It honestly wasn't that long ago that the notion of a rave in America was distinctly underground. Sure, as corporations got involved, their scale and resources escalated greatly, but the demographic stayed the same. The club kids and the music geeks were the primary constituents, happily situated in a niche. In 2011 that all sounds quite silly, American shores have seen one of the most dramatic increases in interest in electronic music in national memory over the last few years, and, as such, something like Nocturnal Festival can comfortably—and presumably profitably—exist.
Superficially it seems very ordinary—two days of dance music in an empty field—but the types of people buying tickets have mutated conclusively: bro-ish, shirtless dudes staring at the flashing lights in the euphoric midst of an early thizz, along with the entire Sorority and Fraternity population of the University of Texas. You need no more proof of how en vogue dance music has become than the people spending money to get through the Nocturnal gates. As far as the music goes, Nocturnal caters to a pretty general audience. Crossover acts like Crystal Castles are slotted right alongside fan favorites like Infected Mushroom, as well as some of the most tireless DJs on the scene, with the likes of DJ Dan, Christopher Lawrence, Sander Kleinenberg all appearing.
If you approach these sorts of things like I do, you spend most of your time at whatever the organizers deemed "the DJ stage," and this year that was Queen's Grounds—which boasted a pretty solid repertoire, even for American standards. It was also criminally under-attended; the kids here were on a constant search for the wonkiest brostep they could possibly find. What that means is while DJ Dan worked through a traditional, house-heavy set, massive payloads of bass were scorching the landscape only a brief walk away.
The most stunning eruption came with Bassnecter—the other three stages seemed to completely drain of humanity in the minutes before his set, leaving a gamed Gareth Emery looking a little marooned. The phenomenon was impossible to deny—thousands of hands cascaded down to each bass crash, his songs unfurled with unapproachable intensity. Whatever you may think about him, it's clear that the 33-year-old Santa Cruz producer knows how to work up momentum.
For the average Resident Advisor reader, something like Nocturnal Festival is a pretty hard sell. There's fun to be had, but it requires the lowering of snobbishness a sizable portion of dance fans aren't willing to do. But I think the most important thing about these kinds of festivals is that they represent a place where the scene is going. Electronic music has never seen a US-mainstream birth quite like it is right now—and despite our aloof pretensions, that's a very positive thing. Chastising sweaty trance and clubby brostep is certainly merited, but they're still pushing America to new places.