HARD Day of the Dead was definitely the biggest thing happening in EDM over Halloween weekend (and damn there was a lot going on), and our very own Molly Gale went and completely crushed her way through the two full days of #rage. Check out her recap and photos from each day below. —Editor
Saturday, November 1st – Day One
As you drive east out of Los Angeles, the endless concrete strip-malls end and the landscape opens up in front of you. Rolling hills and purple mountains in the distance against a colorful sky–we were already in a completely different world than the traffic-jammed, billboard-cluttered City of Angels. There is something so magical about experiencing a festival for the first time. Even though Hard Day of the Dead is nothing new to the LA music scene, they have been cycling through new venues through the past year and with each new location comes a new personality. It’s always a new adventure.
Upon entry, you are greeted with the obligatory ferris wheel (always pretty, never worth the line) and a Pink’s hot dog stand that peaked my interest but there is NO TIME. We have places to be. Rounding the corner into the main arena, we stand in awe of the Mayan-themed HARD Stage. It has to be at least three stories tall and comprised of solid LED panels shaped like a temple. Chicks in “costumes” and bros in animal onesies flock towards the overwhelming structure – Derek Vincent Smith is on his way to the stage. This is not something you are late for.
The sun has just gone down and the colorful scene was slowly coming to life. As the jolly giant took the stage, there was pure joy on his face. Without delay, Pretty Lights unleashed a back-to-basics set packed full of the soul-shaking tunes that put him on the map. “Hot Like Sauce” and “Total Satisfaction” – these are songs that we have come to regard as national anthems of sorts. The live instrumentation made the beats tactile and aggressive. This set warmed my soul and reminded me of how this all began for me – a $5 Pretty Lights show in a tiny theatre in Boulder, CO. It was true then, and it’s even truer now: there are truly few things in this world I love more than the killer combo of “Finally Moving > Finally Moving Remix”.
Halfway through the set we race over to the HARDer stage – the 2nd tier main stage that is slightly smaller but boasts an impressive ring of lighted trellis’ and screens. It was time for Zhu. Probably the most highly anticipated set of the weekend, Zhu has managed to remain anonymous through his rise to prominence. His hope being that his fans will focus solely on the music and remove his identity from the equation – we’ll see. This show was his North American debut and he most certainly proved his worth.
Shrouded in semi-see-through LED screens in front and behind him, he remained quite the enigma throughout the set—only getting on the mic once or twice to greet the crowd. He ran through his brilliant EP and flexed his remix/cover muscle with some new Outkast swag and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (fittingly). His brand of deep house abandons the incessant repetition for something more soulful and sensual. Did he live up to the hype? Definitely. Is he a groundbreaking electronic epiphany? We’ll see. There has to be more to this act – this feels like it’s only the beginning of Zhu’s NIGHTDAY experience. Enticed is an understatement.
For something completely different, we pile into one of the expo halls across the Fariplex grounds to see our favorite neo-house Frenchie, Gesaffelstein. This cavernous room was the perfect atmosphere for The Prince of Darkness– I felt like I was in an abandoned warehouse somewhere outside of Paris. Waaaay down at the end of the room, Gesaffelstein is surrounded by solid, minimal beams of light. This man is just so damn cool in the way only a Parisian can be. He is poised and unassuming, though you sense he could snap at any second. Gut-wrenching, industrial beats boil over around him and yet, his only movement is to light a new cigarette. The sound is reminiscent of a freight train driving forward at ever-increasing speeds. The crowd eats it up: we are sent into a full frenzy when Gesaffelstein drops into “Viol” quite early on in his set, and once more with the ever-so-filthy “Hellifornia”. You’ve got to wonder what it’s like to hang out with this guy. Like how many cigarettes does he really smoke? Is he as psycho as he seems? Either way—my answer is “Yes, Gesaffelstein, I will marry you”.
