Review & Photos | Hard Day Of The Dead Festival | California

Words & Images By: L. Paul Mann

Hard Day Of The Dead Festival :: 11.2.13 - 11.3.13 :: LA State Historic Park :: Los Angeles, CA

Check out L. Paul's full review after the gallery, and more photos on page 2!

The Hard Day Of The Dead music festival took over the downtown Los Angeles State Historic Park last weekend, attracting up to 70,000 EDM music fans a day. The Hard festival was conceived by Gary Richards, with the inaugural event having taken place on New Years Eve in 2007. Since then Hard has taken on a life of its own, with a giant summer festival, music cruises and special events centered around the meteoric resurgence of the dance music culture over the last several years.

The ABC news show, Nightline, recently featured a segment on the massive popularity of the current EDM music scene. The segment went on to explain how over the last few years top EDM stars like Calvin Harris are now making more money than the biggest pop and rock stars. Harris made a grand appearance, the second day of the festival, but he was not even one of the headline acts. The festival opened at noon on Saturday, but most of the colorful crowd opted to wait until sunset to arrive. It was a beautiful fall day in Los Angeles, with warm temperatures extending right up until the midnight closing hour of the festivities. The park itself was a fitting and fascinating location for the event, located just across from Los Angeles main train depot, Union Station, and in the heart of China Town. The park was bordered on one side by the under utilized metro train tracks and offered a spectacular view of Downtown L.A.'s High Rise District. The rolling hills of the park afforded various vantage points to view the spectacle form a distance.

The festival itself was composed of two giant stages, complete with massive sound systems and huge state of the art LED animation and lighting panels that wrapped around the crowds. There was also a large Disco “tent” and a smaller chill stage at the edge of the festival grounds. With little downtime needed between DJ sets, the music was nearly continuous and simultaneous on all four stages. The festival grounds were rounded out with several carnival rides, animated light towers, gourmet food trucks and two fully-stocked garden bars on opposite ends of the grounds. Fans who arrived early on Saturday were rewarded with light crowds at all the stages and could dance about freely and quickly. The event took on the persona of one giant risque costume party, celebrating EDM culture, Halloween and the traditional Mexican Day of the Dead (November 1st). Wisely, promoters had limited the age qualification to attend the festival to 18 and up. That allowed EDM fans to wear their sexiest and raunchiest costumes and act out their primal fantasies, without fear of offending underage attendees. The result was an astonishing array of tiny sexy outfits, cartoon characters, superheroes, vampires, monsters and just about anything else you can think of in the festooned world of EDM costumes.

Spirits were high the first day as fans darted about listening to all types of EDM music from across the globe. As twilight fell across the park, the massive lighting arrays began to take on a life of their own and music fans went into a full dance trance frenzy. Sumptuous food trucks offering up everything from Blue Crab quesadillas to Korean short rib burritos were easy to access as few in the crowd seemed to have much of an appetite for food. Even the beer lines were short through the night as most attendees seemed to be happy with a diet of water and smart drinks and whatever else they might have brought with them. There were many highlights the first day of the festival, including the only group to perform with traditional instruments, The Bloody Beetroots. The trio, led by front man Bob Cornelius Rifo, played an explosive set, sounding more like an industrial rock band (a la Nine Inch Nails), than an EDM group. Rifo danced about in a frenzy, alternating between a grand piano and electric guitar, while screaming out vocals. The crowd responded with a dance trance frenzy of their own, whipping up a dust storm in the dirt field in front of the stage.

A different vibe was being offered up on the main stage with the English dub-step duo Nero. Joined by the striking blonde figure Alana Watson on vocals, Nero created a decidedly English synth mood. Earlier, Germany’s' Boys Noiz had already brought a European flair to the main stage as they played on top of a giant skull podium. In the Disco tent, France was being represented by a chain smoking Kavinsky, who played a dance-infused set with a nod to the '80s. The crowd loved it, devolving into a much more fluid dance trance than at the tightly packed main stages. Over on the smaller Underground stage there was a much more relaxed atmosphere conducive to freeform dancing with the electric light ninja stick and glowing hula hoop crowd in control. Maya Jane Coles had that crowd in a deep house mood during her set there.

