I’ve been watching a lot of ‘People of Tomorrow’ on Netflix lately. It’s a documentary that follows a couple of people from all over the world as they go to Tomorrowland- one of the largest EDM festivals in the world that’s held in Belgium. Although wub-wub music isn’t really my cup of tea, watching so many documentaries on these festivals had me needing to go to one (and my love for a few artists in the scene). When 515 Alive was announced with Bassnectar (one of the few wub-wub artists that I just can’t get enough of) as the headliner on one of the two nights, I just knew it was my chance. Now, I know that 515 Alive in Des Moines, Iowa is nothing like a huge festival like Tomorrowland but I figured it would give me a chance to test the waters. Not only would it give me an excuse to go home and see my parents, but it would also allow me to finally cross Bassnectar off my bucket list.
There’s something special about being 29 years old and having you dad drop you off at a music festival where you are inevitably going to have one too many drinks and end up calling him for a ride home from the closest bar using slurred speech. Thankfully, my dad doesn’t judge (okay, he was definitely judging me) and was more than willing to be my personal Uber if it meant I didn’t do something stupid or overspend on rides. As he dropped me off on Friday I couldn’t help but feel a sense of adventure come over me as I walked from his car, through the woods, around, the campsite, through a field, through the parking area and finally through the gates of the festival. There was a sense of wonderment that took over me as I was directed into the female line (thank you Des Moines for keeping sexism alive and well) and finally made my way into the open field with stages and tents scattered about.
Me talking about the music I heard and saw over the weekend would be pointless. After talking to a buddy that I met up with, he was quick to tell me this was much more than spacebar music (you know what I mean- when it’s just a guy and a computer on stage and he literally just hits the spacebar to make tracks play). Whether or not I’m convinced of the true realness of how this music is performed live is not the point. People love it and find creativity in it and there’s no denying that, when watching it live, you can literally feel the music as the bass moves through your body. What I’m trying to say is spacebar performance or not, EDM show give you a certain energy and feeling that you don’t get at other shows and that was the biggest thing that stuck with me throughout the weekend and my trek four hours north to home when it was all said and done. Did most of the acts sounds the same to me? Absolutely. Did I still enjoy my time spent listening to the music? Absolutely.
I honestly think I could fall into the EDM trap. The music is upbeat and has an energy about it that can wake you up from even the worst case of exhaustion but what I can’t stand is the culture. I hate that I stood there and watched countless people take drugs from strangers. I hated how majority of the females had very little clothing on. I hated how people had no regard for personal space even if you were standing in back making it clear that you were just there trying to enjoy your drink and some music. Although I was enjoying the music and the prime people watching (it may have been better than the Iowa State Fair), I spent majority of my weekend annoyed. I get that drugs can enhance the experience of an EDM show and that’s fine but be smart about it. Know where the drugs are coming from, don’t mix them with copious amounts of alcohol, maybe don’t take a pill that you found on the ground. There were too many people passing out or having bad trips around me to the point where my drunk level was hard to maintain because I couldn’t help but feel like I had to play ‘mom’.
There were many other things going on at this festival than the music. With a couple of aerial artists that danced in the air throughout the weekend and a couple of fire breathers that came out later on in the days, there was always something to watch even if you didn’t want to watch what was happening on stage. With three stages spreadout in the empty field, there was constantly music to hear and artists to see. At one point there was even a hot air balloon towards the back of the field. It was almost sensory overload. All of the flashing lights a lasers mixed with the pumping bass and the smell of weed and chain smoked cigarettes (I know that doesn’t sound delightful but it definitely added an element to the weekend) created an atmosphere that was next to perfect. It didn’t matter who you were or why you were there, there was something in the air that had you living in the moment.
Clearly I’m a bit torn on if I loved this past weekend or hated it. There were definitely some high points but also some very low points. I tried doing a pros and cons list but it kept on evening out. EDM festivals are clearly one of a kind. They are full of some the most interesting people you could ever meet and some of the most interesting outfits you will ever see. The music makes you move whether you want to or not and the energy that radiates throughout the air at a festival like this is nothing short of positive and full of love. 515 Alive is definitely nothing close to what a festival like Tomorrowland would be like but it was a way for me to dip my toes in the water and just check it out.
I have yet to decide on the take away from this weekend but on major thing I learned is that you’re never too old to have your dad drop you off at a festival and pick you up when you’ve had one too many.