HARD Fest Electrifies L.A.
August 7, 2012 at 12:39 PM (PT)
(l-r): Gaslamp Killer, L.A. City Councilmember Ed Reyes, Hard Events Founder Gary Richards Credit: Drew Ressler/RUKES.com
At least 50,000 people flooded the L.A. HISTORICAL PARK next to CHINATOWN in downtown LOS ANGELES last weekend to savor two nights of intense, Electronic Dance music (EDM) during the HARD SUMMER FESTIVAL. The extravaganza was not just a financial success, but an artistic one, as SATURDAY headliners SKRILLEX simply intoxicated the upwards of 30,000 fans with an electrified brand of reggae dubstep and a LED light show that had to be seen to be believed.
In all, upwards of 60 acts took one of the four stages to perform their own brand of electronic or dance music, from JAMES MURPHY's retooled retro-disco and the funk of BOOTSY COLLINS to the bass-laden House of BOYS NOIZE, the dance-punk of BLOC PARTY and Swedish electronica from MIIKE SNOW.
Kudos to HARD Fest Founder and recent Power Player interview GARY RICHARDS for staging the event, which should help propel the EDM music scene ever closing to critical-mass success. For a more personal overview of the festivities, here's ALL ACCESS News Editor JEFF SILBERMAN's take here.
An Electronic Mardi Gras
You don't need a weatherman, not to mention SOUNDSCAN, to know which way some of the popular music winds are blowing. Arguably the hottest new genre in contemporary music, Electronic Dance isn't particularly new (you can go back to the '80s with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, KRAFTWERK and NEW ORDER, to name just a few), but it's more recent burgeoning success is undeniable. Artists like DEADMAU5 and SKRILLEX are selling hundreds of thousands of records on the strength of YOUTUBE play (as in umpteen millions of views each individual tracks) but, so far, with just minimal terrestrial radio airplay.
Something's gotta give. Either EDM will forever be a niche genre, or eventually one or more of these artists will inevitably create something so radio playable that the airplay floodgates will open. I took that perspective into L.A. HISTORICAL PARK last SATURDAY, accompanied by my better half (who, for the record, was a behind-the-scenes figure in L.A.'s punk scene back in the day) and my 20-year-old son (who I adopted when I was 10 in order to get a BOY SCOUT badge), who was far more familiar with EDM's repertoire and could fill the proverbial blanks in for me -- via texting, of course. No way in Hades did he want to be seen near a couple of old fogeys at an EDM show.
Okay, so maybe that thing about the BOY SCOUT Badge was not meant to be a factual statement. Nevertheless, we entered the park to witness the spectacle. First off, the set-up of the HARD Fest was extremely well thought-out. The two main stages were set against each other (their backstages a couple hundred feet apart), while two dance music tents were set up far enough from the fray to leave plenty of space to roam around and minimize the clashing of sounds. I've heard far worse sound leakage seeing a movie at a neighborhood dozen-postage stamp-screen Cineplex. Latrines and beer gardens were well positioned and abundant.
Overall, it was a bonanza for almost all of the senses. Consider this:
The Sights -- The Audience
A good 90% of the throng looked to be in the 16-24 demo, but unlike a BIEBER Fest, the male/female ratio was close to 50/50. Fashion-wise ... um ... well, I'm just glad I didn't spawn a daughter. The younger the females, the less they wore. Incredibly short-shorts or bikinis were prevalent amidst the 65-degree night, and if those weren't handy, hey, a bra seemed to do just fine. Dozens of girls were wearing dayglo tutus and/or knee-high furry boots. One girl, in particular, just wore neon shorts and a couple of appropriately-placed stickers on top.
Or so I was told by my better-half. I was staring at the awesome light show most of the time.
You buy that? Neither did she.
As for the testosterone-inclined, they dressed like "dewds" usually dress. Lots of board shorts, with or without sleeveless T-shirts. Some wore animal-shaped knit caps or Indian headdresses with corresponding warpaint makeup. I almost thought I was at a New Romantic show.
