Imagine Music Festival celebrated its third year, last month at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, in Atlanta, GA. Previously held at Atlanta’s Historic Fourth Ward Park in Downtown Atlanta, Imagine moved to the Atlanta Motor Speedway for the first time this year, in order to accommodate larger crowds, camping, and later noise ordinances. In previous years, Imagine had to end at 11PM (with after-parties going later in the night), while this year, performances were allowed to go until 3AM (with after-parties like the Silent Disco going later in the night). On top of the new venue, addition of camping, and later sets, Imagine also added an additional day, making the festival a three-day event.
Glenn and Madeleine Goodhand, the founders of Imagine and the Atlanta-based Iris Promotions LLC and Iris Presents Inc., told the Atlanta Business Chronicle that previous years saw an attendance of 25,000-27,000. They expected to host about 30,000-35,000 fans this year. They were thrilled when the festival ended up hosting about 45,000 attendants, saying: “The magnitude of growth we experienced this year is humbling.” The couple are looking to continue the festival’s growth, noting that “The Atlanta Motor Speedway has endless potential and we look forward to growing into the massive site.”
In order to enter the venue, patrons had to navigate through a pedestrian tunnel that led underneath the speedway and onto the center field, making the journey feel like a portal into another realm. As soon as fans made their exit from the tunnel and onto the center field, they were immersed in an aquatic music and art spectacle. Imagine teamed up with AQUA this year, a special effects company that enhances concerts and festivals. The production company started years ago, in an effort to put their own spin on music events. “By combining lights, lasers and projections we can create 3D visuals, water holograms and mezmerizing [sic] fountains that dance to the beat of the music.” In addition to the visual aspect, AQUA also makes it a point to give back. For every ticket that is sold to one of their events, they donate one month of clean water to a person in need. Complementing the AQUA production and the general theme of water was a large pool in the center of the venue, which was open to the patrons. Additionally, a water slide was available for patrons to use near the Amazonia stage.
With seven stages at the event, there was no shortage of music. Imagine has an eclectic mix of music ranging from Jam Bands and funk, to Disco and Tropical House, and the heaviest Bass and Dubstep music you’ve heard. The national lineup included the likes of Adventure Club, Benny Benassi, Borgore, Dillon Francis (and his House alter ego, DJ Hanzel, his first performance under that name), The Disco Biscuits, Excision, Gramatik, Nero, Steve Angello, Zeds Dead, 3lau, Dirtyphonics, Lotus, Thomas Jack, SNBRN, Snails, Keys N Krates, and many more. Iris also enlisted the talents of local artists, including Midnite Panda, Daddydough, Alex Lucas, Ployd, Scales (a regular performer at Iris-sponsored events), and more.
While the music selection was great, make no mistake, Imagine fans are some of the most passionate and they come to dance and party. On day two, Chris Lyda, Director of Public Relations at Iris Presents had to politely ask the crowd to tone down the excitement a bit, so that fans at the front row didn’t move the front barrier forward. Apparently patrons were dancing a little too enthusiastically on day one. It must be an interesting problem to have for the festival. On the one hand, it’s a sure sign that the music selection is on point, but on the other hand, the festival has to look out for the safety and well-being of others.
Day One of the Oceania Stage had a great performance by Liquid Stranger early in the day. Following Liquid Stranger, Black Tiger Sex Machine took the stage as the day gave way to night. After BTSM, The Bloody Beetroots got a bit of a late start, but wasted no time turning up the speed once he got going, throwing down heavier and faster-paced music. While The Bloody Beetroots kicked up the tempo to get the crowd going, Caspa & Rusko slowed it right back down, playing a set that paid homage to older Dubstep, a style much more reminiscent of ten years ago. The duo kicked off their set with a newer tune, Blouse An Skirt, but made sure to throw in many of the original Dubstep classics like Woo Boost, Jahova, Pro Nails (Rusko Remix), and California Love (Rusko ‘Da Cali Anthem’ Remix). Caspa & Rusko demonstrated their true performance abilities by utilizing negative space, creating an atmosphere of suspense and tension, making the whole set more cerebral than an average Dubstep performance. Steve Angello followed Caspa & Rusko, while Borgeous capped off the night.