deadmau5 B2B Prydz (MAU5VILLE)
What is there to say about Deadmau5 and Eric Prydz? This B2B set was dreams coming true. These two producers have some of the most loyal, long-standing fan bases in the industry. Prydz is among the most creative, diverse performers in EDM and Joel Zimmerman, while being one of the most infamous trolls in the industry, will always be one of the best. As the volleyed the set back and forth, the duo touched on their individual anthems with a new collaborative sound. My favorite moment came with “Cthulhu Sleeps > Ghosts N Stuff”. Actually scratch that, my favorite moment was when Deadmau5 tripped while exiting the stage trying to act cool. All jokes aside — this set was stuff of legend. Here is a low-quality stream for your convenience (lets hope they release an official download sometime soon because this is pretty awful).
Finally, the feature presentation of Day One. It’s been years since we’ve heard anything new from this game-changing duo, but Knife Party’s most recent releases have been electrifying in the internet. “Boss Mode” is credited with inciting riots and causing revolutions from the second it hit airwaves (I can personally attest to this but that’s all I’m legally allowed to say). Many people don’t realize just how important Knife Party really is. Have you ever heard this song or this song or this song? YEAH WELL ITS NOT PORTER OR SKRILLEX, those are all original Knife Party productions. Where would we be without them?
Expectations were at an all time high and man, did they deliver. With a haunted house-themed production and fire cannons galore, Knife Party tore through their freshly-finished album with momentum and spirit while also re-visiting some of the old classics that put them on the map. Their sound was a deep, relentless electro from start to finish—they showed the industry who da real Boss Dogs are here. I know this a super early prediction but I’m just going to throw it out there that this album would work reeeeallly well in the Sahara Tent at Coachella JUST SAYING.
Read on for coverage from day two…
Sunday, November 2nd – Day Two
Returning the next morning, we felt no fatigue. There was no “rallying” involved – there was only unbridled excitement. We knew the lay of the land at this point: where the cleanest bathroom was, where the shortest line for free water is, the friendliest bartender etc. Those small but important festival hacks. Day Two would be a gauntlet of electronic music excellence.
Their upbeat, energetic brand of lyrical house has received a low-end makeover with their new material, but they haven’t lost any of the buoyancy that makes Galantis such a stand out. With this heavier, diversified sound, Galantis has immense staying power. We’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the sky is the limit for these guys.
Unassuming and humble as ever, Richards took the mainstage by storm in front of 10,000+ people that don’t even realize his significance. Richards is the man we can thank for this whole event – and Hard Summer and Holy Ship and a million other things. In my mind, Richards demands respect for not losing sight of the music while building his empire. He continues to perform as Destructo – and it’s not a formality. His sound is unique and energetic – I like to call it hoodrat-house. This set was a juicy blend of hip-hop and g’d out electro—it was West Coast chill but people were getting dowwwwn. It felt more like a house party than a mainstage set – Richards’ buddies Too Short and Problem both showed up and yes, they played “Blow The Whistle”. Shout out to Gary Richards for every dream he’s made come true. He deserves to be recognized as one of the most important figures in electronic music for decades to come.
Hot off the tails of Destructo’s gritty set, LA native RL Grime ignited the HARD stage with more hip-hop, some heavy trap and plenty of head-thumping, booty-shaking remixes. With forboding, war-torn imagery, the tone of his flawless set was one of agitation and instigation. The crowd was packed and primed – LA supports their own and RL Grime is one of our golden boys. Though he was dwarfed by the enormous LED screens all around him, his dark energy and sinister stage presence filled the Fairplex. I thought the place was going to implode when he dropped into “Tell Me”, his world-class collaboration with What So Not. He slowed it down and sexed it up with “Core” and then turned it right back up with his searing new release “Scylla”. Also he gets innovation points for the “Sweet Dreams” remix. I have no hesitation in saying this was one of my favorite sets all weekend. RL Grime is headed out on tour and you won’t miss it if you know what’s good for you.
