Festival Review: HARD Day of the Dead

HARD: Day of the Dead
HARD: Day of the Dead

After a full week to mentally process the breathtaking spectacle that was HARD Day of the Dead festival, as well as to catch up on a substantial amount of lost sleep, the best way to describe what was in many ways an indescribable (“you just had to be there”) event is not with a standard review, but instead a list of observations.

Here are the 10 takeaways from HARD Day of the Dead:

1)      Ravers can party responsibly, and should continue to do so.  After the unfortunate incidents that occurred this past summer at New York’s Electric Zoo festival, it appears that most people got the message: less is often more.  This is not to say that the drug culture isn’t still prevalent (and indeed put on full display) at EDM shows, rather, thankfully this time the mainstream media had very little to report on outside of the festival itself, which is how it ought to be.

2)      The lineup is the most important aspect of any festival.  And for only having a pretty measly 24 total hours with which to operate, HARD proved that it’s not the quantity, but the quality of the show that matters.  Every genre, from trap to progressive house, to trance and dubstep was covered between the four stages at Day of the Dead.  And the headliners, which included Skrillex, Boys Noize, Nero, Pretty Lights, Gaslamp Killer, Calvin Harris, Skream, and far, far too many others to list, packed a walloping punch.  Honestly, HARD accomplished in just two days probably the same level of intensity as EDC or ULTRA—which spanned two full weekends this year.  It was just that good.  And major kudos for actually having the more well-known artists play in sequence on one of the two main stages, rather than all at the same time on separate stages.  Nothing is more annoying to festival-goers than having to choose which must-see acts are worth missing in order to hold onto your perfect dance spot, which you have painstakingly guarded for the past two hours.

3)      Skrillex will always prove the haters wrong.  There is plenty of Skrill-bashing out there on the world wide internets, which seemed to dissipate only slightly once he joined forces with Boys Noize to form Dog Blood (perhaps revealing, unsurprisingly, that those who spew the most venom don’t actually follow EDM that closely and had assumed he had fallen off), but it really only takes one time seeing Sonny live to convert to render even the most vocal critic speechless.  This would have been the case on Saturday night for Skrillex’s headlining performance, except that everyone was singing along to every recognizable lyric that aired out over the signature blend of whirlwind bass and laser synths.  “Yo, Skrill drop it hard,” indeed.

4)      Placing the beer tent in perfect viewing range of the second main stage was a classy move, HARD.  As iterated two points above, nobody likes to make difficult choices when trying to party, including whether to get your drunk on or instead to catch, oh, let’s say GTA’s head banging set.  In this case, you were able to both at the same time.  What a world we live in.

5)      If EDM was a movie, it would not be PG-13; it would be R, and in some cases, NC-17.  Given the very “adult” nature of EDM culture, as well as the genre’s ever-increasing popularity, there really doesn’t seem to be much of an incentive to sell concert tickets to minors.  Plus, seeing barely-clad 13 year olds in booty shorts is something nobody should have to bear witness to.  Thus, the 18+ requirement was a welcome aspect to Day of the Dead.  That being said, HARD could do away with the beer tent altogether by making it a 21+ event – just saying.

6)      Halloween and EDM go together like snare on kick.  Or like Skrillex on a giant Jack-o-Lantern.  Or like Deamau5 and…..Hellraiser (#bestcostumeever)?

The cartoon dance party that is Deadmau5, fun for all ages ... 18 and over! (21+?)  ~ Photo Credit to Timothy Norris
The cartoon dance party that is Deadmau5, fun for all ages … 18 and over! (21+?) ~ Photo Credit to Timothy Norris

7)      There are two sure bets when it comes to production: lasers and pyrotechnics not only compliment one another, but when used appropriately (at the drop, duh), they will evoke a visceral reaction from the crowd every…single…time.  As they say, “like moths to the flame.”


8)      Afterparties are essential for people under the age of 25.  For those post-graduate geriatrics still trying to ride the wave of their early twenties, afterparties are often far better in theory than they end up being in practice.  However, such was not the case with the official HARD Afterparty, which featured an epically long encore performance by Boys Noize lasting until 6am, due mostly to the fact that it happened to fall on the “good version” of daylights savings.  This was an absolute lifesaver.  Without a doubt, a second day of full-throttle raging would have been physically impossible without that additional 60 minutes of coma-level sleep.  How serendipitous!

9)      It’s the little things that matter.  Whether that be the attention to detail on the countless attendees donning full Dia-De-Los-Muertos skull makeup, or the cell-phone tower erected in the middle of the grounds to help give patrons that one additional bar of service, the fact that everyone cared enough to pay attention to the finer details shined through, and gave us all the warm fuzzies – even those dressed in that tiny “slutty [fill in the blank]” costume.

10)  Best performance of the festival goes to: Nero.  They were absolutely phenomenal.  Their songs all seem to be ripped straight from the soundtrack of a thoroughly dubbed out 80s horror movie (if dubstep had existed back then), so obviously they were perfectly suited for a headlining spot at Day of the Dead.  But it was the additional element of hearing Alana Watson sing live, with her pitch-perfect and haunting melodies carrying over the low, distorted growling bassline that sent shivers up and down your spine.  Check it out for yourself:

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