[FESTIVAL RECAP] – HARD Day of the Dead Delivers on Music, Lacks on Logistics
Saturday, November 1st – Day 1
3:00 p.m. Our cab drops us off at the bustling taxi area of the Pomona Fairplex, which is a massive fairground that the HARD team transformed into the venue for their Day of the Dead Halloween festival. I have those damn pre-festival jitters the entire time I’m being herded along through metal queues to the entrance with all the other attendees. Some pat themselves down in anticipation of the security ahead, some tap the iron bars impatiently as the wait nears an hour long to enter. I’m growing more annoyed by the minute because I’d been wanting to see Jeremy Olander‘s set at 4:20, and I’ve already missed the beginning.
4:30 p.m. I’m finally inside. We head to the HARDer stage, a very classic-looking, huge LED-laden structure that reminds me of festivals before EDM was popular. The ground is concrete, so I’m thankful there will be no dust here later for Prydz and Deadmau5’s set. It’s still daylight, but I’m already chilly, even though I’m wearing leggings and a zip-up.
Olander’s set isn’t crowded at all, and we take our place toward the right side. He’s playing something massive now—“DLIGTY” I think. My boyfriend is in front of center stage, surrounded by a growing ring of people eager to catch his skilled shuffling.
I’m a little too shy to join him just yet, so I hang to the side and nod in appreciation. Our friend nudges my shoulder, “Go join, you know you want to.” I remind myself that this is a festival and no one gives a fuck, so I toss him my small backpack and enter the circle. The only thing I see as I start dancing are two massive cameras zooming in on us. Hell. Yes.
7:30 p.m. Night has descended upon Day of the Dead. I’m a beer garden–naturally us big kids can’t take our beverages outside–sipping a drink in hopes that it might warm me up a bit. When I’m standing in line for the women’s restroom, a girl dressed in skimpy Queen of Hearts outfit tells me “I don’t want to be this freezing, so I just took alllll my drugs.” Well, I think, I guess that’s one way to do it.
Zhu is spinning from behind a white curtain to keep up his enigma. Everyone’s been hyping his set, saying that this is the his U.S. debut and all that, except he’s from LA soooo… Whatever, the mysterious image is kind of cool, and when he drops his “West Coast” remix the crowd–myself included–can’t stop moving.
By now, I’ve noticed a massive difference in the type of people who go to HARD vs. Escape from Wonderland, its fellow contender for the weekend. HARD has banned kandi in the hopes of discouraging drug culture, which is clearly ineffective. I’m of the opinion that kandi trading encourages a sense of community and positive vibes at an event, but I left my precious bracelets at home. Instead of many fluffy and rainbow-clad young girls, I notice most people either wearing subtle, dark colors or playing upon the Dia de los Meurtos theme. HARD fans know their music game and come to the festival to see some eclectic DJs rather than for the ‘experience,’ which is what draws most people to Insomniac events. I can dig it, for the most part.
8:50 p.m. The stage is dark as the largest crowd I’ve seen all night awaits the beginning of the much anticipated Mau5-ville set. This was the set I came to this festival to see. I wasn’t sure what expectations I had, but I was confident that two producers of their caliber couldn’t sound bad together.
At last, the opening–my gods had taken the stage and the “wowwwww” drone of Pryda’s “Wowow” flooded my eardrums. The buildup of it is making my knees shake, and then the familiar piano chords of “Pjano” weave themselves artfully to the forefront, followed by…
“Giddy up and gold mine, different place, different time
All the stars are in their prime”
“The Longest Road” is incredibly nostaligc to me, and I feel myself smiling like a complete idiot. Goosebumps cascade from my scalp to my toes, and a quick look around at my friends lets me know they’re experiencing a similar euphoria that only music can deliver.
The next two hours fly by as Deadmau5 and Prydz deliver a techno-heavy and slightly darker mix than usual, which is fitting for the Halloween occasion. I wish they had a longer set time because I never want it to end.
