It's Not Even Close: Lights All Night Is The Biggest, Baddest Fest Around.
It's possible that Armin van Buuren might be a child.
In reality, of course, he's a 38-year-old man. But he certainly doesn't look it — not in this moment, not with a grin encompassing the entirety of his face and his arms outstretched as he mimics the movement of a plane in flight.
Here, headlining the main, so-called Mothership 2.0 stage at Lights All Night 2014, the fifth such incarnation of Dallas' massive, wholly electronic music-minded annual calendar year send-off, the blonde, trance-centric producer van Buuren looks more like a toddler than a grown adult. He's downright giddy, pleased with the outpouring of support the majority of Lights All Night's 20,000 or so Saturday night attendees are showing him and, no doubt, with himself as well. And, in this setting, who could blame him? Out in the crowd, his fans are screaming with glee, at least one of them doing so while hoisting a homemade sign into the air to wish van Buuren congratulations on his just-passed December 25 birthday. When he grabs the microphone from inside of his perched DJ set-up, you almost expect his to just squeal with excitement rather than form actual words.
Alas, the Dutch performer actually musters a full sentence.
“Are you ready to enter a state of drops?” he asks audience, shouting and, again, flashing his pearly whites.
The crowd roars. And so it is confirmed: They are.
This is the scene — one that, with minor changes, repeatedly played out throughout Friday and Saturday night — that kicks off the final bow for Lights All Night 2014, which itself is just the latest feather in the cap for Highland Concerts, the Scott Osburn- and Hank Keller-helmed entertainment company that more or less exists, to this point, solely to throw this annual bash. At this point, they've gotten pretty great at it, too: Over the course of LAN 2014's two nights at Downtown Dallas' Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, some 40,000 attendees would make their way through the festival gates, a number of them very much fulfilling the EDM stereotype of wearing far too little when the outside weather more than merits the complete opposite.
That's a culture that LAN cannot, unfortunately, avoid. But it does an admirable job of attempting to tone down the elements that so often bring this scene down. To that end, even getting to the actual performance areas housed within the convention center is a purposefully arduous task: First, there's the I.D. checkpoint; then there's the ticket-scanning line itself; and, finally, after being herded through two more rooms, one of which houses a zig-zagging cattle pen to keep the crowds at bay in their approach, there's the security check-in, at which point attendees are forced to remove their shoes, have their belongings scanned, their bodies wanded and their entire persons patted down. It's hardly a perfect process, but it's close enough. Drugs may in fact enter the space, but they do so in far fewer numbers than others so eagerly imply that they do. Further ensuring a safe environment is the fact that police are everywhere. Similarly, paramedics mill about the space, too, acting as a sort of safety net — y'know, just in case. And though these responders would indeed be put to work here and there, helping the dehydrated or well-past-inebriated toward the exits — the Dallas Morning News reports that there were nine hospitalizations this year, down from 14 last year — the most noticeable thing about their presence was the fact that they were just sort of around, ready and willing to high five passing patrons or point them in the direction of the nearest water fountain.
Let's be clear here: Lights All Night is a lot of things, but what it most certainly is not is an all-out drug-fueled rave. Say what you will about EDM and DJ culture — that it's scene of glorified button-pushers, that the music itself is secondary to everything else — but Lights All Night really does seem to be more about the show than anything else. The LED screens are towering, the lights are bright and the bass very much pulsates.
To that end, there were just a few disappointments — Chromeo's DJ set was too predictable and DJ Mustard, who's had as strong a 2014 as any hip-hop producer around, didn't really live up to his hype — but these were greatly outweighed by the highlights.
Among those peaks: Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano's surprisingly enjoyable varied house set; Zedd's impossibly poppy and irresistible electro offering, which teased not only his own popular cuts but, most enjoyably, a Legend of Zelda interlude; Skrillex's too-hype-to-ignore dubstep-fueled dance party, which found the diminutive performer repeatedly jumping onto his table to hype up the crowd and egg them on, as he did when he (somehow) led the crowd in a singalong to John Williams' wordless Star Wars score; Odesza's downtempto change of pace, even if it confused some of the too-ready-to-rage masses; and Disclosure's DJ set, which, even without member Howard Lawrence, pleased by playing things appropriately close to its house vest and mostly consisted of its own material, aside from the random Duck Sauce and Outkast cuts. These sets could've lifted even the dreariest of spirits, and forced even the heaviest of feet to shift in time with the music.
Better yet, these moments served to hammer home a point that goes too often ignored and/or unspoken in these parts, that Lights All Night really stands alone as the cream of the North Texas music festival crop. In scope. In vision. In execution.
There's only one knock to be made against this festival — that it doesn't offer much beyond EDM. Well, no, of course it doesn't. It's not supposed to. One day, however, it might — not as Lights All Night, no. But ask LAN's organizers and they'll say that, sooner than later, they'd like to spread their wings into other genres with newer ventures. For now, though, by sticking to what they do best and by not trying to be everything to everyone — a persistent issue across much of the North Texas festival circuit, which often fails either by placating too clearly or in being too laser-focused — they've got something truly impressive on their hands. Because dancing, as a niche, just so happens to always be popular.
Maybe one day, the region's other music fans will see the fruits of this labor firsthand. For the time being, they'll either after to take us at our word or suck it up and see it for themselves next year. But the truth is this: In 2014, Lights All Night once again, and in rather celebratory fashion, proved what so many have known for some time now, that it's the best festival in town — and that, really, it's not even close.