There’s a new festival on the block and EVERYONE is talking about it. On May 5-7, the medieval-themed Middlelands festival debuted in Todd Mission, TX and featured a lineup as diverse and unique as the coveted 200-acre grounds of the Texas Renaissance Festival it was held on. The inaugural festival was the much-anticipated return of Insomniac to Texas and our expectations were blown clear out of the water.
Attendees, deemed ‘Headliners’ themselves, who were lucky enough to make it were awarded with a level of production and expertise one can only find with organizers, Insomniac and C3. No expense was spared in the masterful creation of this new project which flawlessly combined contemporary festival culture with the fantasy world of the Renaissance era. From the monstrous stages to the puppet shows and wandering goblins, the entire festival was absolute madness.
Music genre: Dubstep, House, Hip Hop, Night Bass, Funktronica
Camping: All types of camping experiences are available. Car Camping, VIP Camping, Shaded Camping, RV Camping, Quiet Camping, and even Group and Sound Camps are encouraged for whatever your needs are.
Crowd type: Dragons, Knights, Ravers, Jesters, Burners, Princesses, Goblins
Water stations: Yes
For the first-timers
Middlelands is held just outside of Houston, so that’s where you want to fly in. Uber will get you to the fest, but not back. Take advantage of the shuttles. Hotels are within reach and there are pre-furnished camping options available. If you are driving, you’re in luck. Countless camping options are at your disposal, and we highly encourage you to take advantage of them. The distance to the festival entrance and proximity to after-hours debauchery are amongst your most important factors when considering which campsite to go with. You can really feel the Texas heat in May and the festival grounds are quite expansive, so prepare accordingly. Hydration and comfortability are key.
While offering numerous culinary options such as Japanese chicken karaage and local street tacos, we didn’t really feel like true Renaissance royalty until we feasted upon the turkey legs. The bigger-than-your-face slabs of meat were the energy boosters we needed for a successful weekend and no amount of napkins could wipe away the smiles, or the grease.
This is where the festival really outperformed. Five massive stages brought to life a long-forgotten era and left eager attendees, and even artists, drooling in disbelief.
The monster behemoth that was the Middlelands Arena stage was like nothing we have ever seen before. The space was located in the main Texas Renaissance Fair area and the walk to the Arena brought attendees through the magical New Market Village, as they were increasingly immersed in a fantasy world so perfectly curated that might lead one to question if it was real, or just a dream? However, before that question can be answered, a fire-breathing, confetti-shooting castle wall stretching over 100 feet tall with huge, looming “MIDDLELANDS” letters demands your full attention. Truly a sight to behold as unforgiving artists such as Snails, Gramatik, and Ephwurd tore up the amphitheater-style courtyard all weekend long. Honestly, I would have gone home happy with just this one-of-a-kind experience but, much to my surprise, this was just the beginning.
Before ever really entering the main festival grounds, you could hear it. The seriously savage sounds were coming from what WE would come to recognize as the Stronghold stage which was facing towards the campgrounds and featured an impressive palette of exceptionally heavy dubstep and DnB artists. It was here that 12th Planet, Eprom, Space Jesus, Metrik, TroyBoi, and Datsik unleashed the beast within us all.
Equally as awe-inspiring, the even-larger 200 foot wide Castle Northwoods hosted the biggest headliners over the weekend. Majestic and theme-appropriate, the stage boasted over 800 LED video tiles, dozens of pillars of fire and laser light beams, and a fully-immersive sound experience. What better platform could we have asked for such colossal performances by Bassnectar, Phantogram, Kaskade, GriZ, Zhu, and Bonobo. Much of our weekend was spent absolutely fascinated by the sheer scale and execution of these two main stages. Incredible.
Other stages worth mentioning were the Trinity Vale stage and The Wench’s Bay Art Car. Trinity Vale was located in the New Market Village on your way to Middlelands Arena and featured Bass House legends like AC Slater and J. Phlip. The Wench’s Bay was a unique stage positioned on a wooden, space-pirate art car and hosted some local heroes such as Gamma and DJ Mel.
