A calm Los Angeles morning stepped out of character with a flash and a roar–lightning and thunder that would prove an appropriate start to my day, foreshadowing what was to come. Rain rattled on the sidewalks as I wondered if this rare lapse in LA weather would upend my Saturday. Fortunately for me, and the thousands that thronged to HARD Day of the Dead, the rain had soon wrung its last drops, and the only thundering would be that of the booming bass.
My excitement was palpable for this year’s HARD Day Of The Dead. The talent buyers at Insomniac had curated a lineup that perfectly encapsulated the spirit and ethos of the festival. There were two stages that provided the necessary variation for attendees. The HARD Stage, or in other words the main stage, saw the heavy-hitting acts and those more aligned with the commercial side of dance music. And the Duro Stage, crafted for those who preferred to catch a psychedelic wave to house, tech house, and everything in-between. There was enough of a vibe at both stages to keep all attendees grooving until close.
The festival kicked-off at 2 PM with Josh Pan B2B X&G at the Hard Stage and John Bryars at the Duro Stage. Despite a balmy afternoon setting, many attendees came ready to start their festivities from the opening of the gates.
Mr. Bryars, who is a common sight in the California club scene, brought his trademark house and deep house to the decks. Bryars weaved together a joyous and energetic set that encouraged many early attendees to dance. His set had a similar feel to the mix he did in lead up to Day of the Dead, which can be found here.
At the same time, Josh Pan and X&G were revving up the engines of the main stage. Despite the early set time, the artists went hard and threw down a raucous set filled with an abundance of bass. It was as if they were the siren for the festival calling out that it was time to party. I have to wonder why they were given the opening timeslot, but it is difficult to please everyone with set times.
The second round of artists saw Rosa Pistola and the Brownies & Lemonade Resident DJs spin the decks. Rosa brought a natural coolness and flair to her set, something she honed amongst the underground Mexico City dance scene. It was easy to tell why she is a reggaeton legend-in-the-making.
One of my must-see sets of the day was next with Softest Hard taking control of the HARD Stage. I knew a bit about her from the internet, but I was not familiar enough to know what to expect. After her seeing her set, it’s safe to say I was thoroughly impressed by her. She unleashed radiating Psy-trance sounds for which she’s known and sprinkled in some trap and bass. Her set definitely lived up to all expectations.
The next set I caught was the beginning of Lauren Lane. She walloped the crowd with deep, resonating bass and constructed a playful, entrancing sound that had the surging crowd moving and grooving. Her prescription of tech-house tunes was the perfect soundtrack to the golden rays of the cresting sun.
On the opposite end of “vibes”, 1788-L dropped the dynamite. He brought forth an exploration of growling, demented distortion and earsplitting bass. The entire crowd was head-banging in unison and those close enough rattled the metal barriers. They gulped down every second of what 1788-L served, which included his – at the time – unreleased remix for League Of Legends. It was an artist truly in his element.
Elohim brought a nice change of pace to the HARD Stage. Her set was playful and joyous and the attendees latched upon this atmosphere. It led to the crowd singalong for “Sleepy Eyes” and “Love Is Alive”. By the end, there was a palpable sense of excitement that blanketed the crowd. It was a great warmup for the next act, TOKiMONSTA.
The LA-native took the stage sporting a bunny mask, a nod to the spirit of HARD Day Of The Dead. Her set started with sounds that earmarked her earlier works and mixes, but she quickly transitioned to more trap-inspired sounds and turned the heat index to 100. TOKiMONSTA’s skill was on display for all to view.
The penultimate set was next. HARD hosted Zhu‘s first Blacklizt set within the city of Los Angeles. True to his style and bizarre genius, the stage was marked with rows of mannequins. Some were missing hands and arms. Others sported disfigured faces. It befitted the sonic journey that transpired.
Dark, ominous sounds and chilling bass filled the night air. The set oscillated between deep, techno beats and low-rumbling songs like “Dreams” and “Came For The Low”, which the crowd erupted for. It was a really enjoyable set and was my favorite of the night.
While the HARD Stage was erupting, the Duro Stage was graced with Melé, Justin Martin, Damian Lazarus, and The Martinez Brothers. Unfortunately, I am human and could not be in two places at once, which meant I wasn’t able to catch much of these sets. From what I did see, the crowds were absolutely loving every second of it.
Melé brought forward dark, almost-tribal-like sounds that felt fitting for Halloween and Day of the Dead. Justin Martin blasted tech-house and brought his wackiness to the set. Damian Lazarus brought deep, dark, party-inducing sounds. While The Martinez Brothers continued similar vibes as they closed down the Duro Stage.
By the finale of Blacklizt, the crowd had swelled to its maximum. The attendees eagerly awaited for the Main Event, Dog Blood. In preparation, the HARD Stage unleashed a blanket of dense smoke that enveloped the stage and front portions of crowd. It made the opening minutes tough to view the movements of Skrillex and Boys Noize, but it didn’t matter. The mood was set and the party was in full force.
Dog Blood started their set with ferocity and dropped “Turn Off The Lights”, which rattled the consciouses of attendees like the thunder and lightning from earlier in the day. It played expertly and gave the duo complete control over the scores of people pressed together to be graced by the sound waves. They were now the puppet masters and whatever they played pulled the strings bound to the audience. From my observations, the tracks from the Turn Off The Lights EP had the most exuberant crowd reactions.
The two-year wait to have Dog Blood grace the HARD stage meant expectations would always be high. But stars step up and Dog Blood did. They shattered any expectation and brought wishes of more. Hopefully, Los Angeles will be graced with another Dog Blood set and we all receive new music on the DSPs.
HARD Day of the Dead spotlighted the talents of many brilliant artists and continued to prove that Insomniac is a premiere purveyor of dance music. Ultimately, it is the perfect crescendo to end Halloween in Los Angeles.