Imagine Festival in Atlanta this past weekend was chock-full of amazing surprises, and I thought I had seen it all! From dancing under a dome of real fire to watching the main stage from a swimming pool, this festival paid no expense in its tribute to the elements of water and fire. In fact, three of the five stages were ablaze by 10pm, and not just because of the hot talent. Between the magical mermaid side performers to the glorious main stages and the vivid DJs that played on them, and of course all the beautiful costumed fest-heads in my company, I couldn’t have enjoyed my weekend more. But I’ll start at the beginning, and take you there with me.
The festival made itself at home this year at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, a massive venue with an interesting layout to explore. While camping at this festival might seem a little urban to someone who is used to sleeping under the stars at Bonnaroo or camping in the forests of Suwannee Music Park in Florida, the grounds were all close and convenient to the main entrance and many people commented on being very comfortable there. For those who were stationed the extra half mile back, ornately lit bike-drawn carriages were available for pay to take you anywhere you’d like to go. The entire experience entering the venue was convenient and quick, something many larger festivals simply cannot boast.
The vendors at this event were top notch, from Glofx who sponsored the official eye-wear for the event to Black Light Visuals, a unique and popular tent at festivals where patrons can tiger-dye their arms, hats, backpacks and bodies with all of their favorite dazzling colors. Another eye-catcher was the Kandi Kid Creations booth, chock full with beaded handmade face-masks and beaded, beautiful tutus. I couldn’t tear myself away from the Pikachu mouth-masks, super hero panties and assorted geeky gear; it was definitely my personal favorite shopping stop. Of course this year’s Imagine provided a booth for Dance Safe, a very important organization that provides information, testing kits, and a safe place for open discussion about drug safety and use. You can read all about Dance Safe and their important, progressive work here.
The venue was glittering with art installations and fun projects all strewn throughout the racetrack layout. Main Street, the main walkway where the food and drink vendors were located, connected the main stage of Oceana all the way through to the farthest and second largest stage at the venue, Amazonia. In between were free-draw walls and canvasses for everyone to chalk on, all with Imagine themed outlines (fish, mermaids, etc) and live graffiti installations as well. There was a live painting event hosted as the sun went down right next to the Amazonia stage while Papadosio played, which added a beautiful visual touch to their introspective sound.
Next is the talent, which Imagine suffered no shortage of. The afternoon was brimming with bangers like Mantis, Bleep Bloop and Terravita, while all day long the main stage was packed. The dirtiest set I saw all weekend was uncontested: Dirtyphonics. Their first song, shot right out of the cannon, began “This is Dirtyphonics, NOW BREAK YOUR FUCKING NECK!” The crowd did not disappoint (though, happily, no fatalities ensued).
Minnesota Saturday at sundown was a real crowd pleaser, and their stage (Amazonia) was equipped with an epic visual backdrop that played back to back neon trippy images. It was clear that Adult Swim must have put forth some support for the event, because all weekend Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Robot Chicken, Family Guy and Rick and Morty characters danced with us on screen.
SNBRN was a very chill session out on the fielded Disco Inferno stage, complete with massive disco ball that cracks open and plumes flames after sundown. Showtek and Pantyraid were wild crowd pleasers on the main stage as well, yet the serious show-stopping lights and tech were all saved for the headlining acts.
Speaking of, the headliners this year were outrageously dope! Imagine paid no expense when it came to their lighting, fireworks, special effects, and side-stage talent. We had contortionists, acrobats, and performers galore to dazzle those of us stuck on the sides while the shows raged on. There was actually one performer jump roping while running on a spinning ball platform, it was cirque-du-soleil level skills.
The first headlining act to rock my world this weekend was Adventure Club. While their act didn’t have any projected visuals, the rainbow assortment of lasers, fog, and lights was electric enough for the hour to appease the eyes. They played a decent amount of new material, and saved their well-known hits for the very end. While it was a stunning display, I had been hoping for a little more interaction from the DJs than I what experienced.
The following night was Benny Benassi, an utterly mind-boggling array of blue and red effects in whirlpool of banging beats and jumping feet. The crowd absolutely adored him, his energy and ecstasy was infectious. You could tell he was as blown away by us as we were by him. Then across the venue at Amazonia was the mind-bubbling Break Science, a live show to bring other acts to their knees. While their visuals were the same Adult Swim/neon themed ones resident to that stage all weekend, somehow they just matched up with Break Science’s bad beats flawlessly.