Somewhere in the range of a reggae concert and a Grateful Dead show. Kudos to the L.A. COUNTY SHERIFF department for ambling through the mob and not making a Federal case out of it.
Since I wasn't ADD'ed enough to bounce back and forth between four stages and 30 bands, I decided to primarily hang at one of the dance tents and, of course, the main stage. Saw ALVIN RISK and DILLON FRANCIS in the OWSLA tent (OWSLA being SKRILLEX's label, the DJs there naturally being signed to the label.) It was pretty much what I expected -- fairly addicting bass-heavy beats with swatches of melody thrown in to keep things interesting. Visually the multiple screens usually offered color blocks a la MONDRIAN with colorful digital images. My DNA texted me that FRANCIS only did a couple of his own songs; the rest were remixes of other people's music. Quite the common occurrence in this genre.
Fan reaction was uniformly positive. Combine pogoing with "putting your hands in the air like ya just don't care" and you'll get the picture -- speaking of "getting the picture," scores of fans were holding their mobile phones up in the air to record the performance.
Quick side note: While resting on a picnic table between sets, a fresh-faced, eager-eyed shirtless young male approached us to politely ask if we were there to "pick up our kid." He thought it was cool that we were there to see the music. Naturally, I had to kill him.
Well, I felt like killing him. After I told him to get off my lawn, my long-suffering wife and I then wedged our way into an almost comfy space about 50 yards or so from the main stage, first to catch the British band NERO. The main stage boasted a state-of-the-art LED get-up, virtually see-through when not in use, that offered truly eye-popping visuals, ranging from anime to TRANSFORMER-type robots deconstructing. NERO, actually a duo, integrated thick dollops of pop melody into their beats, nicely augmented by singer ALANA WATSON. You began to think that if they could cut one of their grooves into a three-minute ditty, take it to a melodic bridge or two, then who knows... Unfortunately the climax of their set was disrupting by blown fuses in the sound system, which blew out several times before the band abruptly called it a night.
A rather prophetic and positive sign was the between-set music: BOB MARLEY classics, which many of the concertgoers sang along to. Talk about your enduring music ... yes, there is hope for AMERICA.
To be succinct (now there's a nice change of page, eh?). SKRILLEX simply blew away my expectations. Performing on what looked like the cockpit of a rebel Starfighter from STAR WARS, he hopped around like a jitterbug on a hot plate. And the music hugely rocked. No monotonous beats here. Reggae dubstep was sharp and hooky in "Make It Dem Bum," featuring the vocals of collaborator DAMIAN MARLEY. "Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites" was hilariously highlighted by a video of a BOLLYWOOD version of MICHAEL JACKSON's "Thriller."
The DNA texted that SKRILLEX then toyed with some KNIFE PARTY tracks, before bringing out his big guns -- "Reptile," "Bangarang," "First Of The Year" and his version of BENNY BENASSI’s "Cinema." It was a spectacular show -- and it became crystal clear why it attracts such a young, yet intensely devoted crowd. It's undeniably danceable (which attracts the girls), yet the beats are hard and loud, with visuals that make you feel like you're IN a great videogame (which naturally attracts the boys).
Being an old fart, I could nitpick and suggest that the key to the critical-mass kingdom would be to shorten and simplify the song structure for the singles, add a strong human vocal ("ADELE ... white courtesy phone") and write some easily memorable lyrics. Yet the crowd there seemed to sing along to every lyric already. And why neuter one of the music's main draws -- this music something that should drive these kids' parents nuts. This is truly a generational music ... even if its roots can be traced to the aforementioned NEW ORDER and KRAFTWERK, as well as early ENO, THROBBING GRISTLE and even DEVO (C'mon, how far removed are DEADMAU5's ears with DEVO's red hats?)
Furthermore, FORBES estimates that SKRILLEX pulled in a tidy $15 million last year. Not too shabby for a four-eyed nerd with a half a haircut. Maybe he could tell us something.
Maybe he is.