Surely it was Confucious who said, “There will always be a DJ killing it somewhere.” Tomorrowland 2019 was the embodiment of this wisdom, with over a thousand acts turning up to perform at the festival’s fifteenth edition in Boom, Belgium this past July 19-21. Over the course of three days, the prolific lineup delivered every genre and sub-genre on the broad electronic spectrum.
The mood and reputation of the festival encourages artists to give it their all, pushing tempos and boundaries during their allotted set times. And while it was physically impossible to make it to all 1,000+ sets in three days, Billboard Dance was on the ground to witness many truly amazing moments. These are nine of them.
Hardcore, You Know the Score
Maybe it's Belgium’s proximity to Rotterdam that sees Tomorrowland boasting so much gabber, hardcore, and hardstyle across the festival grounds; or perhaps the scene here is so strong, the hard sounds could afford to be heard from both the main and countless side stages. Whatever the reason, we were engulfed in these most relentless sounds all weekend long. From Shaquille O’Neal to lesser-known DJs playing side cars, hardcore was definitely in the air.
The highlight came right after the rain stopped early on Saturday. After seeking refuge in the media tent then heading back into the festival when Mother Nature finished her show, the very first song to hit my ears my way back to the festival was a happy hardcore remix of "It's a Fine Day" by Opus III. The lyrics perfectly suited the mood as the sun evaporated the rain, and the hyped-up version of the throwback track was the bright way to start the second day of the festival. If happy hardcore doesn't get you moving, nothing will.
Nothing But Net
Shaquille O’Neal is of course a legend. While the athlete is internationally recognized for his talents on the court, he must also be celebrated for his talents behind the decks as DJ Diesel. Ranging from dubstep, hardstyle, and electro house, O’Neil seamlessly mixed rhythms in half and double time, blending the most energetic portions of grimey, bass-ridden tunes. Outside of all the times Shaq requested a mosh pit, the best moment of his set was when he dropped a Legend of Zelda remix. Really!
UK outfit Headstrong wasn’t messing around when they started their early evening set on Friday. If you launch a set with good grabber-craic, the show is bound to be a fun time. Comprised of hard-hitting techno acts Clouds and Randomer, a long line waited outside the Cage stage before being allowed to file in. There was a bit of a wait to enter, as no one was leaving the dance floor, but it was worth the time. Crews sent delegates to the front of the dance floor to bang on the stage reinforcements in sync to the pounding four-four kick drums, creating an impromptu metal drumline. It was hardcore, and it was glorious.
It’s fun to think about what Eric Prydz does in his spare time. Does he zone out watching Netflix like the rest of us, or just spend every waking moment coming up with the ridiculous concepts for his stage design? It seems to be the latter, as every year Prydz debuts a concept exceeding the expectations (and wattage) from stages before.
On Friday, the Swede debuted his new epic production, Holosphere, which placed him inside a spherical form of a 360 degree 3D hologram. Photos and videos don’t even begin to do it justice. Not only has the design never been done before, but the Prydz team had to create the technology to make it happen. The visuals were intense throughout Prydz’s closing performance, but when he dropped “Opus” at the end of his set, the crowd was so mesmerized by the visuals and drop that thousands of us just held our mouths open, unable to dance or fully process the spectacle unfolding before us.
It's the Circle of Life, and It Moved Us All
On the second day of Tomorrowland, the festival’s stalwarts Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike took to the Book of Wisdom mainstage with their signature infectious four on the floor beats and mic-hype for the sea of dancers.
Following trance titan Armin van Buuren, the boys set the mood with “Circle of Life,” the quintessential opening theme from The Lion King. Once the crowd heard the naaaaants ingonyaaaama bagithi baba of the film score’s lyrics, a boisterous roar from the tens of thousands sent a rush of energy through the massive field. It was the perfect way to begin a performance -- who doesn’t love a good bit of (timely) nostalgia?
EDM Megamix Purge
Being that it was the 15th edition of Tomorrowland, it comes as no surprise that artists, and the festival, dropped playful nods to older songs championed in years past. No act did this better than Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike who, on the final day of the festival, closed out the mainstage with what can only be described as an egurgitate of EDM.
Playing an epic megamix of big room classics, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike tossed in their own anthems like “The Hum’ and “Stampede” then other favorites like “Lose Myself” and a “Pjanoo” mashup, before transitioning to an Avicii tribute whose highlights included favorites “Seek Bromance” and “Levels.” Like Mike stopped the music midway to say a few kind words, while the massive screens zoomed in to the top right of the gargantuan structure to show the addition of a faux book inscribed with “In Loving Memory of Tim Bergling.” As the festival came to a close, the production kicked into overdrive, with the night sky illuminated by, one cannot stress this enough, a crap-ton of fireworks, with Tomorrowland seemingy setting off every single firework they had. The effect was dazzling.
Look, we’ve all been subject to countless remixes, bootlegs, samples, and mashups of Fisher’s 2018 single “Losing It,” whether we wanted to be or not. Weekend one of Tomorrowland was no exception to this trend, as the track (or its stems) could be heard on various stages across the De Schorre recreational park. But on Sunday thousands of people were treated to a practically unadulterated version of the tune by none other than Paris Hilton.
Admittedly, I, like many of the people around me, only went to her set out of sheer curiosity and schadenfreude. But once she dropped the familiar tune, even the naysayers couldn’t help but bob their heads a little. Despite the sweltering heat, the celebritante DJ looked annoyingly perfect in pink-hues-and-holographic-accents headphones and butterfly sunglasses. Maybe celebrities really are better than us.
Happy Birthday, Charlotte
Belgian techno goddess Charlotte de Witte has had a stellar year. This year’s IMS Report announced that since 2018, she’s achieved the fastest growth on her Instagram, YouTube, and Spotify platforms, beating out Marshmello, David Guetta, Skrillex and Calvin Harris. On Sunday, which was also de Witte's birthday, she surprised the audience at the Atmosphere stage with a trance set. Playing to a packed crowd full of her fellow countrymen, Charlotte de Witte celebrated another lap around the sun with style and grace.
Strings of Life
Fifteen years is a phenomenal accomplishment in festival time, and Tomorrowland made sure that unique celebrations were showcased throughout the weekend. But quite possibly the most unique performance of the entire weekend happened on Sunday when the Freedom Stage did a stage makeover so that it could host 60 live orchestral musicians from The Metropole Academy.
The Symphony of Unity orchestra, conducted by Dirk Brossé, was comprised of conservatory students from Belgium and The Netherlands performing the all-time and most iconic Tomorrowland anthems. Avicii productions were featured in full force and the arrangement of Fatboy Slim’s “Right Here, Right now” was a surprise to us all. But it was their finale, a rendition of Eric Prydz’s “Opus,” that received the biggest response from the crowd, indicaitng that the track may be the “Don’t Stop Believin'” of Europe. Hold on to that feeling.