I am what you might call a rave baby – I attended my very first show in the EDM scene in July of 2023. I had been a casual listener for years, my main focus the last few years being anything emo / rock / metal adjacent. Going through some big life changes, I found myself exploring a new city and new opportunities alone, searching for a community and a sense of belonging. The passion, love, self-expression, and authenticity that are abundant in the EDM community really drew me in. Prior to my big move, I never quite had friends who were into the EDM scene and hadn’t been confident enough to explore it alone, but I was no longer allowing that to hold me back. My sights were set on Global Dance Festival in Denver, CO, which took place in the parking lot of Empower Field at Mile High on July 21st and 22nd.
The first day, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I like to be prepared, so I read all the festival “must have” lists and stocked up on wet wipes, gum, and other things a good “rave mom” might have on hand. I had my hydro-pack, a pocket full of mini duckies, and an uncontainable excitement. I won’t lie to you, that first day was kind of nerve-racking, everything was so new to me! It was my first exposure to the scene, first festival, first large event, and I was doing it all alone. As someone who struggles with both general and social anxiety, this was a big leap for me!
In the months leading up to the fest, I explored every artist on the lineup and made my super type-A ranked spreadsheet of who I wanted to catch. When the schedule finally dropped, I planned my day to the minute, catching the first half of one set before running off to the next to see as much as I possibly could.
Day 1 was the most hectic – there were hardly any artists I didn’t want to see. First on the list, opening up the fest: Denver local duo FAYBL. Although I was one of the first people to enter the venue, I hadn’t expected to find the main stage fairly empty for the first several artists! Luckily that meant there was a lot of room for performers, my favorites were the ones dancing and jumping around on dizzyingly tall stilts. The strength, balance, and dexterity involved were awe-inspiring.
Day 1 also brought some difficulties – a lightning storm caused a shelter-in-place order for around 45 minutes. For the first block of time that day, I had a moment to catch my breath and refuel. Honestly, if nature hadn’t intervened, I may not have remembered to eat at all, I was having too much fun! Of the plentiful food options, I opted for tacos and found a seat under the large canopy in the center of the food truck area. The group next to me struck up a conversation, they were most looking forward to Kx5 (the collaborative Kaskade and deadmau5 project) and had traveled from out of the country to see them. We parted ways once the storm passed, but their excitement gave me a boost of energy for the rest of the night.
Although the main stage had some technical difficulties with Alan Walker’s audio cutting out during my favorite song, I felt a piece of my inner child (inner teenager?) heal singing and moving along to Alone in the middle of the huge crowd. Looking around to see so many people also enjoying one of my favorite tracks of all time put me in tears, I truly experienced a sense of collective effervescence.
Two attractions caught my eye all day as I bounced between stages: the swings and bungee jumping, which I stared at longingly despite my incredible fear of heights. Finding myself less than captured by the Kx5 headlining set, I had the perfect opportunity to investigate bungee jumping. To my delight, it was free, and who can pass that up? I told the operator I was scared of heights and I am positive he had me bounce even higher because of it – I know I passed the top of the poles at least once! The view of the main stage was fantastic from way up there, and the pyrotechnic art installation nearby really heightened (no pun intended) the already adrenaline-pumping experience. It was a perfect ending to the day. I left day 1 in way less pain than I expected (hello fellow chronic lower back and hip pain fest-goers!) and feeling on top of the world.
It may be hard to believe, but day 2 managed to top day 1. There were fewer artists I felt I needed to see, allowing me to wander wherever my heart desired and have a laid-back day, catching sets I might not have seen otherwise. One of my first stops was the Crystal Cavern, an apt name for a dark cavernous room at the end of a service corridor under Empower Field. Before walking down the driveway, we were handed a pair of headphones, some lit up blue, red, or green. Three DJs were flowing through each of the channels but I found my home in the thumping beats of hard techno, provided by Lorely Mur. My nervousness and stiffness immediately melted away and I couldn’t help but punch the air, I felt the music in my core. This introduction to techno secured it a spot in my top electronic sub-genres. As silent discos go, it was definitely quiet in the Crystal Caverns, barring the occasional “whoop” and yelps of joy.
Towards the end of the day, I had an empty block of time, so after grabbing food, I walked to the nearest stage and stood in the very back of the crowd, inhaling a delicious burrito bowl and bopping along to Green Velvet. It was such a core memory, one of my favorite experiences at a concert or festival is eating while dancing – dinner AND a show!
I’d argue my driving factor for choosing this festival, beyond the convenient location, was Zedd, so it’s no surprise that my ultimate highlights came from this set. After the previous day’s experience with bungee jumping, I knew I wanted to try it again while he was playing. A few other people had the same idea and we had a blast waiting in line together, cheering on the brave people in front of us doing flips in the air and jamming to songs like I Want You To Know and One More Time. While I was up on the trampoline, Alive (Empire of the Sun) transitioned into Stay the Night, with the queen Hayley Williams of Paramore. My happy emo heart! The operator even said he was about to lower me but could see how important this song was to me and waited until after the first chorus, a truly kind gesture I appreciate endlessly. The second time around was just as exhilarating as the first. While I couldn’t bring myself to flip like the girls in front of me, I did manage to kick and feel like I was dancing in the air. It’s as if nothing else mattered, I was hyper-present and had not a care in the world. I felt a sense of freedom that I had never felt before.
Truly a euphoric experience, I highly recommend everyone try it at least once, even if you’re afraid. In fact, especially if you’re afraid! After coming down from the trampoline, I hurried back to the crowd near the main stage to enjoy the rest of Zedd’s set in the thick of it. The adrenaline was still coursing through my veins, powerful enough for me to entirely forget I ever had any bit of anxiety and let loose. I was jumping and dancing and singing away. I had predicted it, but somehow it still came as a surprise that I cried again when Zedd played Clarity, a song that had meant a lot to me when it first came out. I wish I could go back in time and tell 15-year-old me where I would be and what I would see ten years later. In the highlight reel of my life, I am certain this moment will be in the top ten.
A few small highlights I’d be remiss to not mention: within minutes of my arriving at the Northern Lights stage, NURKO dropped a remix of A Day To Remember’s If It Means A Lot To You, and as an emo kid at heart, I lost all of my marbles for a sweet, sweet 30 seconds. I participated in the Coca-Cola activation, where a quick quiz and artificial intelligence created an artist, song, and album art that fit you, which you could then record a music video to in their mobile recording studio. Despite feeling nervous in front of the camera, it was pretty fun and the results were hilarious as the green in my outfit matched the green screen, so it looked like I didn’t have shoulders!
Reflecting on this first festival experience a mere 5 months ago, it’s truly incredible to see how much has changed within me. Authenticity is one of my core values, and through exploring these experiences, I feel I’ve been able to access and express a more authentic me. I’ve gone to a lot more shows, picked up some flow arts, gained the confidence to dress in cool rave outfits, and made friends all over the country! Raves and festivals have become my safe space, where you come as you are and are welcomed with open arms. Global Dance was such a wonderful place!