The artists were dancing and thrashing all over the stage in perfect tandem with the crowd. This stage had the best vibe in my opinion, a large grassy area with tons of space to watch hoopers and glovers and light artists of all kinds. For Break Science to be able to play with such rampant energy to such a spread out crowd, and have every single one of us grooving in time with them, truly felt like a bonding experience.
The final show I experienced, the one that blew me away entirely, was dubstep-master Borgore on the sickest stage display you’ve ever seen. Borgore is a boy at heart: he loves aliens, tentacle porn, scantily-clad women, and memes, and I really felt like I was able to get to know him through his set.
The performance seemed extremely personal, from the visual clips of his music videos sprinkled in between neon naked women and dat boi (king of memes) to the frequency with which he spoke and joked around with the crowd. He pointed out signs he loved (apparently he is a big fan of Bob Ross), sang along with us a good bit of the show, and it was obvious he relished and appreciated every second of his time on stage with us. With all the tentacles and sexed up cartoon women I felt like I was right back in a college boy’s dorm, but it was great to get that personal touch from a world-famous star. Be sure to check out our in-person interview with Borgore, which will be available to watch later on next week.
Lastly, I want to spoil some of the best secrets and surprises Imagine threw together this year. The coolest one, literally, was the swimming pool. Decked out with flamingo and swan floaties, balls and baubles and located right next to the main bar, the pool was the place to be in the sweltering southern afternoons. From the pool you had a perfect, unimpeded view of Oceana, giving us all the incredible luxury of watching our favorite EDM stars from the comfort of a cool, shin deep pool. It wasn’t nearly as grossly crowded as you might be imagining either. Actually everyone was very polite and aware of one another, and mostly people just sat by the edge with their feet in the water sipping on Fat Tuesday style slushies. It was a very chill time.
The most awesome stage, by far in my opinion, was a side stage named Incendia that actually was not listed on the schedule at all. This made it difficult to tell who was actually playing it and when, but once you were inside that hardly seemed to matter. The stage and its subsets are actually jungle-gym style domes, complete with cushy benches along the perimeter for seating. During the day the stage misted vapor over the dance floor constantly, allowing for a refreshing escape from the heat…that is, until the sun goes down.
Once night rises, the internal ceiling of the dome becomes alight with rolling fire, while water continues to spray gently on the dancers below. What resulted was the strangest sensation of danger and excitement, while a burning ceiling beats down heat on you as water douses your body simultaneously. The stage was an embodiment of the Imagine “Aquatic Fairytale” theme and proved to be a radical and unique dancing experience.
If you’re wondering where the DJ was in all this, I was too…until I looked up. The DJ booth is actually raised above the dance floor, floating just below the burning/raining ceiling. This made for an awesome visual and widened up the space immensely.
This surprise stage was my favorite location festival-wide, for the tactile pleasure of heat and water, the shaded benches which always seemed to be open (since everyone was busy dancing) as well as the fire show at night, which was effortlessly and naturally dazzling.
This was the first year Imagine set its roots down at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, and was its third year running. This was also the first year camping was incorporated, which was a big relief for many festival goers who traveled long distances to join the party. The venue seemed laid out a little oddly at first, working around the mile and a half long circular Nascar track, but after getting your bearings it actually became very easy to cross the entire venue in a matter of minutes.
The festival has been under a little heat this weekend since security measures were so lax (I wouldn’t personally know this since I was admitted through a separate media entrance, with separate security that I thought did their jobs just fine). There were two free water fill up stations inside the venue, though they were at completely opposite ends and some attendees had trouble finding them and gaining access to necessary water. While outdoor shaded areas were sparse (as many people have noted since) there was an awesome hollowed out warehouse area for people to sit around, escape the heat, and charge their cells from outlets hanging down from the ceiling. I’ll admit it was somewhat obvious that it was the festival’s first year at this venue; all the amenities were indeed present, just not so readily available for some.
Despite the occasional online criticisms, I thought the venue put together a thoughtful event that portrayed the “Aquatic Fairytale” theme to a tee. The performers and acrobats were magical additions, and the water misters all around the venue along with the fire-spouting stages at night depicted the themes of water (and its opposite) beautifully. The staff I encountered was generous with their time and extremely helpful and hospitable, the vendors were happy to be there and feed us, and the performers were energetic and present. The poolside view of the main stage, the fire dome dance floor Incendia, Break Science, Benny Benassi, and watching (and meeting) Borgore himself were definitely my highlights. Imagine put on a magical weekend for us in Atlanta, and I can’t wait to see what they build upon and invent for next year’s wild party.
All festival photo cred to Van McInish