Credit: Nathan Mih
New Year’s Eve in Southern California always presents a bevy of options to choose from for your countdown festivities, from club parties to classy outings and everything in between. Insomniac’s aptly named Countdown is the spiritual successor to the company’s previous New Year’s electronic events: Together As One (which was revived this year in Silverado, CA) and White Wonderland. Although true trance heads were probably disappointed by the absence of White Wonderland this year, the lineup trotted out for Countdown had a satisfactory mix of mainstream appeal, mid-tempo beats, and hard-hitting bass. This year’s 10 hour event was held at the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino, CA, and at close to freezing temperatures, warm attire was encouraged (although a good percentage of attendees didn’t seem to get that memo).
Two massive outdoor tents, one pounding indoor stage, a serene pool and lawn, as well as an unexpected ice skating rink decorated the event grounds along with numerous food, drink, and merchandise tents. Colorful lights strewn above added to the festive feel; at these events, you always seem to enter first into a lively carnival, and then later into the music. The 18+ crowd ranged in age from those fresh out of (or still in) high-school, to seasoned attendees thinking that this might be their last rave, according to a clearly spelt out totem that said “THIS IS MY LAST RAVE.”
The three stages were quite obviously segregated by genre – this reviewer had to spend most of his time at the Quantum drum & bass and dubstep stage by virtue of the artists performing. Opening up the stage were resident DJs Nightstalker and Fallen, followed up by a triple B2B (back to back) of U.K. producers Cyantific, Mob Tactics, and InsideInfo all of whom are signed to Viper Recordings. These drum & bass DJs took turns at the decks sharing a 2 hour set each playing a distinct mix of tunes. Mob Tactics wasted no time waiting for the crowd to arrive and delved straight into a head nodding, funky set throwing out their appropriately named track “Rave Weapon” and the future classic “Asteroids” by Noisia. InsideInfo turned down the lights a bit and delivered a dancefloor heavy neurofunk mix with recent collaborations such as “Pulsation” with Mefjus, while Cyantific came in and spun commercial hits like Sub Focus’ “Out The Blue”, Culture Shock’s unique new release “Tangents” and jump up crowd pleasers such as “It’s a Secret” by DJ Hazard.
San Francisco producer Megalodon and one half of New Zealand duo Truth had one of the most memorable dubstep sets of the night, with the crowd filling up nicely at this point. The contrasting styles of the harder, beepier, brosteppier Megalodon and the deeper, slower tempos of Truth answered everything the bass stage was looking for. Headbangers were everywhere to be seen and there was no way you couldn’t dance at this point. Megalodon would drop some ridiculously heavy tunes like “Fatal Fist Punch” while Truth would step in and slow it down with classics like “Direct Blow”, easily identified by that distinct Busta Rhymes sample and the booming bassline.
In the nearby Infinity tent, house grooves were playing out in a set by Oliver Heldens, previously billed on the flyer as his new deep house alias, HI-LO. Trippy Turtle then showed up in his neon green hoodie and of course opened up with “Trippy’s Theme”, then proceeded to spin out the slow jamz, easily producing the most diverse set of the night. Couples all over were grooving, and for an hour, the temperature of the tent seemed to be raised a good couple of degrees. Alison Wonderland followed it up with a diverse set of her own, with the tent packed to capacity which was not surprising considering how many times her name had been dropped by attendees in line and around the venue. Trap, house, and hip hop remixes were scattered throughout her set, with the energy building before the clock hit midnight. We also caught a glimpse of the Resolution mainstage as Yellow (“Mother Fuckin”) Claw closed out a highly anticipated trap set and Carnage took control, playing his “thumpiest” beats “way way more louder” than the last DJ. Despite the now-infamous alluded to interview (here), the crowd was packed like sardines for what is now known as “festival trap” and movement was restricted to pretty much your own head (or squirming like a worm). Nevertheless, friendly vibes were everywhere to be found, and perhaps, everyone just was happy to be warm.
Back to the bass stage, Metrik and TC were furiously pounding out a drum and bass set to appeal to the masses. Rolling basslines dominated the mix, and the usual must plays like TC’s “Do You Rock”, a Memtrix remix of “Get Down Low”, along with new tunes like Rockwell’s “Itsok2behapp-e” and the classic “Planet Dust” by Bad Company. Dubstep youngsters Eptic and Habstrakt took over to ring in the new year, delivering an interesting mix with some of their newer stabs at dubstep/house music hybrids like “On The Block”. Finally, as the countdown approached, the lights dimmed, and numbers flashed on the gigantic LED screen in front, 10, 9, 8,… And just like that, it was 2016 ringing in with everyone’s favorite people next to them.
Circus Records veterans Funtcase and Cookie Monsta rang in the celebrations with an energy only they can bring, and the warm indoor bass stage was easily the nicest place to be at that point of the night. Their set was riddled with some of their filthiest dubstep tunes old and new and even a scattering of their take on drum and bass. Meanwhile, the biggest name of the night, Kaskade, rounded out the mainstage festivities with a calmer mix of his classic works and newer songs, like the recently released “Disarm You”.
Although the production level and lineup of Countdown can’t yet compare to the other offerings from Insomniac like Nocturnal or Escape, it still remains a solid offering for bringing in the new year and most definitely will return next year. Getting there was news as usual – if you decided to drive, you’d be stuck in traffic for a bit longer than you’d like unless you arrive when doors open and leave an hour early. A shuttle option was offered to hotels 20 miles away in Ontario, which was a great option for those looking for cheaper hotels and not dealing with the nightmare that is escaping the venue following the event. For this reviewer, the shuttles were clean, came on time, and allowed for much needed sleep on the way home.
All in all, the vibes were right, the music was spot on, and the new year was rung in the funnest way possible.
Article / Nathan Mih