HARD Day of the Dead: 10 Standout Performances
Over the weekend, some of the most talented emissaries from all corners of the dance-music world descended on Pomona, Calif., for HARD's annual Day of the Dead festival. Live Nation's HARD has made its name on curation, consistently showcasing credible talents while excavating and exposing the stars and sounds of the future.
Traditionally held in downtown Los Angeles, this year saw the festival move to a new venue in the Fairplex at Pomona. While new locations seldom come without growing pains, such as reported sound issues at the Purple Stage, the festival drew a total of 80,000 costumed attendees without incident. Billboard takes you back to the scene to recount 10 standout performances from a high-energy Halloween weekend.
Perfectly positioned after sunset, the enigmatic LA artist’s North American debut was a memorable and immersive audiovisual experience. Masked and ensconced within impressive visuals on a custom stage designed by V Squared Labs, ZHU enthralled a sizable crowd on the HARDer Stage with a mix of unreleased material and favorites from The Nightday EP. Tone-setting thunder and crooning saxophone interludes punctuated a performance that bore more resemblance to a multimedia art experience than a DJ set.
While ZHU featured hit single “Faded” both on its own and in a set-closing downtempo rendition, it was his deep and driving remix of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (complete with dancing skeleton visuals) and criminally soulful cut “Paradise Awaits” that elicited the best crowd response.
Deadmau5 vs. Eric Prydz
One of the most highly anticipated sets of the weekend, the joint "mau5ville" performance by two progressive house titans drew an enormous crowd. Their collaborative effort veered from driving techno to melodic progressive noodling, incorporating deep-catalog gems like "Cthulu Sleeps" and "Bot" alongside such standards as deadmau5's "Moar Ghosts n' Stuff," and Prydz's "Pjanoo," while red lasers raked the energetic crowd.
Peak energy moments included Prydz's blistering mash up of Green Velvet & Harvard Bass' "Lazer Beams" with techno alias Cirez D's "On Off," as well as Dillon Francis's twisted "Some Chords" remix. The artists showed some love to Michael Jackson as well, dropping their own take on "Thriller" while the stage pulsed with searing white light. The show closed on a contemplative note with a stirring version of deadmau5's sublime "Strobe," sending the audience dazed and delighted into Saturday night.
Galantis may be a new name on the scene, but its members have certainly paid their industry dues. Comprised of Grammy Award-winning producer Christian Karlsson (of Bloodshy & Avant and Miike Snow) and Linus Elkow aka Style of Eye, the Swedish super duo believe their new fan base represents a different demographic than prior projects.
"[Our past] has given us a lot of tools to help create Galantis, but I don't see any fans jumping over," said Karlsson. "The same thing with Miike Snow, no one really knows I was producing."
That didn't stop them from dropping a remix of Miike Snow's "Animal" during their high octane set, which saw both artists pounding drum pads and dancing ecstatically while thrilling the crowd with nuanced big room numbers. The highlight of the set came in the form of their forthcoming album's first single "Runaway (U&I)," a main stage anthem with thoughtful verses and a mammoth chord-driven drop.
"It was so clear that we wanted this as the first single because it's following up the EP very well," he said. "We thought it'd be a build up to the next single. We didn't know it was going to catch fire the way it did."
Wearing a triumphant San Francisco Giants cap to mark last week's World Series win, Claude Vonstroke delivered groovy beats and feel-good vibes while headlining his label's Dirtybird BBQ Stage. Joined onstage by a bevy of dancing label-mates, including Justin Martin, Eats Everything and Kill Frenzy, the backstage atmosphere was one of unbridled celebration.
While joyful revelers mingled behind him, a grinning VonStroke swayed back and forth to Dirtybird's trademark blend of muscular bass beats and funk-infused cuts that he affectionately refers to as "booty-shakin' house." An ebullient Justin Martin dished out hugs and high fives to anyone who would accept them, while a smiling J.Phlip nodded along to the hi hats propelling VonStroke's tribal beats with metallic urgency. Thomas Jack was spotted sharing a drink with Justin Jay, prompting Bones to rush over and exclaim, "Yes! Collaborate already!"
Longhaired and flailing to his monstrous low-end-laden beats, Bassnectar closed out the HARDer Stage on Sunday with no shortage of new material off recently released album Noise vs. Beauty. His set was a smorgasbord of squealing synths, stuttered snares and booming broken-beat progressions. Towards the end of his performance, the California artist bounded to the front of the stage for his customary group picture with a sea of screaming fans, courtesy of respected photographer Rukes.
Earlier in the day at the artist compound, Dillon Francis jested about coming out and twerking during Zedd's set. Such threats did not prove entirely idle, as dance music's resident prankster appeared onstage to the phone-hoisting delight of all in attendance. The German superstar's set was packed with his own productions, including "Clarity" and his standout set-closing remix of Empire of the Sun's "Alive."
"Thank you guys so f---ing much!" Zedd screamed before the final drop. "You guys are f---ing amazing!
HARD founder Gary Richards donned skeleton face paint to take a main stage turn on Sunday, treating attendees to a diverse set that included plenty of deep and funky cuts off his forthcoming West Coast EP
"I'm just happy that people are starting to get it, that you can play more smooth on the big stage," said Richards. "When I've been at all these different festivals, I've had to alter what I really wanted to do to keep the festival vibe."
Thomas Jack is an affable Aussie producer whose tropical house remixes tore up the Hype Machine in similar fashion to close friend Kygo. Appropriately dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and sipping coconut water, the long-locked artist tossed his bucket hat to the floor and delighted the 7UP Green Stage with melodic and funky fare. Closing with his popular "Somewhere Over the Radio" remix, the Sydney native drew screaming ovations at the end of his set.
Count Pete Tong among Jack's fans. The BBC Radio One host gave Jack a warm welcome and stuck around to check out his set.
"He's doing great for his first festival performance," said Tong. "That energy is unusual for America."
The Dirtybird co-captain curated a varied musical journey through resonant African rhythms and atmospheric interludes, while always eventually returning to his thumping Moog bass comfort zone. When he dropped Dusky's beloved remix of "Don't Go," his faithful throng showed their approval in swelling cheers and gyrating rears.
Catz n Dogz
The Polish duo cooked up a mid-afternoon party on the Dirtybird BBQ Stage with a bumping set punctuated by airy vocal breaks and trippy synth passages.