Even after all of the many festivals I have been to, photos and videos I’ve seen, and the stories I’ve heard about of EDM festivals like Imagine, nothing came close to preparing me for the beautiful insanity of what I was about to get myself into. Through the entirety of the two and a half hour drive down to the Atlanta Motor Speedway, my media partner/photographer, Ana Leonard, and I jammed to a carefully cultivated playlist of all of the artists performing at Imagine getting us mood for the next three days. Arriving earlier in the day on Thursday meant little to no lines of cars trying to get into the campgrounds (which everyone knows is the worst part of any festival) and made for better options to choose where to set up our campsite. Although, in staff camping, the sparse campsites around us looked no different than any other festival goers’ site. This meant that there was no shortage of loudspeakers blasting all types of music from every direction, canopies with colorful tapestries blowing through them, dangling string lights, and people hanging around relaxing and conversing with their surrounding neighbors. We utilized the rest of the daylight by attempting to figure out how to put steaks in the ground without a mallet (side note, a big rock works just fine) and trying to get our cute little campsite for two set up just right. Before we knew it the sun was setting, the subtle vibrations from the bass in the distance began to grow stronger, and we knew it was time. 

Not at all, but at most full weekend camping music festivals there is typically a pre-festival party on site the night before the madness begins to give everyone who is there early a little preview. Moreover, it was an extra night for everyone to take advantage of dressing up and show off all of their festival/rave wear. Walking through the empty parking lots of the speedway with not too many other people, but enough to feed our curiosity and excitement, Ana and I talked about how we had no idea what to expect since this was both of our first times at a strictly EDM festival. In regard to Imagine specifically, we also talked about how interested we were to see how all of the music would sound individually and cumulatively based off of the layout of all of the stages being near each other in a semi enclosed setting. We would later come to find out through a very informative conversation with our neighbor that there is a whole science behind choosing specific locations and angles placed for each stage that affect the sound distribution and how the music is heard by all of the people in the crowd. The particular construction of the racetrack itself also plays a part in sound management, it’s actually all pretty intriguing. 

Walking into the entrance of the racetrack underneath the bleachers I could hear the muffled beats of pulsing bass as if there was a speaker right in front of me, but someone had covered it with a pillow to stifle it. Muffled as it was, the physical vibrations of the bass felt stronger than ever. I could feel it shaking the concrete floors and pillars around me as I heard the metal bleachers ringing against each other in synchronization with the music that seemed to be coming through one small tunneled doorway into the stadium. Walking through the tunnel I felt as if I was walking through a portal to an alternate universe, like Alice falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. The second that I stepped through the end of the tunnel onto the trembling bleachers, grabbed the cold shaking metal railing, and looked out onto the centered Disco Inferno stage shooting out blasts of fire, it was like all of my senses sparked to life at once, overwhelmed in the best way. Wide-eyed I walked down the stadium steps and into the field in front of the stage scattered with a decently sized crowd of people considering it was only the preliminary evening. Already performing was the unforgettable DJ Blunts and Blondes that had the crowd feeling right from the looks of the bouncing totem poles and glowing lights flowing in the all of the spaces around. Continuing right into the next set of Sullivan King b2b Kai Wachi b2b Kompany, people only kept pouring into the space around the stage on all sides, but with consideration of the universal understanding for the space necessary for head banding. To end the party for the night inside the speedway, Space Jesus threw down a killer set that seemed like the whole night had been building up to. The crowd went wild when he played hit songs “Spaceboss”, “Exist” and “Dragonhawks”, and was only intensified by the disco ball that stood behind him blasting out streams of fire that made him look like a space jesus indeed.

Friday was the day that the rest of the people attending the festival began to pour in, which meant any empty space seen in the campgrounds quickly filled up. After a bit of confusion in the credential distribution department on the day of arrival, we had to return to the office early Friday morning to our media credentials and wristbands, which was all the way on the complete opposite side of the grounds of the speedway. Thankfully, our neighbors nearby just so happened to have a golf cart and were heading to the office at the same time and offered us a ride. During our heaven-sent golf cart ride, we chatted with our friendly neighbors about the weekend and learned that the man driving the golf cart was none other than Dilly Tonka himself, aka the Willy Wonka of Imagine. For those who kept up with Imagines’ advertising promotions on Instagram this year, you already know about the golden ticket situation. For those who don’t, Dilly Tonka was said to have hidden golden tickets all across the country that if found could win you either platinum passes, VIP 4-day passes, or GA 4-day passes as well as golden tickets hidden within the festival that could win you backstage all-access passes or free beer from bud light passes. So basically, we had the pleasure of being driven on a golf cart by a famous Imagine celebrity. Mysteriously and almost magically, Ana and I soon found ourselves in the possession of one of these infamous golden tickets that we would later definitely take advantage of.

