Hard Day of the Dead was held for the first time at Pomona Fairplex on November 1 and 2, with an estimated attendance of around 80,000. The lineup was varied, with a few hip-hop acts like Cam’ron and Ty DollaSign mixed in with festival regulars, including Calvin Harris, Zedd, Diplo and Bassnectar.
Although some aspects of the festival were noticeably underdeveloped (more on that below), the giant, two-day EDM extravaganza was still a blast. Here's the best and worst of what we saw over the weekend.
Ty Dolla Sign
Everything Ty Dolla Sign said during his set made the whole crowd at the Purple Stage cheer, even when he was hilariously rude: “Follow me on Instagram, @tydollasign, and if you don’t know how to spell ‘tydollasign,’ don’t follow me, stupid.” The L.A. native, who is easily one of the most frequently played artists on mainstream radio right now, performed all his hits, including the sultry “Or Nah,” and his 2010 debut banger, “Toot it and Boot it.”
Costumes more clever than sexy
It’s hard to watch when people try too hard at raves. Those who wore booty shorts that shouldn’t have — we’re talking to you. The guys and gals who opted for garish outfits that actually suited them were the ones who became sensations — like the massive dude who dressed like Big Bird. During Giraffage’s set, everyone came up to him for Snapchat selfies, and it was adorable.
Eric Prydz vs. Deadmau5
It seemed like the entire fest was at the Harder Stage for this performance, and for good reason — the pair absolutely killed it, striking a sonically pleasing balance between Deadmau5’s signature repetitive yet hypnotic melodies and Eric Prydz’s hard-hitting progressive house. Whenever the video screens showed the ultra-famous DJs (yeah, we were pretty far back), the two looked relaxed. With DeadMau5 sans Mau5head, it was as if they were just playing jam session in someone's garage, which made it that much better.
Free face painting
Not just one, but two free face-painting booths were available for any fest-goer who didn’t have the time or talent to achieve a pristine sugar skull look. Hard only allowed attendees to paint one half of their faces prior to arrival — which caused frustration among those who had to wash off half of their makeup before entering the venue — but the in-house face redecorating team seemed to at least partially make up for it.
With all the hype surrounding this secretive house producer, his debut U.S. performance could have been a huge letdown. Instead, it lived up to expectations and then some. As projections of ballet dancers, skeletons and smoke (lots of smoke) flitted across a scrim that kept the mystery producer's face hidden in shadows, Zhu dropped a slinky, sexy set highlighted by his own tracks, “Faded” and “Superfriends,” as well as the funkiest of the weekend's many “Thriller” remixes.
The zip line
Move over, Ferris wheel! At this year’s Hard, the far sexier and more thrilling zip line showed up the old music festival standby. The line for the attraction may have been long, but there’s nothing like zooming through the air while hearing your favorite DJ throw down in the distance. Worth it!
A major drawback of Hard DOTD’s old venue, L.A. State Historic Park, was the dust — it was nearly unbearable. Pomona was a different story. No bandana? No problem. The venue was mostly concrete and about 5 different types of mud, including some strange spongy mud that literally put a skip in your step on the way to the Hard stage.
Totems, along with kandy bracelets, weren’t allowed in the festival, but there was loophole, which was — no pole! From speech bubbles to giant inflatable beer bottles, folks got creative with hand-held items to locate their buddies in the crowd.
Next: The worst of Hard Day of the Dead…
Lack of parking signage
“Am I stupid or something? I can’t find my car anywhere,” said one defeated raver chick dressed as Minnie Mouse as she scoured the massive parking lot for her car. She wasn’t alone — many were frantically pressing their car-key panic buttons because of the lack of parking landmarks and signage.
What’s the theme again?
Hard could have done more to make their Halloween/Day of the Dead theme more in-your-face. Decorations were minimal, and the overall theme and mood was sometimes lost within the massive expanse of the venue. The branded 7-Up Stage had more personality than the Hard stages, and one of the venue's best landmarks was a stack of Fiats painted with DOTD motifs. When the corporate signage outshines the event's own decor, it's not a good look.
The indoor stages were packed with gorgeous light features, but lacked in sound quality. Poor acoustics in indoor stages made for a strange, echo-ey effect that caused most of the DJs that played there to sound muddy and oddly washed-out.
Even when you're the legendary founder of Mo'Wax and one-half (with DJ Shadow) of UNKLE, playing the same time slot as Deadmau5 at a Hard event is a thankless task. Lavelle gamely spun a lush set of throwback progressive house to a dance floor that was so empty, the cleaning crew started sweeping up before he was halfway through. As one of the most accomplished DJs on the entire bill, Lavelle deserved a better reception.