstep on the second day
- The Horizon Stage showcased various subgenres of house EDM on both days
Both days, all three stages were packed with people dancing and enjoying the music. There was plenty of attention given to the main stage, but there was no shortage of fans for artists performing at either of the smaller stages.
As diehard fans of trance, we particularly enjoyed the Eclipse stage on the first day. We arrived while Jason Ross was in the middle of his set; Pierce Fulton took the stage soon after. With both artists and the ones that followed through the evening – all the way up to headliners Tritonal, Ferry Corsten, and Seven Lions, I could feel the connection to the music. Fulton in particular was high energy on the stage, and many of his mixes reminded me of the early days of raving. Throughout the day this was a common feeling, nostalgia. I heard classic EDM songs that took me back being mixed with today’s best.
Horizon, the house music stage, attracted a party on both days of the festival. The second day’s lineup was particularly strong, with a mix of deep house and tropical house DJs like Claptone, Thomas Jack, and Sam Feldt shaping the sound to excite the crowd.
The main stage, reflecting the most popular acts of EDM today, ranging from trap to house and beyond. The festival attracted some crowd favorites to the stage like Hardwell and The Chainsmokers. These artists continued the trend of mixing in nostalgic favorite songs, not only from the EDM genre (“Sandstorm,” various Kaskade hits) but also from classic rock. Several artists debuted exciting new singles and hits from new albums at the festival, including Marshmello’s announcement of his new single with Ookay:
With three stages and 30,000 to 50,000 people in attendance, it could be difficult to locate your friends at Sunset Music Festival – especially for those who attended with large groups.
Festival attendees found creative ways to solve this problem. They brought flags or created their own signs mounted to pvc, wood, and even swimming pool noodles to help friends easily find them. Most of the signs were internet memes, giving the festival the sense that the best parts of the internet exploded into real life.
With all these notable changes over the last 8 years, not much has changed at all. Even though the artists have changed, and even though electronic music is constantly evolving it was easy to identify tracks that paid homage to the roots of the rave scene.
The community I remember is alive and well. It was great to see and experience strangers walking up to each other and having small conversations and connections. People high fived each other as they walked through the food vendors or the cool down tent. To many this type of behavior may be a little weird, but this is the culture. Ravers understand that people go to festivals to appreciate music and have a great time. Sharing the good vibes with high fives, smiles, and dancing elevates the experience for everyone.
Peace Love Unity Respect – it used to be (and apparently still is) the code of the raver. It’s a good code to live by, and one that I felt was embodied at Sunset Music Festival. People came out as they are, all walks of life melding together peacefully to enjoy the experience together.
[Photos marked with SMF logo are courtesy Sunset Music Festival/photographer Julian Bajsel (top) and Alex Perez (rest) . All others by Greg Trujillo and Carolyn Capern on assignment for CitySurfing Orlando.]