Escape Psycho Circus: No Better Way to Celebrate Halloween
On October 27th and 28th, a record-breaking 125,000 festivalgoers spent their Halloweekend at the NOS Events Center with over 75 of the best acts in dance music. For the seventh year in a row, Insomniac’s Escape Psycho Circus pulled out all the stops to make this year’s Halloween spectacle one you never wanted to leave.
But even though Escape opened its doors to more people than ever, the festival only reached sardine-level proportions during a few of the most popular artists’ sets (I’m looking at you, Zedd!). Pasquale Rotella’s decision to rearrange the layout of the festival made a world of difference, and it resolved one of the biggest problems attendees had last year.
This time around, Rotella also beefed up security at the entrance with a long line of metal detectors that snaked its way along one side of the venue. This new addition really cut down on the time spent searching each attendee and made entering the festival that much quicker.
Insomniac made it easy to believe that I was stepping foot into an actual carnival that weekend. Hundreds of people wearing everything from Rick and Morty costumes, Pennywise makeup, and skimpy animal outfits walked from stage to stage, on their way to the next adventure.
Over by the lake, dozens of red and yellow lanterns hung from tree branches, adding a touch of magic to the lawn. The Psycho Circus — complete with a carousel, magic shows, fortunetellers, and other side acts — was tucked away in a corner of the venue for those that wanted to take a break from the madness. The carnival theme took over the rest of the festival grounds too: you could almost always find the outrageously-costumed performers and circus stripes no matter which way you turned.
The NOS Events Center had never looked better.
A few highlights at Escape Psycho Circus
I’m going to be 100% honest. My absolute favorite thing about the Insomniac event this year was…
My first Escape back in 2014 was also my first time raving in the rain. Even though that event ended up being one of my favorites anyway, the weather still put a damper on my experience as a whole. Go ahead and call me a weenie, but I was hesitant to go back to Escape — and events in the fall and winter in general — because of this.
This year, however, was a nice surprise. All weekend long, temperatures stayed in the 60s and 70s. Sure, a chill would creep up at the end of each night, but it was nothing a light sweater couldn’t handle.
The VIP experience at Escape Psycho Circus this year also blew me away. Once I got to the lounge next to the Slaughterhouse stage, I knew instantly that I’d be in for a good time.
In true circus fashion, the entrance was decked out in bright red and adorned with retro-looking globe lights. Performers stationed at the door beckoned you through to a world away from general admission.
The vibe was definitely less hectic inside the VIP lounges. Costumed Headliners milled around, taking advantage of everything their lanyard had to offer: a complimentary trick-or-treat bar with candy and hot cocoa; cell phone charging stations; viewing platforms at 3 of the 4 main stages; and the Instagram-worthy photo ops on sets reminiscent of Stranger Things, Psycho, and The Shining.
Couple that with the almost non-existent lines for the restrooms and water stations and you had a festival VIP package that was actually worth it.
The main attraction
And of course, there was the one thing that brought all 125,000 of us to Escape in the first place… the music.
Surprisingly, a lot of pop punk found its way into the musical repertoire this year. There were more than a few times when Blink 182 or Fall Out Boy would blare from the speakers, quickly followed by a roar as everyone yelled the lyrics at the top of their lungs.
At the aptly-named Slaughterhouse stage, artists like Rezz, Shiba San, Madeon, and Duke Dumont killed their sets. The production elements at the mainstage — which included 700 video tiles, 375 lights, and 24 lasers — enhanced the experience for attendees as they partied to the music all weekend long.
On Saturday night, Alan Walker brought a show-stopping performance to Escape Psycho Circus. Literally.
If you want an idea of how lively his set was, just know that he had to stop partway through because a girl had climbed up one of the trusses of the tent. He played everything from Vini Vici to Swedish House Mafia and kept everyone jumping with bouncy, driving beats. And, of course, it wouldn’t have been a complete set without ending with the runaway hit single “Faded.”
Listen to the full set below:
Meanwhile, the Ghouls’ Graveyard witnessed huge amounts of people both nights. Bassrush Massive crushed it with performers like Ghastly, Nero, and Flosstradamus on Friday night. On Saturday Firebeatz and Don Diablo brought the vibes to Escape Psycho Circus, while Eric Prydz and NGHTMRE closed the night with packed crowds.
Basscon fans praised the transformation of the Chopping Block into a hardstyle-only stage for Friday night. Those who enjoy a touch of hip-hop in their festival acts found their home at that stage on the second day. The Cannibals’ Tea Party, however, was a strictly-underground stage all weekend long. Its new location in the Damus building made it the perfect place to get down to the sounds of Green Velvet, Jamie Jones, and Nicole Moudaber.
The relaxed atmosphere over at the Corona Electric Beach was a nice change from the whole carnival experience. Housed in a dome next to the Chopping Block, performers like Baauer, Two Owls, and Schmitty rocked the 21-and-up audience.
Since it was such a small space, there was a much more intimate vibe. You could literally stretch an arm out to reach the DJ booth. When you take into account the fog and the friendly bouncer at the entrance, it felt more like an extremely well-planned (and well-funded) house party than anything else.
The biggest regrets of the weekend
Towards the end of the second day, I remember walking past the Asylum maze: a huge hulking gray structure, complete with searchlights, armed guards, and watchtowers.
With 120 costumed performers, 25 sound systems, and 30 rooms themed after the Escape festivals of the past, it was a Halloween lover’s dream. My body was itching for some movie-quality scares. But since it was already so late, I knew there wouldn’t be a chance to experience it this time around — even though I had been looking forward to it all weekend.
The one other thing I wish I got to see first-hand was the Shanghai Surprise speakeasy — a place I didn’t even know existed until the weekend was over. Only a lucky few got the details by word-of-mouth, entering the bar through a fridge door in the Chinese noodle shop. I mean, how fun does that sound?!
But you know what they say… “There’s always next year.”
Wrapping it up
There’s a reason why Escape Psycho Circus calls itself the largest Halloween festival in North America.
From stage design, to musical talent, to the logistics and production and atmosphere, Pasquale Rotella and his team focuses on consistently creating the best possible experience for Insomniac fans year after year.
With all of the attractions and distractions available to festivalgoers that weekend, tickets were absolutely worth it.
It’s no surprise people keep coming back.
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Featured image courtesy of Jake West for Insomniac