Time Warp, an annual electronic music festival in Mannheim, Germany, represents all the worst things EDM culture has become. But before I get into the poor safety conditions, the utterly depressing morning after, and the most antisocial ravers I have ever seen, I’ll start with the one good part: the music.
I arrived around 12:30 p.m. and instantly started swaying to RØDHÅD’s dramatic buildups fading into understated dubstep beats. Behind him were extraterrestrial-looking designs, and the sound effects made me feel like I was inside an alien-attack arcade game. Then, Dubfire’s psychedelic set hypnotized me with low, growling vocals and crashing wave sounds as fish swam over the screen.
Next door, glowing red fangs appeared to swallow the stage where Chris Liebing performed, and beams of light shot down from the ceiling like lasers darting to high-pitched percussion.
But the highlight of the festival (or at least the pre-9 a.m. portion, because how does anyone make it past that point?) was Nina Kravitz’s set. Behind her were projections of bats, spiders, cobwebs, and ghosts. Some of the music gave off an appropriately witchy vibe, with menacing whispers and operatic instrumentals. Other portions transported us to a rainforest, with chirping and waterfall effects. At one point, she mixed Da Hool’s “Met Her At The Love Parade,” an ode to Germany’s famous (though now-defunct) EDM parade. We had to wait for ten minutes just to make it into the hall, once again proving that EDM’s gender problem does not result from a lack of good women DJs.
The first and second stages were connected, and if you stood in the underpass between them, you could catch two sounds at once, blending the tunes just by moving your body. I lingered there to hear the clash between Adam Beyer’s haunting orchestrals and Richie Hawtin’s upbeat, futuristic synths.
If you spent the entire time staring at the stages, the event lived up to its expectations. But aside from the fact that this would probably be a safety hazard due to the heat, that’s not all I go to music festivals for. I go to meet interesting people and make meaningful memories with them. And that’s where Time Warp fell flat, big time.
When my boyfriend and I asked to sit next to a group, they side-eyed us as if to ask why we would talk to them and turned away. We tried again with a guy sitting alone against a wall, but he’d passed out before we could open our mouths. Excluding those I came with, only three people spoke to me: one to apologize for burning a red circle onto my hand with his cigarette, and two to ask if I had ecstasy on me. When a festival runs from 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday to 2 p.m. on a Sunday, drugs go from a fun addition to a survival strategy. And people barely survived.
During my first attempt to get water, the stand only carried beer, so I had to find a new one. Once I did, they were out of water bottles and could only sell me a small cup. Meanwhile, just the feeling of my ponytail on my neck was unbearable, and I had to step outside every few minutes to escape the heat. Equally often, I saw someone escorting a semi-conscious friend out. At one point, smoke filled my lungs and trains of people flooded out coughing. Throughout the night and into the morning, I witnessed stretchers carried into the first aid tent.
I remember at the end of EDC Vegas last year, buses and cars lined up to bring us home. In the one I entered, someone put on Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” and we all stood up and danced our way home. After EDC, everyone looked thrilled. After Time Warp, they looked defeated. That festival ate us alive and spit us out with blank expressions on our faces and giant bags under our eyes. I have never seen a sight as dreary as the zombies silently retreating from the concert halls to the Porta-potties that morning.
As an American expat in Germany, the party scene has been one of the biggest culture shocks. I now go out when I used to come home. I’ve grown accustomed to the orange and blue swirls of crushed pills on club floors. Along with an aversion to “commercial” music that makes them scoff at the DJs filling Vegas clubs, Europeans treat EDM like some extreme sport you must make your body suffer to take part in.
Maybe I’m just not well-versed in the art of raving. But I guess I’m OK with that. I’m still firmly in the camp that we can appreciate electronic music without sacrificing fun, safety, health, or camaraderie. And why not admit it: I’m not above that involving Justin Bieber.