Gramatik @ Middlelands Arena – Photo by aLIVE Coverage for Insomniac
Due to a stacked lineup on the opposite end of the festival grounds, we didn’t actually make it to Middlelands Arena until the closing set on Friday night, which was led by the ever-talented Gramatik and his posse of special guests. As well as an appearance by Big Gigantic, Gramatik was joined onstage for the entire performance by the keyboardist, Anomalie, who added an element to Dennis’s music that I had never heard before. This also being our first time to feast our eyes upon the glory of Middlelands Arena… we were floored.
Bassnectar @ Castle Northwoods – Photo by aLIVE Coverage
How could we not mention Bassnectar? He had been prepping for this festival for quite some time and had come with some fresh tracks. GRiZ and Bassnectar both expressed on twitter with extreme excitement about the overall atmosphere and success of the Middlelands experience. Between all of this and the guy who managed to stop GRiZ’s show completely by climbing a tree, you could cut the anticipation in the air with a sword. Saturday night’s closing set did not disappoint, as the king of bass bounced from genre-to-genre, pulling his insatiable fanbase deeper into the music with undeniable grace and talent. We were spoiled by glittery favorites “Empathy”, San Holo’s “Light”, and an incredibly thoughtful sample from Galaxy 2 Galaxy’s track “Transition”, but didn’t miss out on the savagery that comes with the drop of “Wildstyle Method” or Ponicz’s “Pump This”. All the while, 800+ LED video screens flawlessly presented the carefully curated selection of visuals to complete an immersive experience that left many first-timers walking away with a saying anyone familiar to Bassnectar’s music knows, “I get it now.”
Things to do
- Official and Unofficial After-Hours Sound Camps (WHOA!)
- Morning Campgrounds Yoga
- Tie-dying Workshops
- Hilarious Theatre Performances and a daily Hip Hop showcase by the Fungineers at the Globe Theater
- An incredible collection of vendors typical to the Ren-Fair, featuring intricate costumes and accessories.
- Ride your bike throughout the campgrounds
- Stay warm by the camp bonfire
- Battle your friends daily in ARCHERY TAG and BUBBLE SOCCER
VIP or nah
VIP was worth it mostly on account for the expedited entry to the festival grounds, private A/C bathrooms, and private bars. There was a happy hour available at one of the VIP bars for a few hours each day, but selection was limited. In my opinion, we could have survived without these options and would suggest spending the cash on a more favorable camping area. However, I’m not going to pretend my morning routines weren’t made abundantly more enjoyable with these amenities.
I’m going to hijack this section of our review and redirect the attention to After Hours Sound Camps. One of my favorite aspects of any festival is its ability to cater to the late-night adventurers. In this aspect, Insomniac again exceeded my expectations. The official Insomniac Sound Camp, going from 1am-4am, featured a massive lineup consisting of performances by Snails, 12th Planet, Space Jesus, and Crizzly. Plenty of food vendors near here offered much-needed sustenance late night and into early morning. However, the truly beautiful thing happening at this time was the camper-curated Sound Camps. In these areas, campers organized into larger camps were encouraged to curate their own spaces and even encouraged to build their own stages. This platform for attendee participation is not something new, but is new to Insomniac festivals. In my eyes, the festival experience is one part attendance and two parts participation. The more you get involved, the more you stand to gain. And the 11 Sound Camp crews that put their heart and soul into creating their own taste for all to enjoy really knew what I was talking about. Whether it was the Call of Booty’s Plunderdome, with its powerful sound system and dozens of pirate campmates, or the incredibly crafty and visually beautiful space at Ye Olde Dohm, I spent a lot of time getting closer with old friends and making new ones at the Sound Camps. It was an experience missing from many mainstream festivals and my favorite aspect out of all of Middlelands. Brendon, from the Ye Olde Dohm Collective, perfectly captures the idea behind it all:
“The only thing that matters is that the people who are in our dome are having a good time and are creating lifelong memories. I’ve seen it happen, where two people embrace in such a way that you know that moment will be forever ingrained upon them. To be able to provide the space for that to happen is all I need to continue doing this. I will work the rest of my life to fund this if I can continue to make this happen.”