The clock struck noon in Boom, Belgium, and fans from DreamVille and afar rapidly filled into the Tomorrowland grounds to catch a glimpse of what they had waited 364 days to witness. Flocking to culturally themed food stands, onsite jacuzzis, poker tables and, of course, any of the fifteen stages in full effect early into day one.
No ID had a growing main stage crowd during the festival’s earliest moments and Sunnery James, Ryan Marciano, Mim and a recovered Liv Nervo brought the packed out volcano-front venue into full swing. Tomorrowland had hardly begun but the music was already booming.
In the shadow of the expansive wingspan of Carl Cox & Friends butterfly themed stage, techno faithfuls were treated to stand out sets from early riser Jon Rundell before Yousef defined the vibes for the mid afternoon. Following Loco Dice, the man who needs little introduction, Carl Cox, opened with Nicole Moudaber’s “Roar” before curating the final two hours of the day in a hail of bouncy techno and driven bass lines, his butterfly back drop illuminating the night sky with myriad of lasers and an elaborate fireworks display.
Around 4pm after watching the Main Stage crowd swell for Hardwell’s mid day performance, we hiked up the furthest hills of the festival towards Markus Schulz’s tent. Amidst his twelve-hour marathon set, Schulz was tucked away at the festival’s most distant locale, a far off area where he would have to be sought out rather than stumbled upon. Consequently, the tent was sparsely populated with dedicated Schulz faithfuls as Markus hit the one-fourth mark of his marathon. Three hours in we found him ripping through big room festival trance, catering to a small but exuberant audience that flocked to the barricades as his more dedicated fans settled into the tent’s breezy corners hoisting “Schulz Nation” flags.
With 15 stages to choose from, exploration was the theme for the festival’s first day. Acts from all over the world brought a unique flair to the grounds as they populated numerous smaller stages throughout the afternoon. Frequently following the music and stopping to listen to acts that were off the beaten path, we found ourselves engrossed in the vaudeville swing electro stylings of the Radio Ultra Modern stage, where a strange performance complimented even stranger sounds.
Mid-lake was the Garden of Madness, a man-made site floating entirely in water surrounded by lily pad water cannons, flame shooting fish, and custom bridges. Within its pearl canvas top, floral arrangements sprawled across its ceiling, hanging only feet above the heads of fans who occupied the space. The scenery mimicked a grandiose wedding, but Friday’s setting was the polar opposite of such. Day one of Tomorrowland at the Garden of Madness hosted Jacked, but the only holy matrimony would be a pair of back-to-back sets and later, a united Shermanology.
Bobby Burns and Leroy Styles put their heads (and USBs) together for their 4pm set with Bassjackers and Apster’s alliance follwing. While Redfoo assaulted the garden with his party-rocking hype-heavy style and the opulent atmosphere survived R3hab’s chainsaw madness, the Jacked head honcho Afrojack, was the one who truly tested the stamina of the Garden of Madness. Visual decadence and aural pandemonium, Afrojack’s Tomorrowland excursion was a juxtaposition that created the perfect storm on day one. Contradicting beautiful decor with unrelenting beats, the rave garden survived the always amplified “Bangduck” intro, the go-to festival selection of “Cannonball,” and even resisted to ignite upon the explosion of “Raybomb.”
Spotting a firework emblazoned skyline we jetted back towards the main stage to find Sebastian Ingrosso closing up with his vocal mix of “Reload.” The massive edifice had been completely transformed, draped with waterfalls illuminated with color, booming with CO2 blasts of volcanic replication, and beaming with lasers to match the caliber of the fireworks display. The moment Ingrosso stepped down, Musical Freedom labelhead and Dutch kingpin, Tiësto took to the stage and immediately dropped a massive bootleg to match the massive production — his Dyro collaboration, “Paradise,” mashed with Krewella’s “Alive.” We soon found out that “Take Me” sounds greater as stage size increases and that there may be no greater Main Stage festival presence then the one and only Tijs.
While Q-Dance has been slowly making its ascent in the US festival markets, hardstyle’s presence at Tomorrowland dwarfed its American outtings by nearly tenfold. Packed arm to arm a legion of high energy fans thrashed and flailed to the breakneck BPMs of Davoodi & Bestien, Audiofreq, Headhunterz, and B-Front & Rand-D. The wooden flooring placed over the mud was no match for the relentless two-step stomping of the enthusiastic crowd, who’s energy outmatched anything an American dubstep crowd could ever muster. We’ve spent time exploring hardstyle and techstyle in the US, but it wasn’t until we experienced it here that the movement finally made sense. There is nothing quite like the amphetamine-laced energy that hardstyle’s unrelenting kicks evoke in a crowd of thousands.
Following Tiësto, hometown heroes Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike closed out the first day of Tomorrowland perched atop the massive volcano. The perfect spokesmen for the first night’s final performance, the dynamic duo pulled out all of the stopped for their Main Stage performance. Delivering this year’s Tomorrowland anthem that sits comfortably at #1 on the Beatport charts, “Chattahoochee,” along with their Tomorrowland Festival remix of Major Lazer’s “Watch Out for This” the pair lit up the crowd with a wall of thunderous kicks and festival-friendly productions. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s “Thrift Shop” mashed up with their upcoming track “Check This Out” launched the crowd into a frenzy as lasers streaked across the night sky. As the night winded down, the at-capacity crowded slowly made their way out of the festival grounds and back to DreamVille, still energized from the closing performance, buzzing and humming in countless languages, all eager to return for the festival’s second day.