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The End Is the Beginning Is the End
Looking back on the 2010s, mainstream EDM bubbled to the top of the industry while bass music and dubstep engineered a heavy kind of new sound – reminiscent of the metal and grunge response to rock and roll, but for the current generation. As such, plenty of that could be found in the decade-ending celebrations at Decadence Colorado, especially on New Year’s Eve. Decadence has always presented a futuristic aesthetic in its production with cyberpunk dancers and spaceship-like lighting design, yet the fiercest grooves of the weekend, fittingly, came from the resurgence of electro and renegade pioneers of future house.
The end of the year naturally ushers in a sentimental, nostalgic, growth-oriented perspective. Global Dance capitalizes on that with an event that caps off the festival post-season in a grand way (as far as NYE goes, this is the country’s largest blowout), uniting ravers through a solid variety of electronic music genres to memorialize their love of dance music in the past year and set the tone for the next. Taking place across two stages (plus an interactive installation and silent disco section between them) in the Colorado Convention Center, it’s not too hard to locate (or even stumble into) a variety of good buddies and festival compatriots in this venue. It’s an ideal size with a relaxed yet invigorating dynamic, and Global Dance makes the production sleeker each outing.
For me, Decadence serves as the perfect culmination to the year where I truly defined who I am. I started 2019 in this same place, having officially set roots in Denver late 2018 and establishing some lasting friendships that developed a sense of home by the 2018 finale. It was at this event where I graduated from amateur festival-lifestyle hobbyist to professional music festival journalist. In the 12 months since, I attended 14 festivals, created the greatest work of my life while forging my own career path, connected with more amazing souls than I ever have before, opened my heart, and progressed my identity as Speed Raver into an inspiring Knight of the Light, both figuratively and literally. Once again, the journey comes full circle.
I enter the massive hall and step into the Cybernetic Arena in time for the buzzing, slinking declaration of CloZee as Her Majesty of World Bass. I activate my upgraded LED supersuit and set forth with my quintessential beacon of glory, my plasma-illuminated “Halo” energy sword, Excalibur – and immediately start attracting people I know to my position, from out-of-towners I allied with the day before to a grade-school acquaintance. My main squad appears behind me and the games begin.
The 20-year-old Whethan initiates with his lighter, more pop-sway frequencies, then swerves into a harder electro-edge tease that almost intrigues me away from our rousing urge to explore the flashing lights, sci-fi robots and engaging installations in the middle sector. We wander about and infiltrate the other stage, Evolutionary Arena, for one of the biggest EDM DJs on the planet – Tiësto, who’s longstanding, famed reputation precedes him.
He kickstarts the party for the night with booming big-room bangers and electro-house bounce, including an irresistible mix of Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” into Benny Benassi’s “Satisfaction”, that shake the old-school ravers and the ingenues alike into harmony. But Tiësto hasn’t stayed this relevant without selling out some, and his oscillating inclusion of ‘00s mainstream groaners makes me restless. Amidst a viking, hammerhead shark, flaming cowgirls, another Alex, buoyant comrades from Seismic Dance Event and a local, goofy gem of the Forest-Fam feeling mile-high, I meander in good spirits to catch a swelling wave on the rising vibe.
Guard Down, Power Up
I sense something amiss and upon meeting up with my astrological twin, Haley, I’m challenged to live up to my title as Superhero of the Dancefloor. It’s not just about shining bright as a grooving delight – I must be an arbiter of self-actualizing wisdom and encouragement in the Festival Realm’s environment of self-discovery, and lift those up who fall prey to their own self-doubts. Six weeks prior at our last festival, Haley reconnected my own emotional current, which I had largely undercut from flowing healthily. She helped me understand that complicated feelings of inadequacy, sadness, anger, perceived weakness, etc. are valid, and need to be processed instead of suppressed to enact self-love and raise self-worth.
Now, I repeat her own sage advice back to her to accept her emotions rather than cursing them when losing control in an anxious spiral fueled by the Myth of Millenial Success, while working as a vendor here instead of enjoying it uninhibited. Closing out the decade, it’s easy to feel an existential crisis if you haven’t achieved something great by 25, but that’s a misguided societal pressure of modern times we put on ourselves. Haley cools down and regains her composure, and I return to Tiësto finally having internalized a lesson of utmost importance: real strength requires real vulnerability.
