Narco’s Nightmares Fizzle Under Lights of Tomorrowland’s First-Ever Festival in Medellín

We all know about Medellín.

Once a nexus of narco-terror and urban warfare, the city comes with skeletons—both literal and figurative—in its closet. So when the world’s leading EDM festival brand, Tomorrowland, announced its expansion into the city, it only served to deepen the mystery.

After the demise of Pablo Escobar in 1993 and the eventual dismantling of the Medellín Cartel, the city was left to grapple with the aftermath of decades of violence and lawlessness. It has a bright future three decades later, but the legacy of the narco era continues to cast a long shadow and the region still faces challenges related to crime, poverty and inequality.

The city and its grim history are inextricably connected, and no festival or event can rupture the link. So it would be ignorant to call last weekend’s CORE festival a metaphor for Medellin’s metamorphosis.

But that doesn’t mean the city can’t try to rewrite its own narrative. True to CORE’s nature-inspired ethos, the festival was like a butterfly emerging from Medellín’s blood-stained chrysalis.

“In all the years I’ve traveled to Medellín to visit family, I’ve never experienced anything like [CORE],” said attendee David Contosta. “It’s amazing to see how the city has changed over the years and the impact tourism has had on the city itself.”

After Tomorrowland sold out the two-day festival “in record time,” each beat pulsed with the defiance of a city that refused to be defined by its scars. The collective energy at Parque Norte was electric, a shared heartbeat of a city moving forward—not trapped in the past.

“I know this city has had a dark past, but attending the festival, it gave the opportunity for local talent to perform and for the locals of the city to forget about the violence and struggles of the day-to-day and to embrace the experience,” Contosta continued. “I hope this event is the first of many and that when people think of Medellín, they’ll think of the amazing people, rich culture and talented music scene, and not its dark past.”

An attendee of CORE Medellín enjoying the music.

Tomorrowland

It’s tough to describe Tomorrowland’s CORE Stage and its design—a split human head with visuals where the face should be—to someone who hasn’t seen it in-person. It turned into a bio-luminescent giant, combining the humanoid eeriness of Ex Machina with the surrealist nature vibes of Where the Wild Things Are.

In front of the stupefying stage, lasers in the night sky pierced ghosts of sicarios. Behind it, the lights of homes in the hills of Manrique, Versalles II and many other Medellín neighborhoods turned the area into a radiant mosaic.

Engineered and recently debuted by Tomorrowland’s industry-leading creative team, the CORE Stage is nothing short of an architectural marvel. The groundbreaking stage inflates and deflates to compactly fit into a single container, making it portable and adaptable to locations around the world.

It’s a feat of technological utopianism that could deeply influence the global music festival landscape, especially as as inflationary pressures hike the rising costs of touring to unsustainable levels.

Tomorrowland

The phantasmal CORE Stage saw larger-than-life performances from a slew of leading techno and house music artists, including Agents Of Time, Mind Against, ANNA, Kölsch and Brina Knauss. Speaking with EDM.com, Knauss, an emerging electronic music superstar out of Slovenia, called the festival “a dream.”

But it was BICEP who delivered arguably the weekend’s best performance. The duo invited us into their entirely one-of-a-kind world, where the sublime textures of ambient music meet the primal energy of breakbeat. It was the kind of set where you close your eyes and lose yourself in the vastness, only to be yanked back by the insistent pulse of BICEP’s percussive barrages.

Two new stages also debuted at CORE Medellín. First was AltVerda, which was situated in the woods amidst a series of whimsical light columns. It’s here where Chet Faker threw down an exuberant disco-house set, his kaleidoscopic beats taking root underneath our dancing feet.

Deeper in the forest, over at the Arbo stage, glowing white fabrics draped from trees and morphed in real-time as both wind and lasers sliced through. The intimate atmosphere played host to a number of local DJs, like Sinego and WOST, both of whom couldn’t stop smiling as they performed for Tomorrowland, the world’s quintessential dance music brand.

The Arbo Stage at Tomorrowland’s CORE Medellín festival on May 12th, 2024.

Tomorrowland

While Tomorrowland reigns supreme as the consummate festival experience, CORE stands as a majestic parallel universe. From a cultural standpoint, it’s tough to ignore the differences between its inherent rave culture and that of America.

All of the DJs at CORE Medellín rarely—if ever—spoke on the microphone. We were never told to put our hands up and there wasn’t a single countdown before a drop, nor a demand to jump. We also didn’t hear any squawking chants of “woo-woo.”

Music was the language, and it severed the intense Spanish language barrier. Judgements felt nonexistent and it was impossible not to make new friends. The authenticity didn’t just bleed—it hemorrhaged.

Tomorrowland may be the sun that illuminates the festival universe, but CORE is the brilliant moon, shifting the tides of festival culture with its own wellspring of experiences. For those unable to make the pilgrimage to Belgium, CORE is a must.

CORE’s next stop is São Paulo, where its stage will appear at Tomorrowland Brasil for the first time in October. In the meantime, you can keep a pulse on the brand as well as its events, record label and radio show here.

Follow CORE:

Web: core.world
Instagram: instagram.com/core.world
Facebook: facebook.com/corexworld
YouTube: youtube.com/@corexworld

Follow Tomorrowland:

X: x.com/tomorrowland
Instagram: instagram.com/tomorrowland
Facebook: facebook.com/tomorrowland

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