11:00 p.m. As we head toward the exit while “Strobe” closes the festival, I pile on three hoodies and try to keep my teeth from chattering. I feel my smile fade away as I catch sight of the cab line, half a mile long already. “They probably have a lot of cabs coming, they know there’s going to be a thousand people leaving now, it won’t be too long,” someone in our group says, attempting to keep panic and bad attitudes at bay. Accepting our fate, we join the throng of dejected ravers to wait.
We had been waiting for over an hour when the security personnel suddenly pull away the metal queues. It is as if flood gates had opened–hundreds of people start running frantically to the other side of the massive parking lot, where cars are slowing filtering into the venue.
Bewildered, I ask a Fairplex employee what was going on. “Sorry, this actually wasn’t the cab line. There aren’t any cabs coming over here.”
Oh, so we were just waiting for the last hour for abso-fucking-lutely nothing. “Well where can we find a cab, then?”
The man shrugs nonchalantly, dismissing me. He didn’t want to be here any more than I did.
Two hours later, we finally catch a ride. There are still several hundred forlorn ravers staggering zombie-like about the Fairplex parking lot. I see a few girls crying and a grown man in a Bugs Bunny costume threatening to sue the Pomona Police Department. I wonder how many people have been incentivized to drive high or drunk tomorrow in order to avoid a repeat of this situation.
2:00 a.m. When we arrive back at the hotel, we raise our glasses to “surviving Day of the Dead.”
Sunday, November 2nd – Day 2
3:00 p.m. I am determined to have an improved experience the second day. We switch hotels and get a suite at the Sheraton, which is walking distance from the Fairplex. I am looking forward to seeing Pete Tong again, but entering the festival takes even longer than yesterday. I catch the last ten minutes of the Essential’s set, which are so good that it hurts to have missed the fifty before. Galantis takes the stage after and delivers an electrifying half hour before I move on.
6:00 p.m. We stop by the Dirty Bird BBQ stage, where veteran Curtis Jones is spinning Chicago techno as Cajmere. The crowd at this stage clearly has a refined musical pallet and dance moves to match, which makes for great vibes. I tear myself away in time to see Thomas Jack play at the 7UP stage. I am thoroughly obsessed with Thomas Jack, but I’d never seen him before, and man–he does not disappoint! The young Aussie alternates between techno and his signature tropical house remixes, blending the two seamlessly together. One minute I am dancing beneath sherbet-colored strobe lights and the next I’m in a group hug singing “My Head is an Animal.”
7:30 p.m. The inside setting and more underground lineup give me little reason to leave the 7UP tent for the next few hours. The sound here is excellent, as well; the bass reverberates in my chest and seems to come up through the floor. We stay through a journeysome set by Benoit & Sergio followed by an amazing live performance by Booka Shade. I relish being able to see several new artists today, all of whom I respectively enjoyed.
9:50 p.m. I rejoin the rest of my ‘mainstream friends’ at the iconic Mayan pyramid that is the HARD main stage for Calvin Harris, the last act I would see of the festival. If I wanted to be alone for the rest of the night, I would have seen Claude von Stroke or Audion close out, but nothing is better than spending those last moments at a festival with friends who feel like family.
I am pleasantly surprised that Calvin’s set is filled with amped-up versions of old classics, like “Feel So Close,” the expected radio bangers such as “Summer,” and some hints to his newest album, Motion. I mean, the guy is unabashedly mainstream and he’s really damn good at it. Calvin can throw a party mostly because anyone knows his tracks. I can’t even hate on a big singalong to end the night.
All in all, HARD delivered an impeccable line up of talent that spanned a variety of genres; one couldn’t find these DJs together at many other festivals. The venue felt large enough to hold the crowds and the stages were amply spaced out to avoid sound overlap. While the crowd wasn’t the PLUR kandi kids you find at Escape, they were respectful, reserved, and seemed to really be there for the music. My main issue was with the logistics of entering and exiting the festival–it should not take that long to get into or out of a venue for a festival of this size. HARD has some significant kinks to work out, but I would certainly return…when the dead dance again.