That’s a wrap on 2023. Insomniac, the foremost promoter of North America West Coast raves, just capped off their 30th anniversary year with Countdown NYE at the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino. Featuring incredible performances from Tiësto, Oliver Heldens, Kayzo, Eli Brown, the Chainsmokers, deadmau5, Porter Robinson and many more; all amongst the theme of an impending alien invasion. This year’s Countdown just got even bigger and better, as Insomniac always seems to do.
As per usual Countdown was held at the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino, so if you’ve been to another Insomniac festival there, it’s a pretty easy place to navigate. Headliners were greeted by a photo opp featuring the invading Lazer Rayz as well as the Ravebots from last year’s edition of Countdown. Insomniac again comes through with a super immersive environment featuring all sorts of alien performers, flying saucers and just a general feeling like you are in the Twilight Zone. It’s all in good fun of course, the main danger is alien probing.
The stages and production were bigger than ever. The main stage at Countdown is the Mothership and it is a gigantic screen in the shape of a flying saucer equipped with a mind-blowing amount of lasers and pyro stacks along the bottom part of the stage. While it would be kinda cool if there was a giant alien behind the stage, like the Grimm at Escape, there’s something to be said for just blowing away the crowd with the maximum amount of lighting, color and lasers.
The second stage was Nebula and it was essentially a mini version of the Mothership. The screen on the stage was more trapezoidal, but it was the same concept, complete with lasers and pyro. The third stage was Area 51 which hosted Bassrush for the weekend. Head bangers were treated to sick stage design featuring screens shaped like capsules with aliens floating in suspension were broadcast on the stage.
One major change from Escape was that the Factory 93/Insomniac Records stage, the Twilight Zone (not the show) got moved indoors to one of the hangars near the south part of the NOS Center. Not only were the vibes on point, but an indoor stage is very welcome when the weather is on the colder side. (Sidenote: This was the best weather I’ve experienced at Countdown in as long as I can remember. See last year’s recap.) A fifth stage, Galactik Gate, was also added. It was an outdoor stage just south of the lagoon, where the Psycho Circus is usually located for Escape. It hosted Space Yacht and Lost in Dreams over the weekend. While I did not catch a set at this stage, it seemed like it was going off whenever I walked by.
As always, the lineup was absolutely stacked. And, heading into 2024, it seemed like all the artists were embracing hard techno and hard dance in general. For Saturday I decided that I wanted to explore as many stages as I could and that I would try and check out some artists whose sets I don’t usually get to catch. I arrived just in time for Morten’s set at the Mothership and met a friend, and just like that, the weekend was off! Morten dropped a bunch of his Future Rave hits and just brought incredible energy.
After that, I knew that I had to get some techno in, so I headed to the Twilight Zone and caught some of Layton Giordani’s set. Like I mentioned before, the indoor stage was such a nice change of pace, and heated too! After that I headed back to the Mothership for Mau P’s set. Hard to believe it’s been a year since the Dutch producer burst onto the scene with “Drugs from Amsterdam.” Fast forward a year later and his set was filled with other hits including “That Bounce” and “Metro.”
Next, Alison Wonderland took the stage, and this is where the hard techno really took over. She started out with some of her more old school trap stylings and her psychedelic visuals were mind blowing. Eventually though, the thumping kick drums of her hard techno took over. Here’s hoping for more of this from Alison in 2024.
I headed over to the Nebula stage for 4B x JSTJR and they dropped an unrelenting set filled with hard techno. The intro was actually JSTJR’s just released single, “Bassline.” These two understood the assignment and delivered maybe the most energetic set of the weekend.
Although, that honor might go to the man who followed them on the Nebula stage, Kayzo. Kayzo absolutely killed it with an impressive and innovative set of hard dance music. This man dropped everything, heavy dubstep, hardstyle, hard techno, hardcore, Kayzo put on an absolute masterclass.
For Day 2, I pretty much just planted myself at the main stage, the lineup was too stacked. SOFI TUKKER started the night off and they were incredible. They basically went from their hit with John Summit “Sun Came Up” into blistering techno, all the while their backup dancers brought the energy. This was the perfect set to kick things off on New Year’s Eve.
One of the quirks of Countdown is the sometimes strange scheduling, since top tier artists are probably playing multiple shows. That’s why the Chainsmokers took the stage at 6:40 PM and absolutely packed out the Mothership. Having just buzzed his hair, Drew and Alex, unchanged, took the stage and mesmerized the crowd with a set that incorporated all of their classic hits like “Don’t Let Me Down”, “Paris”, “Closer” and “Something Just Like This” with a variety of drops and mashups across the spectrum. Techno, psy-trance, drum & bass, Alex & Drew threw it all down. Oh, and of the course, the lasers.
After that Oliver Heldens took the stage, and he blew the crowd away with a mix of some Oliver Heldens classics, some new Hi-Lo tracks, and everything in between that Oliver always incorporates into his sets. His remixes of “Push Up” and Dua Lipa’s “Let’s Get Physical” were also highlights. Finally, deadmau5 was up on the main stage, and he kept the good times going. Joel opened things up with some dark techno, but eventually he started mixing in all of the deadmau5 classics, from classics like “Some Chords”, “Channel 43”, “The Veldt”, and, of course, “Ghosts N’ Stuff”.
I finally broke from the main stage to check out APASHE’s set at Area 51, and, oh boy, the classically trained trap lord did not disappoint. The Belgian-Canadian producer showed why his blend of classical and electronic is on the cutting edge. It’s all the energy of a dubstep set with the precise musicality and instrumentation of a John Williams’ score. 10/10 recommend checking out APASHE if he visits your town.
From there, there was no question where I was going to ring in 2024. At the Mothership stage with Porter Robinson. This was Porter’s first appearance at Countdown since he closed out 2019’s edition. The fan favorite did not disappoint, dropping some of his classics from his Worlds period, including “Easy” and “Language” at midnight. After that Porter thrilled with some hard dance tunes. At one point, he told the crowd, “I know you like ‘Shelter’ but we’ve got 10 more minutes of rawstyle before that.” What a way to bring in the New Year.
There you have it, Insomniac continues to dominate. Even with no shortage of options on one of the biggest party nights of the year, Insomniac still managed to pull together one of the most impressive lineups of any festival that went on this weekend. Countdown 2023 was business as usual for Insomniac. I’d expect nothing less than excellence in live events in 2024. Beyond Wonderland will be returning to the NOS Events Center in March, and tickets are also available for EDC Las Vegas in May. Keep following Insomniac’s socials for updates on festivals in Southern California.