HARD’s DAY OF THE DEAD lived up to, if not beyond expectations over the weekend in downtown LOS ANGELES. The EDM fest (this year, two days) drew 35,000 fans — largely 16-24 — on each day, with 30-some acts performing for over 11 hours on four stages in a well-organized park fairgrounds that seemed to be a quarter-mile long.
Scheduled over the HALLOWEEN weekend (NOV. 2nd-3rd), naturally “the kids” dressed up — or maybe it was down — for the occasion. Lots of JACK SKELLINGTON face painting with scores of nubile girls parading around wearing bras, lingerie and fishnet stockings. Not that I really noticed. Much.
Moving on … the fest started each day at 1p, but things didn’t get otherworldly till dusk, when the state-of-the-art light show turned the proceedings into a larger-than-life videogame. The lighting set-up for the main HARD stage seemed to be envelop the throng, expanding well beyond the performing and curving around the field. The sound system was crystal clear and loud enough to shake the UNION 76 scoreboard at DODGER STADIUM about a mile up the Chavez Ravine hill.
As for the music, the beat reigned supreme. The DJs kept the throng bouncing, layering sounds and melodies that built up to sonic crescendos like waves hitting the beach. On SUNDAY, CALVIN HARRIS, one of the few artists on the bill whose music got a least a sniff of mainstream radio, wove in some tasty pop hooks — with lyrics that most of the crowd sung along to — before kicking in a new edgy, percussive groove. Seemingly another zip code away on the Underground Stage, JAMIE JONES toyed with a bass-heavy approach. Somewhere in between the two was the Harder Stage, where PRETTY LIGHTS — actually one guy, a producer from COLORADO who looked like he used to be in THIRD BASS — worked his knobs and dials like a lead guitarist, creating a variety of arresting rhythms and grooves.
But the most compelling part of the evening happened simultaneously. In the RED BULL Discotheque (actually a tented area near the mains stage), Old School composer/producer GIRGIO MORODER DJ’d a slick set that at times contemporized the ’70s disco era. Describing himself as a “73-year-old EDM badass,” MORODER even remade DONNA SUMMER’s classic “Love To Love You Baby.”
If MORODER’s music was upbeat, shiny and bubbly, headliner DEADMAU5 was The Nightmare On Spring St. The set was brooding, dark and harsh, illustrated by his compelling head and music that mixed minor chord piano notes (a la NINE INCH NAILS) into his edgy, stop-and-start rhythms.
Truth in Reviewing: Your correspondent happens to be on the other side of 50, who was brought up on guitars, power chords, melodic hooks, lead guitars, compelling singers and manic drummers. That was then. This is now: Imagine going to Thanksgiving dinner and you’re the only one sitting down, while 35,000 are at the kids’ table, spooning mashed potatoes at each other. And make no mistake: the 70,000 who paid $70 a night to see this were into it all. Looking at the crowd, one had to wonder how they got turned onto this music? Hardly any of the acts here got any decent radio rotations; not one of them have broken through radio. (And for the record, DEADMAU5 and Day One headliner SKRILLEX each have sold hundreds of thousands of multiple albums.) Which prompts the next question: What are the odds that these fans listen to commercial radio?
The easy response would be that EDM tracks are too long, too convoluted and too instrumental for a mainstream rotation. Maybe so. This is, in a way, 21st century disco, with minimal vocals and a heavy visual element. It’s not as if radio has new platforms, say, on smartphones and computers, that would allow stations to air compelling video to complement the EDM tracks. After all, hardly anyone spends time staring into their smartphone to communicate with one another these days, right? Why would they watch compelling video that would enhance the radio’s music. It’s not like there’s a need for unique content or anything…