Despite a bit of evening rain, TomorrowWorld finished strong on Sunday (Sept. 28). From marquee main stage acts like Kaskade, David Guetta and Martin Garrix to the assorted techno talent on Richie Hawtin’s Minus Stage, there was no shortage of options for the festival faithful in Georgia. Billboard takes you back down to the Chattahoochee Hills to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the third and final day’s action.
4:50 pm: Morgan Page helps get the day started on the Main Stage with a festival-sized rework of his breakout hit “The Longest Road.” While the misty afternoon air carries hints of coming rain, the audience is just as ebullient as ever. Neon clad bros in expletive-riddled tees stagger by sign-wielding women outfitted as superheroes. Cheerful ravers in wolf-inspired spirit hoods move their fur-encased legs to the beat as Page’s snare build signals a not-so-distant drop.
6:05 pm: Belgian brothers (and ID&T darlings) Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike recline in the artist village’s oversized chairs and reflect on the differences between TomorrowWorld and its European predecessor.
“You have the same love… the same great energy as Tomorrowland, but you have a totally different crowd,” says Vegas. “It’s not a copy of Belgium, it’s a translation of Belgium.”
“But this one has the possibility to expand so much more,” adds Like Mike.
“Yes, that’s the beauty of it,” says Vegas. “The only downside with Belgium is it’s as big capacity-wise as it’ll ever get. They cannot go bigger unless they move to another venue, which also would not work, because half of the magic of Tomorrowland is the venue.”
6:45 pm: It’s interview hour in the artist village. Hosts don painted smiles and keep artists at ease. Martin Garrix flits about the premises with a trickle of starry-eyed bloggers in tow. Carnage holds court in Don Corleone fashion with a table of black-clad cronies. The Chainsmokers indulge selfie-seekers aboard a life-sized green horse statue with a forehead full of pink petals. Someone lost his charger, has anyone seen it? Drinks spill and voices crack. It’s par for the course.
7:12 pm: David Guetta sits across from me wearing a black leather vest, acid wash jeans, and a clever smile. As we wrap up our interview, I mention Zedd’s New Years resolution to refrain from answering haters.
“Oh my God, he’s late!” whoops Guetta. “I haven’t looked at that for years. If you have nothing else to do but write hateful messages behind your computer when you’re at home, honestly, I feel sorry for you. Try and do something with your life.”
8:06 pm: Martin Garrix continues to gain confidence as a performer. The Dutch dynamo exhibits boundless energy during his Main Stage set, bouncing up and down in the booth and extending a skyward hand at most available intervals. After transitioning from a Coldplay “Viva La Vida” remix into recent release “Gold Skies,” he pivots to the cameraman behind him and bares his teeth in pure primal excitement.
8:24 pm: At the tented Full On Stage, Norway’s Orjan Nilsen tends to his trance family with a bombastic build. As snares and sirens climb into the upper range of human hearing, the masses take a moment of respite before the release. Beneath frenzied strobes and fly wing adornments, the crowd reanimates to welcome the relentless beat’s return with spinning hand lights and hula-hoops.
8:36 pm: Taking the Minus Stage reins from Spanish tech house maestro Paco Osuna, Maceo Plex resets the tone with an amorphous soundscape. A filtered kick slowly surfaces from the depths, dipping and rising erratically before entering in full. Delicate hi hats ascend as the beat disappears, giving percolating synthesizers time to take form. An arpeggiated bass line provides the final ingredient as the elements coalesce into a space age techno groove.
10:20 pm: Having traded in his vest for a pristine white tank, David Guetta drops “Titanium” to the delight of many at the Main Stage. Filtering down the song during its iconic chorus, the eager crowd is all too happy to fill in the words. As the track returns in time for the build, Guetta raises his hands toward the flag-filled human expanse that awaits the drop like a wound up toy.
10:28 pm: Chilling backstage in a backward black snapback, Kaskade marvels at the Main Stage’s scale before his headline set. “We could be in a convention center right now,” he says. “It’s just so massive!” While fireworks do their best to interrupt our conversation, we discuss his Redux EP and the rise of deeper house sounds in America.
“For someone who has been a part of that sound for close to two decades, it’s fascinating and exciting to see it finally come around,” he says. “For me, there’s probably a lot of people — the newer fans in this post-EDM boom — that associate me with more upfront feel-good festival music. But my albums and all my music are rooted in the deeper side of house. Artistically, it lets me get away with a lot more. People are less judgmental. When I put out a deep house record ten years ago, no one would pay attention. Now I do it and they’re like ‘alright that’s cool man.’”
10:32 pm: I’ve long been impressed by Kaskade’s ability to continually rejuvenate his past catalog by mashing up earlier tracks’ acapellas with modern festival fare. He nods knowingly when I mention it. “People can learn to love it,” he says. “Tonight I’ll play a mash-up version of “Room for Happiness” and if somebody’s like ‘that was so awesome!’ and they go home and download the original and they have a memory that’s assimilated with the vocal and with the lyrics, well that’s what the core of the song is. Sound design, I mean it’s here or there. It goes. What’s popular now will be unpopular tomorrow, but a good song stays. That’s always been my goal, to write great songs with staying power.”
11:08 pm: Bent over his Minus Stage setup like a surgeon, Richie Hawtin carefully introduces dissonant delays and complementary percussion into a throbbing minimal techno groove. As pointed snares propel his rolling sub bass forward, pitched down voices groan in increasingly apocalyptic tones. An aptly timed sign reading “Techno Prisoners” bobs to the beat.
11:29 pm: “Hey!” a girl with neon green hair flags me down on my way back to the Main Stage. I pause and try to place her face. “I just wanted a hug!” she exclaims and wraps her bead-laden arms around me. “I want one too!” her friend chimes in. Thus was one of TomorrowWorld’s many spontaneous group hugs born.
11:49 pm: Plumes of confetti burst overhead as the refrain from Kaskade & Project 46’s “Last Chance” rings out. If exhilaration is giving way to exhaustion in the festival’s waning hours, the full-throated crowd sure isn’t showing it. Flames flirt with flowers at the front of the booth while Kaskade transitions into Arty’s remix of Porter Robinson’s “Lionhearted.” The fresh-faced veteran bobs to the beat with the vigor of a man half his age, seizing the mic to further rouse the crowd.
“What’s up TomorrowWorld?” he bellows. “This is my last song.” His beloved mash-up of Morning Parade’s “Under the Stars” begins as a torrent of screams threatens to drown out its verses.
12:00 pm: After Kaskade relinquishes the booth, last night’s ceremonial dancers return to usher in the festival’s closing moments. From bigwigs to stagehands, the backstage area is alight with parting salutations. Discarded headsets. Grins and champagne. Ever the class act, Kaskade shakes hands with stage and security crew on his descent down the Main Stage’s labyrinthine stairs.
12:30 am: Just when things seem to have settled down, Dimitri Vegas and a shirtless Steve Aoki bound aboard the press bus to take a mass selfie with a swarm of startled bloggers. The drunken duo swiftly disembarks into the ink-black night, leaving all to play cluster-round-the-iPhone with incredulous chatter. As the bus hums to life, final scenes flip by in passing. Garbled words on broken signs. Carefree jaunts from off-shift staff. A couple lazily drifts towards Dreamville, hand in hand through fractured moonlight. Its volcanic Main Stage may now lie dormant, but TomorrowWorld’s mystique is alive and well.