Back at the HARDer stage, one of my long-time favorites was getting ready to remind us what they’re made of. Zeds Dead are some of the good ol’ boys—they’ve been around since this dubstep thing started catching on. When it was just EDC and Rothbury on the electronic festival scene. You can always count on Zeds Dead to give you what you’re looking for: solid waves of deep low-end power accented by spacey melodies. They showcased their newest Somewhere Else EP artfully – including “Stoned Capone”, one of the more chill tracks featuring long-time friends Omar Linx and Big Gigantic. For this audience full of loyal fans, the best moments came were the oldies but goodies. When the first cadence of “Eyes on Fire” rung out, the crowd went wild. Sensual and sultry but packing immense firepower, it was one big simultaneous meltdown. I know they’re gearing up to release new stuff, but Zeds Dead will always be a nostalgic throwback for me. College. Red Rocks. Damn.
And at last, we arrive at a Grand Finale. I wasn’t sure where to start then – and I can’t say that I am now…
On the mainstage: The Crowned Prince of EDM, Calvin Harris. Everything he touches is gold. Some of the most poignant anthems of the past 5 years have come from this glorious mind. You don’t need me to tell you that his new album Motion is brilliant. He ripped through each of these soon-to-be-platinum hits with all of the bells and whistles you’d expect: fire cannons, sparklerss, confetti, fireworks, strobes, dancing monkey, laser glitter bombs, unicorns etc. Though new songs like “Blame” and “Summer” tore the house down, my favorite will always be “We Found Love” featuring BadGalRhiRhi. When the track began, the crowd let out a collective, heartfelt “YAS!”
On the other mainstage: Bass God on High, Lorin Ashton aka BASSNECTAR. Brining his high-energy, smack-in-ya-face sound to the HARDer stage, Ashton provided a welcome juxtaposition from the pseudo-bubblegum Top 40 sound of Harris (no offense, but it’s just not that innovative). Bassfreaks had flocked from far and wide – Colorado being the most exuberantly represented demographic by a large margin. A far cry from the pop-house, neon-clad douchebag circus that has infiltrated the scene, Ashton continuously spurns out intelligent, multi-faceted music that thumps you down in your very core. This is music with a social consciousness. It preaches acceptance. It provokes thought. His music is always one step ahead of me – it catches me off guard.
He worked through some faves from NVSB, but he also reached back into the vaults a bit too. Keeping on theme for Halloween, the set was a perfect blend of trippy and grimy and yes, even silly. The crowd lost it when he dropped the Jayceeoh remix of “Loco Ono”. To close his set, Bassnectar blessed us with the VERY, VERY RARE AND ELUSIVE “Pink Elephants” remix. Trippy, grimy and yes, even a little bit silly, this was the perfect note to end our Day of the Dead experience on and Bassnectar knew that. Because he’s a genius.
It’s easy for cynics and closed-minded traditionalists to write off the electronic community as a parade of drugs and senseless noise, but if they would challenge themselves to look further – I think they would find there is a lot more to it. This incarnation of HARD Day of the Dead was one of the largest – a lineup that has been envied worldwide since it’s unveiling in August. But with precautions taken by HARD presents and the heightened attention to safety among the attendees, there are no tragic accidents or deaths to report. This just goes to show that it IS possible to create a safe, responsible place for this electronic community. We’d rather hug a stranger than cut them in line. We’d rather share our precious water than see somebody in distress. Persecute that if you want, but I happen to think it’s beautiful. Continue to take care of yourselves and your friends and never lose sight of why we are all here – the music.
While walking between stages on the first day, I overhead Ty Dolla $ign talking to his audience about how iconic the West Coast has become: “You go to Germany, you go to Paris, you go to Australia – they out there reppin us. They reppin the West Coast of the United States because of yall and what you do”. I kept this thought with me throughout the weekend and it struck me that Day of the Dead is – at it’s core – has become a celebration of this identity. We are broad-minded music fans but we have a flavor and a swagger all our own. Hell, we have sounds that are all our own (shout out to the 808). On the West Coast, we take it easy. And you better believe that we also go HARD.