Nightmare Festival Was a Proper Gathering of Ghost, Ghouls, and Gremlins

Nightmare Festival 2019
Photo Credit: Nightmare Festival

While its new location brought both highs and lows, Nightmare Festival 2019 was a year of transitions, great music, and even better company!

When the unprecedented downsizing of Nightmare Festival was announced, it took many of the EDM community by surprise. For years, Nightmare has been a vision of ghostly Halloween celebrations with campsites roaming over the Maryland hills, art installations, and the intimate and familiar festival feel.

However, this year was much different than what many have described in the past. On October 19 – 20, The Anthem music venue located in Washington D.C. housed the two nights of madness in light of the large structural changes to the event. As it was just a ten minute Uber from my place to the venue, I wrangled up all my friends, put together the best costumes we could and headed out to the event!

The Anthem is nestled comfortably in DC’s up and coming residential area called the Wharf, which meant sound regulations and an earlier end time.

When my group arrived, it took us all of a few minutes to get through the box office line, ticket check, and security. Even with large crowds forming, the security and event staff kept us all moving through the entrance at a steady pace. Though what I found to be a slight issue was the fact that hydro-packs were not allowed in the venue. To be dancing for hours and have to leave the packed dance floor for a cup or bottle of water was quite unappealing however we made it work.

The absence of flow artists around the venue really toned down what was meant to be a free and flowing environment. Those who were lucky enough to have a flow toy that was less space-consuming could sneak in juggling gear or LED gloves but the lack of hoops, whips, and poi made the energy of the event seem quite stale. Nevertheless, we packed into the dance floor, front right of the rail and settled in for an auditory journey of a stacked night one lineup.

Night one presented a visual and auditory journey from the likes of Mezmereyez DMVU, SoDown, EVAC, Detox Unit, Jade Cicada, and the legendary Tipper. 

By the time we made our way around the venue for water and the famed Anthem Old Bay Crab Mac and Cheese, we easily made our way up the right side of the floor to the rail for EVAC. We realized very soon into the night that the setlists were meant to be an all-encompassing auditory and visual experience.

Detox Unit provided more of a heavy glitch-hop sound while his visuals matched the deeper vibe of his set. One thing that I noticed, in particular, was the fact that the sound quality seemed to have been clear the entire night as opposed to a gradual increase in volume. I am unsure if this was purposeful or not, as on the second day the sound quality was significantly reduced, but on this day I was able to truly appreciate each artist as if they were headliners themselves.

Nightmare Festival 2019
Photo Credit: Nightmare Festival

At this point in the night, my group and I ventured off to find some available sitting area upstairs in the balconies.

For a festival setting, sitting areas are a necessary addition to the venue as many people seemed to be lacking in energy after just a few hours of dancing. Looking up at the second and third-level floors, there was an abundance of empty seats in the boxes surrounding the stages.

Unfortunately, we were stopped multiple times by event staff to be told that the balcony areas were for ticketed seats only and we were given no information as to how to upgrade seats. Instead, we were told to “ask another staff member” and the most helpful response we received all night was, “you have to pay to sit”. All around the sides of the venue, multiple groups of people were being rudely pushed out of sitting areas and out of corners as event staff came by and all of them expressed the same disappointments as our group.

Frustrated to say the least, we decided that we had missed enough of Jade Cicada during these series of events, so we gave up our search and returned back down to the floor to finish the rest of the set. We were easily able to make our way back up to the right side rail before Tipper started his set. Although our enthusiasm for the night was notably low after our encounters with some of the event staff, we decided to make the best of the night and build up our spirits for Tipper.

Tipper’s set was a beautifully complicated auditory and visual adventure that perfectly showcased his wide range of skillsets. 

There was a swift and quick transition from Jade Cicada to Tipper, one that took many by surprise. As soon as the lights dimmed, Tipper introduced his unique sounds tribal drums and a trip-hop bass. DataGram‘s masterful visuals soon took over the screen, entrancing the audience as they became even more complex. Throughout the night, the crowd danced relentlessly to Tipper’s signature scratching and uptempo breakbeat style. I found myself building comparisons and noting similarities between the Camp Bisco set and this new set and I was even able to ID a few songs!

