The Canada Day long weekend in Toronto was hot and muggy, but that didn't stop the enthusiasm of tens of thousands of fans as they descended onto Ontario Place for this year's Digital Dreams Music Festival. With a brand new main stage (pictured above), a new cashless system, tons of acts booked from a wide spectrum of genres - Digital Dreams have high ambitions of becoming the premiere EDM festival in Canada.
On Saturday you could feel the buzz in the air as fans made their way to the entrance gates at Exhibition Place. The overall fashion look was minimal as many men and women preferred to keep it comfy while leaving little to the imagination. Once you got through the security check, the first thing to do was to test out the much hyped cashless system. There were plenty of places to load up the wristband as they accepted either cash or credit. Loading it up was easy, and buying stuff such as pizza was a snap. Once you ordered food or a beverage, you simply had to tap once to get your balance, and then tap again to purchase. Even though the cashless system had a few reported hiccups at Mysteryland, the system worked flawlessly all weekend at Digital Dreams.
Another highlight was the multiple water stations available throughout the site that provided free water bottle refills that were fully staffed for both days. It was excruciatingly hot on both days and the availability of refilling your water bottle anytime you wanted was a much needed relief.
Dyro was one of the first headliners to take the massive Dreams main stage and played several popular tracks from the Revealed Recordings catalogue. While at the House of Boom stage, the Crystal Method were a huge hit as Scott Kirkland led the craziness on stage while Ken Jordan supplied the mixing behind the decks. One of the more original things I've ever seen on stage was when Scott brought out a custom CDJ setup attached to a mini-keyboard and a guitar. It had a long cord connecting it to the rest of the DJ'ing equipment and Scott delighted the crowd by riffing on his DIY creation.
The fantasyland stage was the smallest of all the stages but was unmatched in its surroundings as the backdrop was the beautiful Lake Ontario which also brought a cooling breeze to the crowd. Trance was on the menu and Fantasyland provided as much as one would like with a stacked lineup. Andy Moor and Super8 & Tab showed off the melodic side as they both served a refreshing dose of trance music. Things heated up significantly once John '00' Fleming and Christopher Lawrence took control of the decks in a special back to back set. In accordance with their styles, it didn't take long until the whole place was buzzing with uncompromising psy-trance while J00F played to the crowd while Lawrence's concentration was more focused on the decks.
Simon Patterson was the final headliner at Fantasyland and he did not disappoint. Bringing his special brand of trance mixed in with techno and psy-trance, Simon brought Toronto's own Arnej on stage for a special back to back session to close out the night. The Fantasyland stage delivered, but did Toronto's trance family show up in full force? The crowd was healthy enough but when you factor in the overall lineup, the trance stage should have been more packed.
Returning to the House of Boom stage, Noisia came back for their second set of the evening (first being as part of I Am Legion earlier in the day) and played some of the hardest drum and bass all weekend. Showing off some unreleased tracks from their upcoming "Purpose" EP, this Dutch trio were uncompromising and punished the dancefloor. By the time Flux Pavilion arrived, the stage was so smoky that one could barely see the DJ. Mixing in originals and tracks such as Dillon Francis/DJ Snake's "Get Low" and Skrillex/Kill The Noise/Milo & Otis' "NRG" remix, Flux was a crowd pleaser.
Walking into the festival grounds for day 2 one couldn't help notice that fans were more relaxed coming in as they were feeling the hard partying effects on their bodies done the day before under the hot summer heat. But that didn't stop their enthusiasm as they no doubt knew that day 2's lineup was just as big as day 1's and there were still plenty of party left in them.
The day started with checking out homegrown talent Rene LaVice as he spun fresh DnB tunes to a more intimate crowd. Rene invited the crowd in close and then whipped out the Canadian flag to a very warm reception. His set was a true Rene LaVice show from start to finish as one could hear his distinct stylistic footprint the entire way, emphasized by a growling heavy bassline that stood firm until he dropped his chilled out Usher remix to end the set.
Before heading back to the main stage, one could quickly notice how much busier No. 19 Social Experiment stage was as compared to the Fantasyland trance stage the day before. Deep house is a hot genre and a steady stream of fans were paying a visit to groove to the music from the dancefloor to the hilltop.
Meanwhile on the Dreams main stage Fedde Le Grand, the veteran artist from Netherlands, had an impressive set from start to finish. Tracks like his mashup of Alesso's "If I Lose Myself" tied with Sandro Silva's "X-Vertigo", W&W & Blasterjaxx's "Rocket", and Oliver Heldens bootleg of Calvin Harris/Alesso's "Under Control" really got the crowd in the right mood between singing the acapella's and raging.
Dash Berlin came on later that day and brought a vocal driven set that was mixed with his usual high energy behind the decks. He's an entertainer of the highest order as he manages to invite the crowd into his world each and everytime. Dash has gone well beyond his trance roots as he likes to mix in the more melodic with hard drops while being able to introduce a hint of a hardstyle kick for that extra flavour. A torrential downpour rained down on the main stage about halfway through his set which did nothing to damper the enthusiasm of the crowd as it almost made the music speak even louder.
By 9:30 pm, the sun had retreated and fans had to make a tough choice between acts to watch before the end at midnight. Eventually the idea of checking out the one-two punch combination of Excision and then Andy C to close out the tent was irresistible. Excision brought a pounding set of heavy bass music while Andy C delivered a drum and bass masterclass. Getting to hear drum and bass remixes of Nero's "Satisfy" and Deadmau5 "Avaritia" was refreshing and sounded great on the big speakers. Armanni Reign was on hand to MC and even though I've once doubted the need for an MC at all, Armanni Reign might have single handedly changed my mind. His MC'ing was on point and managed to take Andy C's tracks to another level.
Digital Dreams has emerged as one of the premier festivals in Canada. With an ambitious new main stage design, innovations such as the cashless system, and allowing more room to invite a wider spectrum of artists - the 2014 edition of the Digital Dreams Music Festival will be an experience that many won't soon forget.