Empire Polo Field, Indio, California

An early wake-up call to an [b]America[/b] starving the look, the feel and the sound of something different...

If you ask the thousands of kids why they came to tonight’s Nocturnal Wonderland, a huge dance music festival showcasing everything from house to hardcore to hip-hop, they’ll tell you they love the look of its Alice In Wonderland-themed playground. They’ll tell you they love the feel of it, unobstructed sky above, smooth polo field lacking any signs of equestrian action below. But ultimately they’ve arrived for the next 12 hours of frenetic beats and excessive blow-pop sucking because they love the sound of it.

Despite America having its finger on dance music’s pulse, mass media are still sceptical of the festivals, failing to recognise them as legitimate gatherings. Nocturnal Wonderland‘s sheer size should break the levy though. Nine stages awash with nearly one hundred turntableists and MCs prove demand for this sound is finally reaching the critical point where even the staunchest of rock-purists will soon dream of ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’. Although this is met with some resistance as one security guard, blindly exercising his position as rent-a-thug, commands overzealous break dancers to calm down.

But that’s not even a chink in the armour of a festival just gaining momentum in its early hours. Scanty Sandwich, freshly signed to Fatboy Slim‘s Southern Fried Records, lay down some serious grooves for all the rollin’ teenagers, hardcore vinyl junkies and sceptical newcomers.

Nightfall boosts sales at the glow sticks booth. Swallowed by their own pants, buoyant 17 year-olds who look like they’ve been planted into the lawn suddenly uproot themselves from the vendors line to catch Britain’s most popular export to the U.S., Paul Oakenfold.

Yet midnight presents a slight problem. The Orb‘s Alex Paterson is offering to tweak your mind, and a large crowd is gathering not far from a motherly drink water sign to take him up on it. At the very same time, the Wicked Crew‘s Garth is oozing pure funk from every pore, mixing with subtleties unmatched by anyone tonight. He’s even improvising around a growing wind that’s got other DJs records skipping like mad. Within earshot, schizophrenic lyricist Kool Keith and schizophrenic DJ Ron D. Core draw some attention.

But once Oakenfold is deep into his pounding 12am set, festival-goers’ loyalty is undoubtedly for the birthday boy. Or for the enormous, inflatable rabbit, who by now most certainly has his eyes on the Alkaholics enormous, inflatable 40oz bottle of malt liquor.

Sure, its hard to upstage all that, but mild-mannered, Mitsubishi-hawking, ass-shaking Groove Armada collect heads from the post-trance attrition anyway. And what did you expect from a duo still glowing after Creamfields 2000? Though they certainly aren’t glowing like Darren Emerson, who is schooling all the kids while spinning ‘Cowgirl’, ‘Blue Monday’ and Martin Luther King‘s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Anyone else want to try pulling that one off?

No contenders and the sun’s rearing its ugly head. Passed-out dancers peel their own heads off fliers, concrete and soon-to-be-silenced speakers. Uberzone and Simply Jeff finish hammering out breaks and DJ Hardware is the last man standing. His final record is flowing effortlessly towards a mind-bending crescendo that’s an early wake-up call to an America starving for the look, the feel and the sound of something different, but stuck in dreams of Lollapaloozas and Ozzfests for now.