Somehow, his set felt as though it lasted both a lifetime and a split second all at once. In the blink of an eye, his set had come to an end and The Anthem had abruptly turned on the house lights and it was only 12:00 AM. Thankfully, BADVSS Raves accounted for the early night, and many attendees headed off to the afterparties. However, my group and I headed home to a massive order of hot wings.

Nightmare Festival 2019
Photo Credit: Nightmare Festival

The second day was met with even wilder energy than before, as heavy bass fans settled into The Anthem.

The second day was much like the first as we made our way through Will Call, security, and coat checks in record time. We were able to find our way to the front of the crowd with ease and we hunkered down at that spot for the majority of the night. Knowing what was in store from the previous night, we all came prepared to stand and dance for the full night

It was safe to say that lineup on the second night was a test of endurance rather than an intricate affair such as the night before. The dance floor was hot and as the night went on, more and more bass fans squeezed their way into the crowds for the perfect spot.

Protohype presented himself as the quintessential dubstep artist of the night, throwing in classics such as “Fly” from his 2013 album Hear No Evil and current anthems such as his collaboration with Dirt Monkey titled “Bop Bop”. By the end of Protohype’s set, The Anthem floor was packed as fans gathered around to take a family photo.

Up next on the docket was the fabled Figure: Terrorvision set.

Figure has been the staple of Nightmare Festival. With his masterful balance of horror, gore and relentlessly heavy dubstep anthems, there would be no better place than Nightmare to showcase his talents. As his set began, the large lanterns above the crowd began to glow red and Figure unleashed his tour of horrors among the audience.

There were times where I was so captivated by the use of the horror movie visuals, I found myself standing in a trance only to be pulled away by classic tunes such as “Beetlejuice” and “The Exorcist”.

Nightmare Festival 2019
Photo Credit: Nightmare Festival

Everywhere I turned there was Liquid Stranger and Wakaan merchandise flooding the crowd!

Nightmare Festival seemed to be a special event for the DMV Wakaan Family, many reunited for the first time to see Liquid Stranger since Wakaan Festival in early October. Liquid Stranger swiftly took the stage and the vibe instantly changed from the deep dark secrets of horror to an otherworldly space odyssey. The crowd exploded to the likes of “Space Jam,” “Gunslinger,” and “Jetpack”. The set was high energy and full of gems to remember and by the time the set ended, the crowd was satisfied.

Unfortunately, this meant that much of the crowd started to file out of the venue before Gramatik took the stage. Even though that meant more room for my friends and I to dance, I would have hoped there could have been more emphasis on the closing act. Nonetheless, my group and I ended the night off with a groovy dance party, filled with Grizmatik gems and memories from the Electric Forest set.

By the end of the night, there were no lines at the merch booth and no hold-ups leaving the venue. We said goodbye to The Anthem one more time before heading out for the night.

All things considered, my group and I had a great experience at Nightmare Festival, even if it seemed more like a two-night concert series rather than a festival.

It was only until a few days after that we found out there were art installations areas and photo prop rooms hidden around the venue which was quite disappointing to miss out on. The venue was large enough to host an event of this magnitude, but I felt as though The Anthem was not prepared enough for Nightmare in regard to its staff and general festival guidelines and restrictions. With this new restructuring, Nightmare still has room to make some future improvements but with its dedicated fanbase, I know it will only keep getting better!

Did you attend Nightmare Festival? If so, comment below tell us what you and your friends thought about this year!

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Olivia was first introduced to EDM around early 2011, stumbling upon a Pandora House music radio station playing Deadmau5, Daft Punk, Nero and Above & Beyond. She attended her first ever event in 2013, attending the Indy 500 Snakepit where she saw Diplo and Afrojack for the first time. Since then, her music taste has evolved from techno and trance to bass music, funk and dubstep. She has been able to attend festivals such as Outside Lands, Moonrise, Buku Music & Arts Project and her personal favorite Electric Forest. She finds herself frequently listening to Griz, Zeds Dead, Bassnectar, Liquid Stranger, Pretty Lights, Space Jesus and CharlesTheFirst. Now a rising senior at the George Washington University, Olivia is studying International Affairs and Political Science and frequently volunteers with HeadCount Democracy to register voters at festivals. She hopes to continue to combine her passion for music and community in the future.