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Tomorrowland: Where reality ends and dreams begin… just don’t call it a music festival

For years, fans of electronic dance music around the globe have been fixated to a mystical world through videos and photos. But even that hard evidence doesn’t do justice for the existence of Tomorrowland. Even detailed live streams are incapable of illustrating what has been hailed as the world’s greatest music festival. And for the vast majority whom have yet to embark on the voyage to Boom, Belgium, that is exactly where the mix up begins. Incomparable to its American music festival counterparts, Tomorrowland is better described as “Disneyland for adults.”

Even those testimonials which place it in a distant first ahead of anything the United States has to offer comes with too little praise. More than a festival, Tomorrowland is a theme park. More than a YouTube fantasy, Tomorrowland is a universe of its own. Boasting an attendance greater than ten times the population of its host town, Tomorrrowland stands alone as a Belgian city. But Tomorrowland has no zip code. It has no boundaries defined by time or space. It has no definitive categorization as an event or destination. Visit Tomorrowland, immerse yourself in the experience, and call it whatever you’d like…

Reality is thrown out the window from the moment your luggage is checked at the airport, where the airline logo at the check-in line is replaced, where the flight status at your gate reads; “Tomorrowland.” Enter your flight — or should we say, Global Journey — a massive jet emblazoned by a Tomorrowland insignia that dwarfs that of its proprietor airline. Take a seat and don’t bother looking for a local newspaper — the first issue of Tomorrowland Today is tucked beneath a screen that is displaying the festival‘s teaser movie. Stewardesses make their first round onboard, handing out Tomorrowland sunglasses and glow-in-the-dark watches. 40,000 feet in the air eager attendees are all bursting with excitement, listening to music, and even dancing.

Landing in Brussels and clearing national customs, men and women suited in the traditional purple and blue hold signs directing attendees towards the shuttle busses. 35,000 campers are en route to DreamVille to pitch their tents and celebrate a night early at the camp grounds’ welcoming party known as The Gathering.

Tents begin to unzip on Friday morning and campers flock towards the entryway to fill the grounds. Perhaps the music festival with the most prompt attendees, tens of thousands arrive at the gates by noon. Walking past a few concession stands including outdoor poker rooms, the first of fifteen stages is only kilometers away from the threshold. On opening day that stage belongs to Markus Schulz, and he is minutes into his twelve-hour marathon set as fans have Tomorrowland in full swing before clock hands complete full circles. Continuing entrance and exploration, a miniature village of restaurants are found past camp Schulz, and before approaching the alcohol vendor, a mountain range appears in the distance.

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But no, this is no mountain range. Saving the Belgian waffles and beer for later and dashing towards the massive edifice, what once appeared to be a mountain range is now visibly the Main Stage. Fans ambush the stage and quickly fill its ground platform. Those late to the punch settle on the hill that encloses the perimeter for the weekend’s largest crowd. Others move on to tour the rest of the grounds and its thirteen remaining stages. Some take the route through the Main Stage tunnels to find themselves in a full blown village where food vendors are accompanied by a book store, a relaxation lounge with jacuzzis, a merchandise hut, a Bacardi bar, candlestick fountains, dozens of tables to eat and drink at, and a circus tent stage occupied by Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak showcase.

With three full days ahead to enjoy all that this town within a festival has to offer, others move on to walk beneath the famous archways that read; “Yesterday is history, Today is a gift, Tomorrow is mystery.” To the right is another stage. To the left is a tunnel — a natural piece of landscape populated by a DJ booth to fit roughly 30 dancers amidst traffic. Water shoots into the air ahead, where a bridge meets one of the few lakes of Tomorrowland. Before crossing the water, there is a necessary pitstop to be made at the Ultra Modern Radio stage — a small arena where performers and DJs join forces to create a dance music version of Vaudeville theatrics.

Step by step, deeper into the fairytale, more options and more forks of direction to consider. To the left is the Q-dance stage, which features a monstrous insect as the centerpiece to host the weekend’s hardstyle acts. The atmosphere alone feels like Tomorrowland’s version of Godzilla — only with heart-stopping bass and dance moves rarely witnessed in the United States. To the right is a tremendous boat docked on the water surrounded by water spewing lily pads. This too is a stage; one that would be headlined by a multitude of underground artists in the coming days. Just a skip, hop, and jump away is another circus tent, one that belongs to trance and its heroes. Further down the path, a massive Ferris wheel crests the horizon, followed by the wings of a colossal butterfly.