During the daytime, Ana and I spent our hours writing, doing yoga, listening to music, snacking, and taking advantage of laying around under the shade of our canopy doing absolutely nothing except for just being present in the moment, all the while battling the scorching sun. Time seemed to pass surprisingly quickly, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re having a good time. Before we knew it, we were in a frantic hurry throwing bright colors and glitter all over our faces, chugging bottles of water to stay hydrated, and gathering all of the items we needed for the next eight hours to bring into the festival with us. Our first stop inside the festival was one of my favorites of the many perks that we received over the course of the weekend – the air-conditioned media work area in the racetrack control room in the very top of the main tower. It had the most breath-taking panoramic view of the entire festival and oh, did I mention it was air-conditioned? This media workspace would later become our go-to spot for whatever little down-time we had between racing from one set to another, and would feel like ascending into a glorious, quiet, air-conditioned heaven after spending hours in the depths of the deep EDM sea.

To begin our bass filled musical journey for the evening, Ana and I started off at the Oceania stage right up against the barricade to witness the performance of Imagine royalty, Leah Culver. The visual aspect alone was incredible, and I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face for the entire time. Not visual in the typical EDM visuals sense, although those were nice too, but visuals in the context of the professional dancers alongside her on stage, killer choreography, live band, and even people dressed as giant, sparkly, red lobsters on stilts! All of that combined Leah’s beautiful vocals and haunting, slammer-like dubstep, it was safe to say that my night was off to a great start. 

Whether traveling between the main stages, browsing through the vendors alley behind it, resting in the spacious grassy areas on the outskirts of it, or hanging around it for the great lineup of DJs performing at it, the Disco Inferno stage seemed to be everyone’s favorite hangout spot. Over the course of the whole night, at that stage we were able to catch the sets of Squnto, Boogie T, Subtronics, and Rusko. All having just as trippy visuals on the screen behind them, all just as talented, all just dirty, and all bringing about just as much shuffling and fluid dancing in every crowd. 

REZZ really earned herself the title of one of the headlining artists and definitely ended up in my top three favorite sets of the weekend. She is in her prime right now in her “Beyond the Senses” album tour, which is unlike any of the other albums she has released. REZZ is breaking the boundaries of the typical EDM “sound” in a way that’s unlike any other artist. Her sets aren’t solely about the build up of bass and heavy drops, although there is some of that in them. Her music puts you in a technetronic trance that you could lose yourself in for hours. During her set when I looked throughout the crowd around me all I could see was a mass of head shaped shadows and hundreds of the iconic hypnotic neon goggles, a wonderful tribute to REZZ herself. 

As unfortunate as it was that Diplo had to cancel his performance, the act that took his place, DJ Diesel, blew away everyone in disbelief and definitely did not disappoint. Prior to that day, I had no idea who DJ Diesel really was or that this individual even made music. DJ Diesel, also known as Shaquille O’Neal, had every person at that festival gathered in front of him and shook them all to their core. As incredible as his set was, every time he yelled into the microphone over a track, I couldn’t help but laugh in amusement because, well ya know, it was Shaq. Sampling songs into his mix that ranged from the general classics such as Toto’s “Africa” to the newer bass heavy EDM classics, all was accompanied by a sky full of neon laser lights and swirling colorful images on the screen on stage. Although his DJing skills proved to be quite impressive, the production provided at his set is what really blew me away. Imagine has probably the best production of any festival that I have ever been to. No matter where you are in the crowd, you’ll always feel like you’re on the rail.

[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”19″ display=”basic_thumbnail” thumbnail_crop=”0″]Saturday presented us with more writing, relaxing, yoga, snacking, and music. Music that was provided by Johnny Storm, another friendly neighbor who just so happened to be pretty good at DJing. He eventually joined us under our canopy where we all sat around sharing stories from the previous night, previous festivals, and life in general. Seeing as he is the videographer for Dirty Bird Records, we were able to share our similar opinions about great it is to be able to work in a field where “working” is being involved in creating things that are centered around all forms of art, like music. As if it were almost divine timing, right after that conversation Ana and I had to head back up to the media tower to interview one of the incredibly talented artists, Leah Culver. Much taller in person than she looks on stage and dressed in black and chains, I was a bit intimidated at first because this was my first time interviewing a big artist. However, intimidating is definitely not a characteristic that I would use to describe Leah. Leah was so laid back, down to earth, and thoughtful in responses to all the questions that I had for her, it kind of made me want to be her best friend.

