Atlanta's Imagine Music Festival still a place for EDM fans to run free

It was like a RGB version of Coleridge’s Xanadu.

click to enlarge Atlanta's Imagine Music Festival still a place for EDM fans to run free
Kaylee LoPresto

Imagine, if you will, the Atlanta Motor Speedway transformed into a modern, RGB version of Coleridge’s Xanadu. An open dome of pleasure, vice, and beauty beyond imagination. A place for wooks, spunions, and bassheads alike to frolic and dance. This was Imagine Music Festival. 

The gates to the festival opened, officially, Thursday for the pre-party, but the only stage listed for that night was the silent disco, likely due to local noise ordinances (which played a big party in the longevity of the festival over the weekend). Last year, music apparently played, straight, from 6 p.m.- 6 a.m. on the main stages. This year, the stages were only open from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. According to a girl I met from Raceway Ministries, a Christian organization that provides toiletries and water to attendees at all sorts of events at speedways all over the country, the bass from the main stage rattled windows of houses as far as a 15 minute drive away from the venue.

While camping and the silent disco were located in the parking lots around the speedway, the main staging area, known as the Imaginarium, was located inside the track in the grass field usually occupied by pit crews. The sheer size of the field enclosed by the race track is almost unfathomable until you've seen six stages scattered across it and thousands of people walking around and in between. 

LOOK
More than 50 photos from Imagine Music Festival 2018 in Atlanta

Friday was a brilliant introduction into just how strange this festival was going to be. The second largest stage, Amazonia, was not open yet, but Oceania sure as hell was. As you’ll see in the pictures, Oceania was a humongous, partially inflatable stage that was decked out in thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of lasers, flamethrowers, and fireworks rigs. On top of all the lights and pyrotechnics, the main structures of the stage were designed to look like giant alien egg sacks emerging from out of the ground. 

Oceania saw some of the craziest acts throughout the weekend, and no matter who was playing (even Kaskade), the production value of the stage was sure to make any set more than enjoyable to watch.  On Friday alone Oceania had sets from Eddie Gold, The Glitch Mob, 12th Planet, Galantis, and Armin Van Buuren. Saturday's Oceania schedule saw Bear Grillz, Liquid Stranger, Adventure Club, Bassnectar, and Alesso, all in that order. Sunday was similarly stacked at that stage, featuring sets from Getter, RL Grime, and Zeds Dead (and Kaskade, I guess.)

As opposed to the oceanic alien shit happening on the main stage, Amazonia (the second largest stage) was decorated with more tropical colors and natural looking decor. The music on this stage was a lot less grimy and featured a mix of both DJs and electronic bands. This stage featured a variety of acts, including but not limited to: Levitation Jones, Jai Wolf, Cashmere Cat, Space Cadet, Yheti B2B Toadface, Lotus, and Griz. While Griz was great as always, my two personal favorites from the Amazonia stage were quite glaringly Zhu and Shpongle. While I knew about Shpongle and had been trying to see him for years, Zhu actually blew my mind with his mix of trippy electronic sampling and live instruments. At some point in Zhu’s set, a guitar player and a saxophonist appeared unannounced and played with him the rest of the set. It was magical. 

Perhaps one of the coolest stages was Disco Inferno, which was much stranger than one might imagine. Featuring tall, inflatable, minaret-like structures; a spinning, flame throwing disco ball; and multiple high powered flamethrowers attached to a lighting rig, this stage played home to most of the house artists throughout the weekend. While Friday’s Disco lineup featured artists from various electronic genres (Joker, White Rhino, Ployd, Boogie T B2B Squnto, etc.), the lineups for the stage on both Saturday and Sunday were curated by the headliner playing the stage each night. Saturday, Disco Inferno became Green Velvet’s La La Land, a reference to his 2001 hit song that has been remixed by countless DJs. Sunday it was Oliver Heldens’ Heldeep, a reference to his Heldeep radio show. This stage was absolute bedlam and featured some of the strangest sights and people from the whole weekend. 