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This butterfly turns out to be the festival‘s second largest stage, currently hosted by Carl Cox and his friends before Laidback Luke’s Super You & Me and Dave Clark’s legendary roster set up shop in the days to follow. With a towering Ferris wheel back drop and sound system that requires the use of earplugs, this stage becomes an instant favorite. Even then, plenty remains to be delved into. Stop for a tequila flavored beer and move on. Find a floating, animated globe at the information desk and exchange euros for Tomorrowland currency (coins or paper). Walk through a wooded area and find a stage that clashes Middle Eastern design with Alice in Wonderland characteristics. Stick around for Richie Hawtin — that is, until gigantic, fire breathing fish steal your attention.

Another bridge is nearby, this one constructed solely for the weekend. It leads to a prodigious stage that floats in the lake. Some call it the Pearl stage, but upon entry it becomes the Garden of Madness. Overtop is a ceiling of floral arrangements, ones hand crafted by a world renowned florist who had timed the flowers to bloom just in time for Afrojack’s Jacked battalion, and eventually Kaskade, Eric Prydz, and others. Take a dip in the VIP deck’s man-made pool, exploit all the wonders of festival‘s most imaginative venue; headliners await at the Main Stage.

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Clouds darken as Hardwell wraps up his Main Stage set and the sky begins to fall. Torrential rains shower his bubbling audience and soon accompanies Sebastian Ingrosso’s introduction. Boisterous booms begin to be heard around the festival, however the fireworks haven’t begun. This is geo-engineering; Tomorrowland is blasting cannons off into the atmosphere to control the climate. Booms are heard with each passing minute and the storm quickly dissipates. The next explosions are, in fact, fireworks. Fireworks from Carl Cox’s stage, fireworks from Tiësto’s, fireworks from all corners of the festival. The night sky is illuminated with enough brightness to make previously witnessed displays appear to behold as much power as mere night-lights.

Drift away from the chaos to dispose of trash and find that the bins are large, colorful tulips exclusively propped for the weekend. Take a stroll at night and find that the light posts have been swapped with ornate replacements of fantasia. The world’s largest CO2 cannon is keeping the volcanic Main Stage eruptive while Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike conclude the night. Day one came to a close, yet the festival had hardly begun…

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Perhaps the flames and water that shot from floating attractions were enough distraction to miss the cartoonish, life-sized mushrooms that were scattered nearly everywhere. Maybe Markus Schulz’s final hour had fans running past the Church of Love too quickly to collect a condom from a feign nun. It would take the weekend’s final two days to fully digest the surroundings. But after one, however, the long mystified allure of Tomorrowland had been deciphered.

Tomorrowland organizers have curated a distant world in the middle of rural Belgium, serving attention to detail so meticulous that festival-goers are convinced that they’re trapped within their Disney VHS collections. They provide production quality that far exceeds flames and robots, but rather constitutes a perpetual experience imaginative enough to persuade one of sojourning another world. Not one second passes where Tomorrowland attendees could possibly forget where they are. Not one inch of grounds could enable fans to believe that they’re at a music festival.

Despite flaunting the globe’s most vast lineup, the Tomorrowland adventure is not contingent on its DJ sets. Not on one, not on one hundred, not even on all four hundred. To inhabit one stage for the duration of an entire set takes willpower — there is too much to explore, experience, and indulge in. Sure, the music proves to be the cream of the crop and moments such as Armin van Buuren’s newborn son announcement couldn’t be replicated or imitated elsewhere, but the musical aspect of the affair comes fluently as the soundtrack to an engulfing dreamworld.

Tomorrowland is the one place and time that has successfully escaped reality, and its ambience urges attendees to do the same. So you can call it a fantasy. You can call it “Disneyland for adults.” As long as you’ve been submerged within the borderless realm of Tomorrowland, you can call it whatever you’d like…

Just don’t call it a music festival.

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This September, the Tomorrowland experience goes global with the first ever TomorrowWorld.Tickets are still available.

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