Later, the Gaslamp Killer turned the stage into a circus-like atmosphere with a carny-inspired array of costumed dancers gyrating about him. He first appeared in a Mardi Gras type mask only to unveil himself in a pied piper persona. He actually looked and moved much like Ian Anderson in his early Jethro Tull days, while laying down a solid trance beat. EDM superstar Skrillex closed the main stage, transforming his spaceship podium into a giant pumpkin for the event. The massive LED light screens transformed the huge crowd into a glowing mass of gyrating bodies. Skrillex gave a nod to the Day of the Dead theme with a bit of a remix of Michael Jackson's and Vincent Price's classic collaboration on “Thriller." Photographers and security in the pit in front of the stage could almost feel their internal organs being eviscerated by the sheer power emanating from the massive bass speakers. By the midnight hour most of the crowd had swarmed the main stage and were engulfed in a massive dance trance fever.

Day Two of the festival saw cooler temperatures moderating the afternoon heat of the day before. Even though the second day of the festival had completely sold out all 70,000 tickets, early afternoon crowds were surprisingly light. The day offered up an historic cross section of EDM music including pioneer Giorgio Moroder, who has been called the founding father of EDM music. Music fans arriving early again were treated to a variety of dance beats with sparse crowds throughout most of the afternoon. But by the time the sun set, massive crowds began arriving for the what clearly was the headier lineup of the two-day festival. By the time Cut Copy, the only band to play with traditional instruments on Sunday, hit the main stage at 6 PM, it was already pitch dark, due to the seasonal time change the night before. The audience responded well to the Australian electronic rock band. Charismatic lead singer Dan Whitford led the band in an animated performance. The quartet was augmented by a spirited Tom Tom drummer.

It was clear from the home made signs that many in the crowd had come to hear the next act on the main stage, Calvin Harris. The Scottish DJ is one of the most successful EDM stars of all-time and he played a set of his most popular hit remixes to the delight of the crowd. Over on the other Harder main stage, Pretty Lights was living up to his name, mixing his own brand of decidedly American EDM, amidst a dazzling array of laser and LED lights that mesmerized the large crowd that had gathered around him. One of the most recognizable icons of EDM music, Deadmau5, closed the main stage with a dazzling light and sound performance rivaling the biggest production in live rock history. Think in terms of Pink Floyd's The Wall Tour or Muse's massive live set. Joel Thomas Zimmerman first appeared in front of the huge crowd, tuning his electronic gadgets, sans his mouse head. After a quiet few moments of great anticipation, the Canadian donned the first of several different Mouse head masks, and a synchronized LED light array exploded with colors. The huge crowd went into a wild state of dance euphoria that lasted until the end of the set.

The Deadmau5 performance is unlike any other in the EDM genre. His show is almost like a symphonic opera, with carefully crafted segments of music and calibrated visuals that ebb and flow into brilliant cascades of light and sound. The segments fit together seamlessly and the audience is left in anticipation of the next big crescendo. The result is a spectacle of sight and sound that any performance art enthusiast can easily embrace, even if they are not fans of the EDM musical genre. Zimmerman integrated a ghost segment into the mix to capture the spirit of the event perfectly. There was so much going on in the visual end of the performance, from Giant Robotic Mice to massive computer animations, that you had to be hundreds of yards from the stage to take it all in. The Pièce de résistance in the visual effects was a massive array of gas torches that would explode into the sky, periodically, throughout the main evening sets. The huge torches would explode, sucking in the atmosphere around them and casting off a large expulsion of warm air like a hot desert wind. They would also serve to light up the dazzled crowd in an awesome spectacle. By all accounts the Hard Day of the Dead was a huge success. No doubt the festival will be repeated, all be it in an ever evolving format that has come to characterize the Hard festival series.

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