Los Angeles State Historic Park
Better than… A night without dance jams.
Earlier this week, Forbes Magazine published a list of top 10 highest paid DJ/producers on the party scene. HARD Summer headliner and former L.A. Weekly cover star, Skrillex came in at number two, earning $15 million this past year. That places him behind Tiësto, but ahead of Swedish House Mafia, Deadmau5, David Guetta and the other usual suspects. The Forbes article was a big topic of online discussion, following such other hot button dance world topics as Deadmau5's quip about “EDM world button pushers” and gripes that the biggest (and best paid) DJs are all playing the same songs. There's a sharp, growing divide in the world of dance music, and that was on display Saturday night at HARD Summer.
EDM, a catch-all phrase for the current explosion of dance music, is still a fairly limiting term. Say EDM and it will automatically conjure up images of Skrillex playing at a festival in front of thousands of screaming fans. You might think of the now infamous images of girls dressed in tutus and pasties and dudes who take their fashion cues from Pauly D. That was all happening at HARD last night, but there was more to the festival than that. In fact, there's more to dance music than that.
The biggest strength of HARD Summer was a bill that drew from various corners of the dance music world. Sure, the biggest crowds turned up for the marquee festival names. Nero, the U.K. group behind so many mega-party anthems like “Promises” and “Crush on You,” brought out their full live show. Zedd packed the OWSLA stage with his “Legend of Zelda” remix and other favorites for the young party set. Meanwhile, L.A.'s own 12th Planet and Datsik drew the massive dubstep crowd to the Harder Stage. Still, there was something for people who prefer not-quite-outdated styles like house and techno, as well as those looking for something a little more out of the ordinary.
We got through the security check with enough time to catch some of Squarepusher's set. The venerable electronic music experimentalist put on a show fit for a headliner, despite playing at a relatively early 8:30 time slot. Wearing a welder-style mask that sparkled with LEDs, his bass-heavy (as in, he was actually playing a bass) set was a truly magical moment. At a neighboring stage, local favorite Gaslamp Killer mixed and mashed genres for set filled with surprises, like The Stooges, “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”
The best dancing action was over at the Red Bull Music Academy Discotheque. This tent was far from full, but it featured some of the best proper DJs you'll see, including Dirtybird Records proprietor Claude VonStroke and his crewmate Justin Martin. Their sets were eclectic, but with definite house influences, and were light on the big festival hits. When VonStroke and Martin played, it was the closest you could get to feeling like you were at an underground party and not a festival crawling with security.
At the close of the night, the massive sensory overload of the EDM festival world collided with a more understated dance scene when Skrillex and former LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy played against each other. The bulk of the crowd was over at the main stage, craning their necks for a glimpse of Skrillex as he busted through hits like “First of the Year” while surrounded by intense visuals.
Meanwhile, in the Discotheque, James Murphy took a simple approach. He pulled records out of crates, placed them onto turntables, queued them with headphones and then mixed them together. He played a lot of disco and house and a little rock, with both Deee-Lite and seminal post-punk group Orange Juice popping up in the mix. It was, essentially, every influence you picked out of an LCD Soundsystem pieced together for a perfect night of dancing. We ran back and forth between Skrillex and Murphy's sets for a little bit, but, ultimately, had to choose between the two. Get into the middle of a massive crowd and try to watch a stadium-style show, or head over to a tent and just dance and absorb the music with no distractions? We chose the latter and it was cathartic.
Personal bias: I've seen LCD Soundsystem a number of times, but have never caught one of Murphy's DJ sets before last night. It was the most fun on the dance floor that I've had in a while.
The crowd: Mostly, it was a pretty typical young EDM crowd, with lots of neon, furry boots. However, there was also a smaller crowd, primarily hanging around the Discotheque tent, that appeared older and less stereotypically ravey or bro-ish.
See also: Our review of HARD Summer, Day 1