Mysteryland feels like a peacock on ecstasy chasing you down the rabbit hole. The Glastonbury of European dance festivals, this bold, colourful and gigantic event packs more into one electrifying day than other, lesser dance events would dare explore in their lifetime.
Imagine if Lewis Carroll and Terry Gilliam took Bestival, planted it amongst the waterways of Holland, wrapped it in glorious technicolour and fondled the dream with pinches of multiple dance genres. Imagine the fairytale spawn of Paul Oakenfold and Patrick Wolf at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, quivering to rabid techno. Imagine thousands of Cheshire Cats, sky-high on trance, dubstep, gabba and filthy electro, dancing in fields with themes of Mad Max and fairytales.
It’s hard not to speak of Mysteryland (still virtually unknown in the UK) without dealing in such superlatives. This is a 60,000 capacity, 20 stage sacrifice to the God of dance after all. An über-fest of gigantic proportion with so much joy and energy, so much organisation and conviction, that it makes most UK dance festivals look like a few stalls on the village green. In fact, it’s so big, so colourful and so damn fun that it eventually becomes a strain on not just the eyes and legs but your mind as well, as you marvel at how so much has been squeezed into the tiny space of just 12 hours.
Mysteryland debuted as a relatively modest dance festival in 1993, covering a largely Dutch and hardcore base, but has continually outgrown itself ever since. Now comfortably positioned as the largest electronic music festival in the Netherlands, it features over 150 artists from a wide spectrum of dance, on stages that range in size from the colossal – the 20,000 capacity ode to hardcore that is the Q Dance arena, complete with a seriously-gigantic evil clown’s face above the stage – right down to the intimate – Vage Gasten’s intoxicating area, showcasing some of the Netherland’s finest electro.
Run by the respected Dutch organisation ID&T and located on the Haarlemmermeer bos and Floriade area – a massive park, north-west of Hoofddorp and about 20 miles west of Amsterdam, each Mysteryland festival takes on a different theme; appropriated each year by an ever-changing main stage and surrounding events.
This year, the theme seems to be some kind of acid-hazed fairytale, with love gurus, naked nymphs and giant poodles wandering the site, while princesses and peacock ladies tip-toe through the woods. The stage meanwhile looks like a giant party cake from the Yellow Submarine, all giant funnels, horns and love hearts – you half-expect raving Blue Meanies to emerge from the funnels and this being Mysteryland you wouldn’t be that surprised if they did.
Getting there and back
Yes, this is an International festival but with its proximity to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport – which currently boasts regular connections with 22 UK airports – it’s practically on your doorstep. A traveller’s dream, Schiphol is simple to get around and quick and easy to continue your journey, delivering you straight from the arrivals hall into the train station (directly below the passenger terminal). Regular trains run to Hoofddorp, the nearest town to the festival (journey time: about 10 minutes), but you can also be in Amsterdam in 20 minutes if you want to check out the city before the festival. From Hoofddorp station Mysteryland run shuttle buses to the festival site. In 2009 the first shuttle left at 10am and the last returned an hour and a half after the end of the festival.
Where to stay
With the festival running from 11am to 11pm booking a room for a couple of nights is a necessity – but with Amsterdam being one of Europe’s most expensive cities for hotels it’s not for the faint-hearted. The answer is to grab one of CitizenM’s chic designer pods at Schiphol Airport. At around 70 euros a night this high-end concept hotel does away with the ridiculous extras that you never use, instead concentrating on the luxury that you desire – like touchscreen ‘mood pads’ that control the neon lighting and atmosphere of the room, free and unlimited movies and probably the comfiest (and largest) bed you’ll ever sleep in. Perfect for nursing those post-festival blues.
You’ve literally never experienced a festival as warped and enjoyable until you enter Mysteryland’s watery labyrinth. Covering a forest, a lake, several islands and a gargantuan man-made pyramid Mysteryland feels like the Maya have returned and started worshipping the Gods of electronic music. Some stages, like ex-Porn Star (Euro-dance) and Oi! (dubstep) are situated on their own islands, surrounded by canals; others revel in their notoriety – the Thunderdome takes it’s Mad Max association seriously, pumping out extreme hardcore in a steel cage on top of the pyramid. In amongst all this are fairytale creatures wandering the woods, a theatre, a dressing-up tent, even a condom-supplying caravan where you can get down and dirty with your loved one(s) – this is Holland after all.
Crime and an intimidating atmosphere is still an inherent problem with certain, nameless UK dance festivals so don’t be surprised if you spend the first initial hours at Mysteryland getting to grips with a surreal feeling: a welcome sense of safety. Security at the gates are friendly but rigorous, frisking everyone from general punters to VIPs (even the organisers from ID&T are seen having to give up their bags for the airport-style checks). It’s quick and painless and encourages an atmosphere of well-being and exhilaration that surrounds the site from the start. Of course, no one is that smiley all the time and you get the feeling that the Dutch have ways of protecting their candy, but when even the testosterone-fuelled pump-house of the Thunderdome provides a giddy, welcoming atmosphere, it’s a serotonin in itself.
