Since the last time I attended Decadence AZ in 2016, the festival has grown in an impressive way, but did face some significant logistical issues that need to be addressed.
This time around at Decadence AZ, my hotel was less than a ten-minute drive from the venue at the Rawhide Western Town & Event Center, making getting into the festival nice and simple–or so I thought. Shortly after gates opened, I was on my way to the festival having already picked up my ticket at Will Call, excited to catch some sets earlier on. As I drove in, I noticed that they had expanded the festival grounds to cover some of what was normally parking. This moved the festival parking farther out, but the long walk wasn’t even the biggest issue.
I waited over an hour to park my car, and initially, I couldn’t really gauge what the problem was. Then I realized that there was only one line for the entrance that serviced both the Uber/Lyft drop-off and parking. The line didn’t split for more than half a mile and the lack of signage left cars to try to switch at the last minute. If you’ve ever seen a line of cars merge you can immediately envision the issue with this.
Rawhide Western Town and Event Center is a huge space with multiple entrances from all sides, so separating drop-off and parking should have been done well before the gridlock. The scariest part is that if they hadn’t made parking free, the hour and a half I waited at 4:30 pm would have been so much longer! As the sun set, the temperature was dropping quickly, and by the time I parked, I had to put a hoodie on.
One upside of the decent walk from parking to gates was the spaced-out arrival at the ticket scanners.
Once inside the venue, it was clear to see the venue’s warehouse was being used as the second stage. There was an interactive art piece, a climbable sphere that was decorated with veils and lit up from the inside. Although it was a little challenging to climb, it made for a great photo opportunity for the attendees. I had arrived in time to see the end of NuKid, Kidnap, and Moon Boots. All three were phenomenal sets that set the tone for the “house and techno” stage. The lighting was minimal and the warehouse was the perfect setting for these sets.
Then, I headed over to the main stage for the first time to catch the end of San Holo into Skrillex.
By the time I got there, San Holo was shredding it on the guitar, and the last 10 minutes of his performance had me wishing I was there the whole time. I had been watching from the sideline of VIP, but my friends were somewhere in the middle of the tent. I figured there would be a side entrance but quickly realized there was not: the left side held the elevated VIP levels with no access to the ground, and the entire right side housed an elevated platform with ADA at the end.
I realized that the only entrances were at the back of the tent and two larger openings on the sides of the back.
I made it only 20 feet into the tent in 40 minutes. There was just no room to navigate, and once I made my way through 30 feet in the claustrophobia and a general fear of being trampled set in. It took me 20 minutes to leave, and by the last five feet, I felt like I was rudely pushing people out the way. I listened to Skrillex, REZZ, Porter Robinson, and most of Above & Beyond from the outskirts of the tent by the space heaters.
At some point, I walked back to the second stage because I thought that if it was this packed at the main stage, there must be fewer people there. However, when I got to the warehouse, the size of the attendance finally set in. Not only was the main stage packed to overflowing, but the warehouse was close to being filled wall to wall as well. Even though it was so packed, it was incredible to see how much this festival has grown over the last two years.
Between the stages were a number of carnival rides, a Ferris Wheel, a house of mirrors, a tall slide, and a couple of spinning rides. Scattered across the venue were food vendors as well as rave gear and outfit vendors. This was also the location of the Ruby Courtyard, hosting many local artists from the area. The first day, it consistently had a solid group of people, while on the second day, water really detracted from attendance.
Skrillex is a legend and his set was filled with energy.
The red visuals, smoke, and hype of the crowd could be seen and felt. It was the perfect lead-in to REZZ, with Skrillex playing early because he flew straight to Colorado to play the same night! REZZ closed with an homage to Porter Robinson, and then Porter turned around and lead his set perfectly from it. I’ve been to a number of Porter performances, but this was a great 2019 start of something new.
As Above & Beyond started to play, the tent began to clear.
I’m sure many of the attendees were just trying to beat the rush, and I was happy to finally make it inside the tent. It didn’t take long, but I also finally found my friends and got to watch the ending of Above & Beyond‘s iconic display of “Life is made of small moments like this.”
Before we made the trip back to the parking lot, we refilled on water for what might have been a long ride back. Luckily, because we were parked farther away, they opened up the entrance right by us, and getting home was a short 30-minute endeavor.
The second day we were determined to beat the traffic and we wanted to get inside before the sun was down.
Parking was much better earlier in the evening, but the line was quickly growing behind us. We ended up parked even farther away than we had the night before, and today, it was raining. We quickly walked, maybe ran, to security, and were inside the venue in about 20 minutes. Later, our friends would tell us how parking was still taking more than an hour and security just under that.
I had actually never heard of the Electric Polar Bears before I saw them on the lineup. I checked out their Burning Man set and was impressed, so I was very happy I got to catch them! They even had their own little posse of fans, all dressed as penguins and the initials EPB on their torsos.
Then, we checked out Paz, which was arguably the most hype set of the weekend. He mixed classics with banging drops and even included a stunning rendition of the Sponge Bob Squarepants theme song! The tent was less crowded, or at least it felt like it was, because the sides were filling with water, which left people gravitating toward the center and left pathways entirely clear on both sides of the tent.
We stayed for Alison Wonderland, who poured her heart and soul into the set and made it a memorable one.
After a little bit of jumping and hype for Marshmello, we headed over to catch the end of Treasure Fingers into Cristoph. By now, the puddles between the stages had grown to a sizable amount. They were not unavoidable but were definitely an annoyance that would keep us at the house and techno stage for the rest of the night.
I had never seen Cristoph before but his progressive style and melodic songs had me on the verge of tears at some points.
It was beautifully moving and before we knew it, it was time for Green Velvet’s ball drop. The tech came in full force once he started and the energy in the room was mounting. A string of balloons seemed to release early which then made the actual balloon drop seem to last forever.
The balloons were bouncing so long that you began to hear people popping them all across the warehouse. The rest of the night went quickly with Anti Up popping off and finally wrapping it all up with Gryffin’s DJ set. His set was actually one of my favorites as you could hear the entire warehouse singing along to not only his tracks but a bunch of classics like “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers.
Decadence AZ was very different experience compared to the last time I attended two years ago mostly due to a different layout and huge growth in attendance.
Back then, there were maybe two carnival rides and a single row of vendors, whereas this year, they had a main stage that was bigger than the warehouse, more than five carnival rides, and a row of vendors on both sides of the venue.
The growth this festival has seen is incredible, and it was clearly their largest showing so far, but that meant it came with more logistical issues to iron out. While I don’t think it’s fair to compare decades-long running festivals to one that has less than half that time under its belt, it is important to evaluate what needs to be improved as attendees voice concerns.
On the positive side, this was a fantastic show of how big the Arizona EDM scene can be, and Relentless Beats deserve praise for what they’ve grown with their grassroots efforts. With that being said, 2018 Decadence AZ clearly provides a picture of what the promoters need to re-evaluate and learn moving forward. They’ve got the music on lock–now they need to iron out the experience. If they can do that, then I’ll see you all there in 2019!