We decided to spend part of the day exploring around the main streets of the campgrounds where all of the food trucks, vendors, and silent disco was set up. As we walked the neon rave-wear lined dirt path of ShakeDown Street, a sign caught my attention that instantly made me jump in excitement and run full sprint towards it. It was a sign that was advertising for two wonderful items conveniently at the same booth – fried mac and cheese on a stick and iced coffee. It was just the right amount of fried and caffeinated carb overload that my body needed to be fueled for the rest of the day.

Once back inside the festival, we started off back at the Disco Inferno stage because I was dying to catch Anna Lunoe’s set so I could get the chance to dance, and hopefully learn how to shuffle, to her song “303”. I loved watching everyone in the crowd at her set because almost everywhere you looked you saw people just shuffle dancing their hearts out. Unfortunately for me, wishful thinking did not do any good in helping my ability to shuffle, or rather inability. After several songs, we shuffled our way over to check out the game room and all on the artwork set up inside of it. Beside the game room was a giant man made with huge floats that I’m sure made for a fantastic time during the heat of the day but was a bit too chilly for my liking at nighttime.

Front row at the Amazonia stage was exactly where I wanted to be for my second time seeing Cherub live, and boy was it worth it. It was a really nice refreshing change of pace from all of the other show I have been to thus far. When I saw that Cherub was on the line up to play at Imagine, I was pleasantly surprised. EDM festivals are interesting because a festival solely with one genre of music, the lack of variety of music can make it a little easier to get burnt out quicker and lose some energy. However, this was not the case for Imagine. The lineup at Imagine this year did a great job of providing a number of artists that dabble in all of the different categories of music that fall under EDM. Allison Wonderland also showed the wide range that EDM can expand to in her set that blew the minds of the masses. Her stage presence alone is unmatched and accompanied by her mix of slower free flowing sounds and harder bass drops, her set stood out to me more than most.

Louis the Child was hands down one of the best sets that I have ever been a part of in my life, at that’s really saying something. My anticipation and excitement for seeing Louis the Child live that I had been building up for weeks now was almost unbearable during the thirty minutes that I had to wait in the crowd for them to come on. Facing each other in the center of the stage rather than the audience, it was like for the entirety of their set they were just going back and forth with one another, like young kids creating music in their mom’s basement, but much better. The sounds they produce are angled toward making people feel euphoric and it works. The flashing neon lighting, glowing fog, and hundreds of bouncing totems in the crowd only added to the euphoric atmosphere and obviously happy energy shared with every single individual in the crowd and honestly made me feel like I was floating. 

Satisfied with the inside of the festival for the night, Ana and I went on to venture into the campgrounds to experience some of the many other stages scattered throughout it. We landed on the silent disco stage where DJs White on Rice and Cyrus produced some of the music mentally stimulating yet soothing music that I think I have ever heard. Where the is a music festival, there is almost guaranteed to be a silent disco as well. Once the headphones were on, my eyes instantly closed, and I felt like I was transported to the inside of my own head and the outside world fell away. Once my eyes opened again, only because tapped me on the shoulder to talk to me, it took me a minute to remember where I was. You know how when you take a really intense nap you wake up so confused you don’t even know where you are or what day it is for a minute? Yeah, it felt like that.

[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”28″ display=”basic_thumbnail”]One of the most attractive qualities of music festivals is the atmosphere that is created based off of everyone’s universal love and appreciation for music in general, there is a little bit of every genre for every type of person. What’s different about EDM music festivals is that it is the only genre of music there, so you know that everyone there is there for their love of EDM. EDM festivals bring so many different walks of life together in unity for the love of dirty bass and created the most beautiful atmosphere of acceptance and community unlike any other I have ever seen before. Even to the extent of the way people react to the music, head banging in synchronized without even realizing it. From the vibrations the speakers emitted with every beat to the loving energy I felt from everyone I met, I truly felt connected to music and people around me at Imagine. The post-festival-depression has already set it, but the memories that I have from Imagine music festival will forever be held in a very special place in my heart. See you again soon Imagine.

Coverage by Gabrielle Lasater

Photography by Ana Leonard

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