Steve Aoki – 9/10
The Raaw stage is hanging out for Felix Da Housecat when the news filters through that his wife has gone into labour. A classic case of bad news turning incredible then ensues as Steve Aoki appears and within two seconds and five screams everyone is saying ‘Felix Da Who?’. Live, Steve Aoki is a brutal lesson in truth, mixing the screaming, unapologetic intensity of the Bordeoms or Fugazi with the trashiest, bruising electro. If Justice are the Metallica of Electro then Aoki is its Lightening Bolt – he spends as much time hurtling himself around the stage, letting out cathartic screams as scraping scathing beats from the decks.
Bart B More – 7/10
A brace of ‘Essential New Tunes’ from Pete Tong and support from the likes of Crookers, Diplo, Roger Sanchez and Armin van Buren makes Bart B More’s early afternoon set at Fedde Le Grand’s Flamingo Nights stage a must-see event. The fast-rising Dutch producer seemingly favours the big-room electro-house vibe on first impression, but the lush hooks are underlined with a Crookers-style mischief – all delicious baiile funk and squelchy bass – that puts him on a pedestal with Tiga for creating a deliciously subversive party.
Sound of Stereo – 8/10
You know when you’re dealing with something serious when Dr Lektroluv, that green-masked darling of all things electro, takes an interest. Lektroluv Records issued Heads Up, a filthy-synthed, nasty piece of building analogue, earlier this year, and it demands that this Belgium duo are given the same respect as Bloody Beetroots (who supplied a typically-filthy remix). However, Sound of Stereo should only really be allowed out after dark and even though their mid-afternoon set is one of the highlights of the awesome Vage Gasten stage, the wonky beats are met by a crowd that is still too nice and sunny. There’s smiles all round but they deserve head-banging mischief and vampire bites.
Brodinski – 5/10
Brodinski sets are usually a guaranteed highlight of any bassy gathering, the French producer building up an intoxicating mix of noisy techno and sublime, undercutting house before knocking everyone on the floor with Bad Runner. Either the Dutch crowd think differently or something truly astonishing is happening elsewhere, for his first hour is watched by less than thirty people – including a girl that has more interest in hula-hooping and a chap doing circles around the tent on a bike. Hardly making eye-contact, Brodinski hides behind the decks, which only adds to the cold atmosphere. Even when the tent fills up (possibly in readiness for Felix Da Housecat) and we finally get some of his seductive, head-pounding electro, it’s far too late.
Henzel & Disco Nova – 8/10
Helping to draw an incredible day to a close with an intense, penultimate set at the Vage Gasten stage, the Amsterdam duo envelope the party in screaming, heavy bass, cementing their reputation as “party-starters / party-finishers”. By the time they drop Proxy’s ‘Raven’, everyone’s down on the floor, hugging the tarmac, drooling over that pending rocket-launch of a break. They could easily tease, but Henzel & Disco Nova let them have it and it seems an entire Mysteryland jumps three foot in the air at once, riding on the bassline like a big bouncy castle. OJ Symstem will follow these guys and steal some of their thunder with a much tighter set, but it‘s Henzel & Disco who delivered the evening into the euphoria that it will finish on.
Set You Free!
Not just plenty of stages, surprises and music – plenty of bars and toilets as well! By concentrating on the simplest of logistics Mysteryland sets you free from all the queuing hassle, giving you more time to have fun – essential with so much to pack in to 12 hours. It’s not rocket science; why do other festivals have to be so frugal?
Size doesn’t matter! Vage Gasten’s arena was one of the smallest at Mysteryland but packed a punch that could have knocked that giant clown’s face off his Q Dance perch. Live grafitti, some of the filthiest, wonkiest bass of the day and a crowd as incendiary as the beats, Vage Gasten showed up the bigger stages with a host of must-sees (Don Diablo, Sound of Stereo, Toddla T) and some great Dutch electro.
24 Hour Party People?
The early curfew. For a country that likes to party like there’s no next-minute, let alone tomorrow, it’s a shame that Mysteryland wraps up so early. With so much to see and do 11pm comes around and smacks you in the face like an unwanted parent after a riotous kids party. Yes, you can continue the fun at the many aftershows in Amsterdam and yes, the festival leaves you in a glorious high with a stunning laser and fireworks show, but Mysteryland ends at the worst time – just as it seems the night is about to batter you to bliss and back. It’s like the DeLorean got up to 88.7mph and got halted by a ‘stop’ sign – you’re left breathless and exhilarated, but frustratingly curious at what was round the corner.
The first act on the main stage isn’t a dance artist, it’s a troupe of man-size frogs, naked nymphs and love guru’s straight out of a Bat for Lashes wet dream. A Karen Dreijer Anderson lookalike in a wedding dress sits motionless, smoothing a cuddly dog with no eyes; a bearded guru with a violin bow conjures hypnotic notes out of a saw; the frogs pose and skip gracefully around the stage. And while ours eyes struggle to take-in this visual feast of Terry Gilliam proportion, to our right a Victorian-dressed painter conveys the scene on canvas as a warped version of Manet’s ‘a Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe’. It’s a luscious introduction to a weird and wonderful day.