Tiësto generically filters between hard and soft beats until settling into a broad-appeal variety of (mostly) vigorous hype-up tracks in his last 15 minutes, delectably veering into several swift dub breakdowns and a bit of winking, rowdy hardstyle. With a fresh emotional truth coursing through my operational system, I zoom over to the group meeting spot at the back of Cybernetic Arena and take charge of our march into the rousing Bassnectar crowd like King Arthur leading his battalion into the trenches, Excalibur held high.
Taste the Bass, Feel the Noize
We secure our zone along the left side a quarter of the way back from the stage. With an expanded roster of my Knights of Nectar from Electric Forest, the crew truly feels like a family this time around. We swing straight into a bass-jungle throwdown like Tarzan and King Kong with the “Heavyweight Sound” opening, followed by a stampede of unstomppable force to Bassnectar’s devilish “Griztronics” remix. A smashing barrage of savage bass that includes unrepentant trilling and several waves of psytrance shrapnel sends me silver-surfing across the intergalactic, dimension-bending synesthesia. I soak up the decimating heat from Lorin’s sonic-destruction engine for 70+ minutes then trounce on to my most anticipated performer.
There’s an especially intense, often face-melting characteristic to Berlin techno, thus the rush of Boys Noize’s vehement, industrial onslaught supercharges Speed Raver on approach like Superman flying by the sun. I beeline inwards in a thrill, neon-veins pumping, exclaiming enthusiastically, “Indeed, the electro DOES contend with Nectar!” The crowd is somewhat sparse, but the decision to leave the bass maestro early is justified before I even reach my kinetic hotspot, where I discover tattoo queen Bella Rage – who became part of my Denver house and techno clan after a synchronous meeting at Dirtybird Campout.
Capturing a sly snapshot of Bella in the moment, I feel a tap on my shoulder followed by “I knew I’d find you over here” from my favorite evolved frat-bro, Zach, who I ran into in the same spot for the best sets on night one of Decadence in 2018 as well. I smirk, waving Excalibur as I commemorate my proud advancements and over-the-top Odyssey of the past year. The full-throttle tempo and aggressive rhythms attract a much larger audience after Lorin finishes, swallowing me up whole so I can cut loose in a devious display of electro-discotek expression.
The Future Is Now (Yes Yes!)
Boys Noize wraps up and I decide I’d be remiss to not give the rare team-up of Big Gigantic and NGHTMRE (Gigantic NGHTMRE) a shot, but five minutes on that side has me utterly disinterested in the straightforward bass-funk combo. I quickly turn back towards the most consistently reliable, widely gratifying DJ on the lineup, pausing to stretch amidst the light installations for the incoming high-energy frenzy. At only 24 years old, dynamo Dutch producer Oliver Heldens has already crafted more irresistible bangers than many DJs deliver in their entire careers. He’s directed house music into its most vivacious form yet, shaping elements from big room, tech house and electro house into the ultimate grooves of future house.
I step back onto the playing field as the turbo-drive melody of “Renegade Mastah” by HI-LO (Ollie’s more underground, bass-house side) unleashes the dance magic within like a mainlined intoxicant, propelling me straight to the front. Visuals of streaming, volcanic magma emanate soothing heat alongside the tropically refreshing beats of “Fire in My Soul”. My wholesome homeboy Jeremy – who witnessed the fusion of Speed Raver into my identity when I befriended him at Decadence 2016, then joined my shenanigans at last year’s Deca – spots my literally glowing aura and escorts me to his troop up front. We all sway as a unit on the same frequency until the purity of the vibe reminds me to reconvene with my integral festy fam.
I zip to the very back for my closest cohorts Sam and Anysha, who’ve developed a sister-like bond since Anysha’s induction into the squad at Global Dance Festival in July. While Oliver is Sam’s favorite in the house sphere, her and boyfriend Jordan are still recovering from the obliterating overload Bassnectar dispensed to their basshead cores, topping Sam’s Nectar experiences and shattering Jordan’s perceptions for his first one.
I’m compelled to pick up their slack as Ollie accelerates into his OG breakout “Gecko (Overdrive)”, so I move up near the back of the crowd to Haley’s vendor booth and let my soul breathe in the open space, losing myself in a ritualistic, performative swirl. A string of adrenaline-pumping hits catapults me through the last 20 minutes, shuffling to the sprightly zest of “Riverside 2099”, ascending the spacey synths of “Men on Mars”, and surging with the lightning swordplay of a Skywalker to “Wappy Flirt”. My heart races and I pant from the athletic catharsis, grinning ear-to-ear at the signature Heldens exclamation, “Yes yes!”