The lights on the DJ mixer glow a warm red and green, a visual representation of the nearly 100,000 watts of sonic power erupting out the other end of the signal chain. The speaker stacks tower higher than many city's building codes allow at Electric Daisy Carnival's Wasteland stage, and a rave rages in their blast radius.
Polished nails press a cue button and adjust the gain level. Slowly, Lady Faith raises the volume on the incoming track, blending it seamlessly with the one currently rocking the crowd. At just the right moment, she abruptly rips the previous channel to zero and jams the new channel to level 10. A monstrous, devastating kick drum awash in fury and distortion crushes the audible frequency spectrum, and the crowd erupts.
The track has melody and harmony. But it's that kick drum that this crowd has dedicated their lives to with cultlike obedience.
Lady Faith is their priestess here, and the gospel she preaches is hardstyle, one of dance music's fastest and heaviest subgenres. In hardstyle, the kick drum is king (or queen, as the case may be).
"A lot of people think creating a hardstyle kick drum is simple, but that could not be further from the truth," Lady Faith explains. "Hardstyle acts are known for their kicks and, as such, it is not acceptable to copy or utilize a generic kick drum in your tracks."
The DJ/producer, sometimes known as the "Queen Bitch" of hardstyle after her track "Queen Bitch of the Universe," explains how a good hardstyle producer uses a Roland 909 drum machine to develop her or his signature kick. "You filter and EQ the hell out of it, throwing in a good dose of distortion. It is a very complicated process, and requires many hours of tweaking just the kick drum over and over again. When [I'm] creating one, my neighbors hate me.
"Deadmau5 said that creating a hardstyle kick was easy and then he went out to prove it," she adds slyly. "The kick he created was so terrible, even he had to admit it was really difficult."
Lady Faith's uplifting, heart-pumping, euphoric spin on the hardstyle genre, which she will present this weekend as part of the annual Nocturnal Wonderland festival in San Bernardino, has gained her fans worldwide. Whether measured by Facebook likes, SoundCloud plays or YouTube views, she is hands-down America's most successful hardstyle DJ.
Her journey into dance music began in her early teens when her family, after much deliberation, moved to Los Angeles from Tehran, Iran. Faith prefers not to talk much in the press about this chapter in her life, to avoid complications for her family, saying simply that there were "many reasons" for the relocation. "Some related to me and my inability to follow the cultural norms, and others related to my other family members and their dreams and aspirations." (For similar reasons, she prefers not to divulge her real name.)
To celebrate her new ability to party without running afoul of Tehran's infamous "morality police" — undercover agents who patrol the city looking for dress and behavior inconsistent with conservative Islam, particularly women out in public without their hijab — Faith ventured to a downtown L.A. warehouse party not long after the move and found herself dancing to two influential female DJs who played that night, Lisa Lashes and Anne Savage. For her, the night was a revelation.
"The music spoke to me in ways I could never have imagined," she remembers. "Beyond the music, I really envied Lisa and Anne for their ability to express themselves onstage and basically control the flow of the sounds that so many fans were enjoying."
Inspired by what she had seen, Faith soon took to the decks herself. "Being a DJ was not something I thought could ever happen to me. But, because of the hard work of all of the female DJs that preceded me, it gave me the confidence to believe in myself enough to take the plunge."
At first she spun trance, "but it just never seemed to be aggressive and rebellious enough for me." Instead, she found herself drawn increasingly to the precursors of hardstyle, hard house and hard trance. "The harder styles were less developed back then, but they were still very powerful and they spoke to me in ways other genres never could," Faith says. "It allowed me to get my rage out in a more controlled setting."
The need to "get my rage out" might be why the Los Angeles dance-music scene so warmly embraced Lady Faith. Like many in L.A., she is a transplant who has reinvented herself, an escapee from a place where she never quite fit in. Though her life now has its glamour and shine, especially as her international profile has risen, underneath there's that hardness anyone develops who feels like an outsider in their place of birth. Even though she's proud of her Iranian heritage, she hasn't forgotten that feeling.
So it probably didn't surprise many of her fans last March at Insomniac's Basscon: Wasteland hard dance festival when Lady Faith was revealed to be one-half of Notorious Two, a mysterious act that had found its way onto the lineup with a much heavier, darker sound than Faith's previous take on hardstyle. She and her N2 partner, Dutch DJ The Pitcher, performed a set of all-original, pummeling music woven into a storyline loosely inspired by Bonnie and Clyde.
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A Notorious Two show, Faith says, "requires so much work, because it is a flowing set where each song interacts with the others, kind of like Pink Floyd's The Wall. It's always nice when you can fit a few songs from your talented colleagues into a DJ set, but for the N2 live act, it's all on us. I cannot tell you how proud I am of this achievement, and this is just the beginning."
That night at Basscon, the floor of the Hollywood Palladium buckled as the hardstyle faithful (pun intended) stomped with reckless abandon, as Lady Faith communed with her fans. After the set, she stuck around to accept hugs and the colorful bracelets called "kandi" from the crowd, as she always does; she has a massive collection of kandi at home from years of such fan interactions.
"My fans, they taught me that I am not alone," she says. "They have shown me that it is possible to have a higher purpose in this world. I have dedicated almost a decade of my life to making fans happy, and I would not give it up for the world. I feel like I belong, and that is the greatest gift of all."
NOCTURNAL WONDERLAND | San Manuel Amphitheater | 2575 Glen Helen Pkwy., San Bernardino | Fri.-Sun., Sept. 2-4, 4 p.m.-2 a.m. | 18+ | $114 daily admission; $284 three-day pass | nocturnalwonderland.com