Set List Bonus: Hard Day Of The Dead Festival
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By Steve Baltin
In Los Angeles Halloween doesn't end when the clock strikes midnight on Oct. 31. Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos — a Mexican holiday during which friends and family gather to pray for and remember their deceased loved ones — is a long-standing part of Halloween lore in the city of angels. Celebrating the holiday has also become a tradition in the dance/electronic music community, thanks to music industry executive Gary Richards, also known as Destructo, and his Hard Day of the Dead Fest.
Held Nov. 1–2 at the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif., the event attracted thousands of ghouls, goblins and ghosts, as well as an array of other costumes, from surgical scrubs to super heroes, keeping the Halloween spirit alive through the weekend. As is often the case at some of the biggest EDM festivals, of which the Hard Fest has definitely earned a place, the event is as much about the music as it is about the experience. And this year festivalgoers were treated to not only a stellar lineup, but an array of attractions, including a Ferris wheel and zip line.
While Sunday featured a more Top 40-friendly bill at the top of the lineup, anchored by GRAMMY winners Calvin Harris and Zedd, Saturday was the stronger bill for dance/electronic music purists, hitting a high point with a masterful collaborative effort from Deadmau5 and Eric Prydz that brought back memories of great tag-team sets from DJs such as Sasha & John Digweed, and Deep Dish.
Deadmau5 and Prydz took the Harder Stage at approximately 8:50 p.m., with Deadmau5 entering first to chants of his stage name (his real name is Joel Zimmerman). The DJs lit up the night with an array of green lasers and stunning strobe photography on video screens as they showed the younger fans in attendance what DJing was always intended to be: a slow build that brings the crowd up and down to the rise and fall of the beat. The first massive drop came approximately 30 minutes into the set and sent the crowd into a dancing fit as the music exploded into a crescendo of techno and percussive grooves. The duo carried that momentum throughout their set, occasionally throwing in huge drops and bounding between a gamut of styles, from ambient to house vocals. A follow-up to a set they performed in Miami in March, this tag-team effort offered so much musically and visually that I couldn't help but dream of a Deadmau5/Eric Prydz joint tour.
But there were plenty of other high points throughout the weekend, including Saturday's live set from Pretty Lights, who displayed his own eclecticism and love of everything rhythmic, from hip-hop to breakbeats. Also performing on Saturday was GRAMMY-nominated DJ/producer Diplo, who kept Halloween going with a snippet of Michael Jackson's "Thriller."
As is always the case at Hard Fest, the undercard also offered plenty to see, from French DJ Gesaffelstein, whose industrial sounds drew a capacity crowd, to celebrated British DJs James Lavelle and Pete Tong, the frenetic party sounds of GTA, and Destructo, who brought rapper Too $hort onstage.
For those looking to explore the world of dance/electronic music, Hard Day of the Dead was a stellar indoctrination that featured a diverse lineup while offering a glimpse into the EDM culture. And for those long-standing EDM fans, the festival provided a little bit of everything, from exciting new sounds to a welcome embrace of the experimentation and names that have catapulted the genre to where it is today.
For more information on Hard Fest, click here.
(Steve Baltin has written about music for Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, MOJO, Chicago Tribune, AOL, LA Weekly, Philadelphia Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and dozens more publications.)