White Sensation is Europe’s biggest electro/house party (also known as Sensation White or just Sensation). Hearing that the event was soon coming to the United States, I wanted to go and scope out the first one of 2012 in Hasselt, Belgium on St. Patrick’s Day.
White Sensation started in 2000 in Amsterdam as a trance party. Since then, the event has split into two: the lesser known Black Sensation (or Black) and White Sensation. Black Sensation is held only once a year and will be held on April 21 in Hasselt. It presents hard trance, hardstyle, and hardcore music.
White Sensation has evolved to exclusively incorporate house music. It is known for epic lighting and staging and it’s dress code, attendees must dress in all white. There are already White Sensation shows in 18 countries around the globe, from Australia to Brazil to the Czech Republic. This month they will be releasing more information on the first U.S. tour.
Each show has a cheesy theme and this one did not let down. The event in Belgium fell under the theme “Sensation Innerspace.” They described it on the website: “Let us guide you on a spiritual journey to enlightenment. Innerspace is an adventurous journey through the seven stages of enlightenment. Spirituality can be found on the dance floor: no past, no future, celebrating the now. Sharing a collective consciousness of our own inner beauty, we are presented with a Sensational experience.” Let’s talk about my Sensational experience, which was both comical and frustrating…
First, Hasselt is in the middle of nowhere, one hour from Brussels. My friend flew in from Milan while I took a train to Paris and then a bus to Brussels. We both left our apartments at around 7:30am and did not arrive until 6pm. The total cost of transportation was around €100 ($130).
Secondly, I did not really look at the website. It clearly stated in the info section that white pants MUST be worn or you will not be admitted, even with a ticket. I planned on a white shirt, but not pants. After looking through the city, I sadly discovered that all the shops in Hasselt close at 6pm (shocking, I know). One boutique was closed only to let me in when I explained the desperate situation. Feeling for me, the proprietor showed me the white pants and went in the back to finish smoking with a colleague. I was excited about the resolution of the issue, until my friend looked at the price tag. €150 ($200) for a pair of white pants I would never wear again was too much for my part-time teacher’s salary. Luckily, I was couch surfing and the guy I was staying with saved the day with white Adidas gym shorts. Added to my flowy white club top, brown boots, and my black Jansport fanny pack, I was clearly the Sensation fashionista. But oh well, it was my fault for not reading the website and not taking the white thing seriously enough. Later on, a girl in the bathroom would tell me I look “so cool!” Win.
After actually getting to the venue, disaster ensued. I am an avid hula hooper bringing my hoop to nearly every festival I’ve been to. Security usually questions innocuous items, but once I explain what a hoop is, they let me in. That’s how it went at I <3 Techno in Ghent, Belgium.
At White Sensation, they told me no hard plastic was allowed in, even though it doesn’t say that anywhere on the website or on the ticket (and they let me in with a pack of glow sticks). The problem was, this was after having already given my ticket and there was no re-entry. I couldn’t just go home, drop it off, and come back. The security guard then tried to throw my hoop in the garbage. I kid you not. She tried to take my $90 LED hoop and just toss it away. I began to argue with her-, absolutely horrified that someone would simply take my passion and mode of expression and throw it in the garbage can. What I didn’t realize was that she had never seen a hoop before. Surprisingly, in Europe hooping isn’t as big as in the U.S. except for a little bit in the UK. The guard held firmly onto my hoop asking, “How could this piece of plastic cost $200?” I exaggerated the price a little. “Why do you keep trying to take it from me?!” You cannot have it back!” Apparently, she thought that it was for transporting drugs or something! Finally, she let me uncoil it and light it up to show her why it was so valuable. She agreed to put it in the security staff room and I began to cry (I’m really such a baby). “Why are you crying,” she asked. I dramatically sobbed, “This is my life. This is my baby. No one’s ever taken it from me.” End scene.
Ok, so after all that drama, we were FINALLY in! I started chatting up random people with good vibes and funny costumes. I was really shocked that the first person I talked to was from NY. As was the second person and all of his friends. The third person I met had gone to my university! It seems that the only people who attend White Sensation are American study abroad students and a handful of Italians. I couldn’t believe that with the sold out show bringing in 15,000 people, practically everyone I met was American.
Going with the theme of Innerspace, the venue played a creepy, child-like voice talking about one-ness and unity in between sets. It felt like they were trying to force us to believe the show was some authentic, unifying, and creative experience. I looked around. Everyone looked the same in their white garb, staring blankly but amusedly at the stage. I was no longer an individual expressing myself through the arts (such as with my hoop). I became just another member of an amorphous white blob meant to consume, consume, consume. No worries though, that little voice told us that this is an enlightening experience, so enlightening it must be.
However, I do have to admit the staging and lights were really impressive. The DJs played on a booth that rotated around what looked to be a giant artichoke, changing color with leaves that moved up and down. On the ceiling were balloons that also moved up and down while changing colors. The color changing and moving bits were saved for the end, giving a trippy effect that looked like everything was growing and shrinking.
The DJs were some of the best house DJs in the world. Afrojack always puts on a great show and I love Dadalife, but towards the end it all started to sound the same. Each DJ was heavy house music, which I normally like, but after nearly seven hours, I was done. I left with fifteen minutes to go. My legs, ears, and head couldn’t take it anymore.
I’m interested to see how Sensation will be brought to the United States. Maybe it was a fluke and the other White Sensations in major cities, such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam, bring a larger European following. All I know is, I felt like the whole experience was unauthentic, overpriced, and lacked an environment of creativity and self-exploration. To me, White Sensation is just a European party meant to give American bros a false image of the European electro scene. I imagine they will just as easily keep up this imagine in the U.S. as well.