Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
"Guys, did you know there’s a salon at TomorrowWorld?" I asked my friends, before jetting off to the three-day electronic dance music festival in Georgia — this year marred by rain, mud, and images of festivalgoers passed out on the festival’s backroads. My friends furrowed their brows in confusion. TomorrowWorld... isn’t everyone, like, too busy doing drugs?, I could sense them thinking, because that’s what I was thinking too.
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not a total neophyte to the EDM scene; I’ve been going to Ultra Music Festival since I was 16 years old. But when it comes to the culture surrounding the music, I’m still an outsider looking in. I don’t trade Kandi bracelets, I’ve never owned metallic booty shorts (but I’ll fess up to a metallic leotard and Disco shorts from American Apparel), and sometimes at a festival, I'll Shazam songs because I honestly can’t tell a Hardwell set from an Axwell. But with a handful of Ultra experiences under my belt, I felt I had a pretty good grasp on the festival culture surrounding electronic dance music, and so I traveled 680 miles from Miami, pitched a tent, and went on a three-day
party research bender.
I'll Shazam songs because I honestly can’t tell a Hardwell set from an Axwell.
It rained almost the entire weekend, which put a huge damper on the festival experience, not just for the thousands of non-campers denied entry on the final day, but also for those camping out. On Sunday, I was convinced that my Doc Martens, once black, would now have a permanent mud overlay. Escaping the rain was partially the reason I ducked into the festival’s hair salon on Friday morning. The sight of a hairdryer, that old familiar friend, was another.
Inside the salon there were girls getting their hair washed and blown out, braided into cornrows, and intertwined with colorful hair extensions. There were dudes popping in for massages, man bun adjustments, and even costume makeup touchups. According to Mimi Lee, owner of Shear Love, the Atlanta-based salon running the pop-up, some revelers had even gotten the TomorrowWorld logo shaved onto their heads.
To understand why a salon would be successful at a music festival, you need to restructure the way you think about the grooming experience; it’s less about pampering, and more of a means to an end. In this alternate universe of LED lights, massive mushrooms adornments, and glow-in-the-dark hula hoops, a salon is a place where you can be anyone you want, which might make you a blue haired mermaid one day and a mythical earth goddess the next.
"I could see why people would dress up at this because it’s a fantasy sort of festival, like Disney World for adults," says Chelsea, a frequent festivalgoer and hairstylist working at the salon over the weekend. "At Bonaroo it was more of a hippie, chill vibe. They’re there for the bands. Here you spend so much more [on your look]. You end up buying things from Etsy and making things. From Thursday through Monday you can be your alter ego."
While most of America only started paying attention to house, techno, and trance less than 10 years ago, the dresscode is not new. Followers of the genre have been injecting their own whimsy into their rave appearances since it blasted its first beats in late 70s, although the commercial market for rave gear was very small. Actually, the commercial market for rave gear wasn’t there at all.
"Rave culture has definitely grown into its own thing. There are definitely more people decked now because the clothes are easier to find," says Susan Woodward, a festival goer who’s been throwing raves in her town of Jacksonville, Wyoming since 1995. "You used to have to make everything, like the fur booties, because there wasn’t anywhere to buy that. There weren’t rave store outlets. I think the culture’s grown and the acceptance has grown."
Even the festivals themselves were as basic as you can get. "At the first festivals I played at, I’d be playing on a card table, with balloons on speakers," Kaskade, one of the world’s top DJs, tells Racked. "That’s no joke — I have a picture of me playing at EDC on a card table with a black cloth hanging over it. It was still awesome back then. I was like, ‘We have balloons!’ Now we’re, like, blowing fireworks and stuff."
It was and still is a maker’s culture, only it's grown from ravers making phat pants for their friends into a booming industry. The market for goods is clearly there, as evidenced by the 15 or so brands who set up shop for the weekend, selling anything from blacklight clothing to vintage cowboy boots, from snapbacks to healing stones. Stores were open from 8am to 2am, and about the only time I ever saw them empty was in the wee hours of the morning.
"From Thursday through Monday you can be your alter ego."
"I’ve done quite a few [festivals] this summer — Hangout Fest, Bonnarroo, EDC Vegas, Lollapalooza, just to name a few," says Paige Marten, founder of Festy Besty, a festival-inspired brand who set up shop for the weekend. "TomorrowWorld has been our most successful festival by far over the last two summers when it comes to sales." She believes her success is due to the influx of international festival goers, and the convenience factor of having a boutique right there, in case you forgot to pack something while camping.
With each sub-genre that forms, be it cosmic disco or trap hop, folktronica or synth punk, EDM’s popularity grows, bringing with it a more diverse audience of people. And as that audience diversifies, so do the interests of those attending EDM festivals like TomorrowWorld. This leaves the market for services, not just goods, wide open. By the end of the weekend, for example, Shear Love salon had serviced roughly 525 people over the course of three days. And had the clouds in the sky been cleared, you might have seen a yoga class filled with over 125 people, as it was last year, or the entirely-booked classes at Cyc Studio’s pop-up spin studio, a first for TomorrowWorld and the festival scene in general.
It makes you wonder then, is it still about the music? Festivals around the globe are investing more and more into the experiences surrounding them, because in the end that’s what you remember, right? When one festival adds an amenity, another tries to top it, and so the music starts to become a lesser and lesser fraction of the equation. But still, you can’t drag 140,000 attendees to the Georgia backwoods for a yoga class, and no one’s going to hike up a muddy hill for a hair salon. Kaskade puts it best. "I think they’re all fun, but do I think they’re necessary? No. I think it begins and ends with music."