The other stages were all much smaller and slightly less enticing, though still incredible compared to most local and festival stage setups. There was a small stage shaped like a pirate ship that featured a pirate/alien fashion show on Friday night. There was the Aeria stage, which featured drum and bass Saturday and a large screen full that played fractal animations each night. Then there was Six Feathers, which featured most of the unknown but up and coming bass music artists. Probably the best show I saw at the festival all weekend was on Six Feathers, featuring up-and-comer Taboo back to back with Levitation Jones for his second set of the weekend. Jones killed it as always, but watch out for Taboo. I ran into the owner of Headbang Society at this set and he told me that Taboo is the next Liquid Space Stranger (I don't doubt him). 

The Silent Disco provided a delightful atmosphere to end the night with, featuring headphones that had three channels you could choose from to tune into. The green and blue channels were both DJs that you could watch spinning on stage, the red channel in the middle of the switcher played only ambient nothings that served as a sort of neutral channel if you weren’t vibing with either of the DJs. The best part was that the headphones showed who was listening to what station. This made the whole Silent Disco akin to a social media site IRL, where you could see who liked what and what was more popular with the people around you. Sometimes it was a sea of blue, and the green DJ knew he needed to step it up. Sometimes it was evenly mixed, sometimes there was a lot of red. The silent Disco was great because you could see what really worked and what didn’t work at all with the crowd at any given point. 

As fun and cool as the festival was, the biggest downside was its security. I get bag checks, pat downs, even the no open water bottle thing, but no opened packs of cigarettes? No open packs of gum? No Advil? No Juuls? By Saturday, the security team was taking everything and people were pissed. Lines backed up as people fought with the person checking their bag about whether or not they had to throw their cigarettes or vape pods away. Swisher Sweets had a tent set up inside where you could buy four packs of the company's cigars for $1, but if you walked out and tried to take them back in, still unopened, they would be confiscated for some god forsaken reason. I get that everything is for insurance purposes at festivals, but some things they were taking were just plain stupid. On top of gate problems, our photographer stopped entering the pit because when she did, multiple security guards would grab her camera roughly or push it to the side, asking to see her photo pass over and over again. This was despite the fact that you can’t get into the speedway with a DLSR without a photo pass, much less access into the pit. This was due to another rookie mistake on part of the festival, giving stickers for media access instead of media specific wristbands. Not sure about others' festival habits, but we usually change each day, so a single sticker for the whole weekend is highly counterintuitive. 

It being Georgia (Atlanta especially,) there was a highly unnecessary number of police present on the grounds. Everywhere you looked, there was another officer. While some were incredibly nice and funny, like the cops playing “The Goodbye Song” by the Singing Walrus through their bullhorn on Monday morning, many were there to fuck up your day, especially those with K-9s. Think about it, drug dogs mostly smell for weed, so people get scared to have it on them. Basic economics tells us that when the cost is too high for one particular activity, people switch to a readily available substitute. By having dogs out sniffing for weed, many attendees I talked to instead opted for other drugs like opiates or benzos, which is a fun little sociology experiment if you ever wanted to model the roots of the opioid crisis in America (editor's note: drug addiction, especially to opiods, is not funny in the slightest). And while the cops with dogs had a dangerous power in a county where possession of marijuana is still a felony, my favorite were the cops inside the venue, the large Georgia strongmen with mustaches to match, who could do nothing but shake their heads in disappointment as children all around them took drugs and danced to the modern "Devil’s music."

I found myself audibly laughing in the faces of angry looking cops multiple times throughout the festival, feeling the seething pain they felt for me and my constituents, but seeing the newfound helplessness they found in a sea of us. Individually, they would have harassed and ruined the lives of any one of us, but here, they couldn't do shit. It's a nice feeling. All your life, they had power over you, now you’ve got the power and it feels great. Fuck the police, go catch some shows on the main stage. The world is your oyster and the Atlanta Motor Speedway is your half shell, eat it up you filthy wooks. Until next year.

About The Author

Michael Fritz

Michael Fritz, Jr. is a former intern at Creative Loafing Tampa and a sophomore at the University of Tampa, where he's studying writing and economics.

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