Day Two at the Oceania Stage experienced some heavy sets early in the day, with Funtcase B2B Cookie Monsta, followed by Doctor P. Over at the Amazonia stage, G Jones threw down some masterfully crafted bass tunes. Minnesota followed as the sun dipped low into the sky. He made sure to sync his music with the natural light around him; the later in the night he went, the heavier the music became. The live band Papadosio changed up the pace a bit as they played their funkier songs.
Over at the Disco Inferno Stage, Dillon Francis made his debut performance under the alias DJ Hanzel, his more House-y alter-ego. After DJ Hanzel, EDX adjusted the vibe when he got on and started playing his bubbly House tunes. The Amazonia stage continued the Jam Band/Funk theme with Lotus playing the midnight slot. In addition to the music, Lotus’ visual team does a great job complementing the mood of the music with their spectacular light shows. Back at the main stage Dillon Francis played for the second time of the night, this time as Dillon Francis. As he took the stage, he proclaimed “Fuck DJ Hanzel!” While most people in the crowd laughed, the joke was lost on some fans, not realizing that Dillon Francis and DJ Hanzel are the same person. While Dillon Francis has had mixed results in the past, he put on a good performance at Imagine as he warmed the crowd up for Zeds Dead to close out the night. Unsurprisingly, Zeds Dead put on a stellar show. Their years of experience as producers and DJs are evident in their performances, as they are able to smoothly transition between genres and keep the crowd engaged.
Day Three at the Amazonia stage saw rising star Opiuo play his multi-genre music, a style he describes as “Broken-frog-stomping-funkadelic-hippo-hop-monkey-crunk-chunky-bouncy-stomach-morphing-bassdolloping-scrumptious-bowl-of-glitchy-bass-love.” He was quite mobile on the stage as he bounced between drum pads, a MIDI controller, and interacting with the crowd. At the Disco Inferno Stage, local artist Alex Lucas played some fun tunes as his set gave way to SNBRN. SNBRN had an appropriately timed set that coincided with the sunset. Back at the Oceania Stage, pantyraid played their signature slow progressive bass music. The duo consists of Marty Party and Ooah (of The Glitch Mob), two producers who frequently work either solo or on other projects. Together, they make a powerhouse of a music team that puts out unique music and performances.
Over at the Amazonia Stage, Break Science showcased their fusion of styles as they moved between live instruments and DJing. Thomas Jack closed out the Disco Inferno Stage with an 11PM set time. His music matched his tropical attire, playing a relaxed House set continuously through the night.
Back at the main stage, Borgore demonstrated his technical abilities as he kept the crowd dancing through the night. His performance was quite a sight, as confetti blasted through the air and giant beach balls bounced above the crowd. After Borgore, Nero played a more theatrical set, reminiscent of a movie soundtrack. Nero made sure to include many classic Nero songs like Me & You, Reaching Out, The Recluse, and Promises, while also including some newer material like Satisfy.
Although Imagine showcases a range of top-notch artists and a variety in genres across seven stages, the selection of Excision for the closing set of the weekend on the mainstage highlights Imagine’s most represented demographic: Bass heads. Unsurprisingly, Excision threw down a heavy and grimey Dubstep experience that had the whole crowd going nuts, with no shortage of headbanging. As the night came to a close, festival founders Glenn and Madeleine came on stage to give a special thank you to the fans, staff, and performers, and to announce a quick encore by 12th Planet to close the night out.
The closing ceremony with comments by Glenn and Madeleine highlighted a feeling that I had the whole weekend: Imagine Music Festival is a family affair. The comments were a nice gesture, but more important was the festival as a whole. Although the festival hosted 45,000 fans, the event felt like a smaller community coming together to celebrate the hard-work and effort that Iris and their team invested into the festival. There is certainly some room for improvement; however, the missed opportunities were not unique to Imagine. For example, the placement of free water stations and the general layout of the venue could be improved, as well as an increase in staff. The issues pale in comparison to the overall success of the festival, and fans should be optimistic that this independent festival is produced by a passionate team of locals who wish to see the festival and the Atlanta music scene grow and thrive.