Sixty thousand dance devotees poured into Tomorrowland, the electronic music mega-festival in the Belgian town of Boom, for the kickoff dubbed “Magical Friday,” many of them wrapped in the flags of their native countries and scant little else. A warm summer rain did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd or their bright neon outfits, as Tomorrowland greeters dressed as “Alice in Wonderland” duchesses and wearing red velvet heart costumes welcomed them to the mushroom-decorated fantasyland of Flanders’ De Schorre National Park.
Right away, the main stage acts made it obvious that this is not like the scene in the U.S., as a three-pack of Swedish DJ duos set the crowd in motion, including Qulinez, Cazette, and also Stockholm’s Rebecca and Fiona, one of at least 13 female DJ acts to play Tomorrowland. That’s a number not seen at other festivals, typically, and members Rebecca Scheja and Fiona Fitzpatrick both say they have to scrap for respect that’s afforded automatically to their male counterparts.
“The audience is really excited because they’ve never seen [female deejays] before, but in the business, it’s really hard because they don’t take us seriously, because we drink and we’re funny, but we’re also producers and we’re also girls,” said the pair in a Times interview on site. “Everyone just wants us to sing on their tracks. We ask them [to collaborate], but they never ask us. Producers never ask how we produced that sound or what bass do you use. It’s a prejudice.”
More on that, and Australian female duo (and twin sisters) NERVO, coming later.
All three Swedish openers spun just before a midday rain came shooting down. De Schorre, which is built in an old clay mining pit used for brick-making, seemed undiminished by the wet.
Steve Aoki led the late-afternoon programming from the strobe-illuminated Dim Mak tent with his Fight Club posse by his side. Sheltered from the rain, thousands of damp sticky fans bounced to high-voltage bass while the Laurel Canyon native climbed on top of his deejay booth to hail the devoted crowd that returned homage with a lot of primal howling.
Aoki’s set also featured a special guest as Lil’ Jon stepped up to the stage, welcomed “ladies and gentlemen” to Tomorrowland, and then tore into “Turbulence,” an Aoki and Laidback Luke collaboration on which the king of crunk raps.
And while Aoki was ripping it at Dim Mak, you didn’t have to trek far to catch legendary British deejay/producers John Digweed and Carl Cox at the Carl Cox and Friends stage, which featured a giant animated genie’s face (a fixture of Tomorrowland decor) with creepy eyes that slowly panned back and forth over the crowd. It was a treat for fans to see Digweed and Cox share the same stage (though they did not play together) – the two have long toured together and are close friends.
When the showers settled and the sun set, longtime electronic music icon Fatboy Slim turned in a classic two-hour set, then handed it over to Avicii, who opened his headlining set with a laser show and so many main-stage effects including fireworks that the lack of big bang during the finale featuring his tune “Levels” was almost an anticlimax. Regardless, irrepressible dancing and uncontrollable fist pumping across a capacity crowd suggested otherwise.
The Bloody Beetroots, the wicked Italian electro house and dance-punk project, followed on the main stage and Zed’s Dead, the young and multi-talented Canadian duo from Toronto, shut down the Dim Mak tent to close out the evening’s bedlam. After the show, thousands of exhausted festival-goers funneled on to buses leaving the festival while the more fortunate who paid the extra money turned it into a late night at “Dreamville,” the VIP overnight campsite.
Hopefully they also got a few minutes of sleep, as Saturday’s lineup was looking like a dance stamina challenge, with Paul van Dyke, Sandro Silva, Laidback Luke, Skrillex, Sven Väth, Nervo, Martin Solveig, Dmitri Vegas and Like Mike, and what is set to be an epic performance by Swedish House Mafia – quite possibly their final performance together as a trio. Stay tuned for more news on that as we can get it.
[For the record, 2:00 p.m, July 29: An earlier version of this post implied that Carl Cox and John Digweed played together onstage, but they did not. Also, earlier versions indicated that Avicii’s set did and did not included fireworks, but it did -- but not during the finale. The earlier version also stated that Michelin-rated food for the festival was in the “Dreamville” VIP area, but these food offerings are elsewhere on the grounds.]
-- Adam Cucurull and Alessandro Stella also contributed to this report.