HARD Haunted Mansion
Shrine Expo Hall
Oct. 28-29, 2011
When I spoke to HARD founder Gary Richards about his goals with the festival series, he made it clear that he wanted to disassociate HARD from the raver scene. His attempts have been semi-successful–though there were no glow sticks and kandi on either night of HARD Haunted Mansion, the pair of scantily youths laying behind me on the bare concrete in front of the HARD stage were touching one another in an alien manner that, at the very least, couldn't have been sanitary.
Though Richards may not acknowledge it, it's a somewhat expected part of the experience. Kids–and by kids, I mean young adults age 18 to 30–flock to HARD Haunted Mansion dressed as sexy bunnies, fairies, cats (come on, does anyone notice what the boys are wearing?) to party. And man, was it ever a party.
The “mansion” was outfitted with two stages–the indoor stage, HARDER, which was confusingly labeled “HARD” and the HARD outdoor stage (also mislabeled). The outdoor stage was adjacent to a water station ($3 for a bottle), an area where concertgoers could purchase alcohol (overpriced) and to the chagrin of most of the aforementioned scantily dressed youths, a whole lotta staff security and police (yikes).
But once Fake Blood wrapped their set and exited, it became impossible to reach either of the white-topped tents–hundreds flooded the outdoor stage, edging forward to catch a glimpse of Skrillex's infamous long raven-colored locks.
The stage exploded. Lights fanned out over the crowd, pulsating in shocking tones of electric greens and blues, as the crowd gyrated to the tinkling tune of the remix of Benny Benassi's “Cinema.” “Where are my ladies at?” Skrillex yelled in his still-boyish voice, “Be considerate of the small people and the ladies, put them on your shoulders if they're going to get trampled on.” The crowd obliged, and Skrillex segued into the monstrous “Reptile,” hair whipping around enthusiastically to the beat of his own dubstep-heavy kick drum. When the DJ's hit track, the aptly Halloween-themed “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” finally erupted over the throng of elbows, legs and bodies, the mass moved together as one–pushing frantically towards the illuminated stage.
Nothing is more a ringing testament to the current popular appeal of dubstep than when, after Skrillex finished his last song and exited, the crushing and dizzying heat from the crowd dissapated (as they did), evaporating into the chilly Los Angeles air. The heat and the masses, unfortunately, had already peaked–and Major Lazer was left to work with just a portion of Skrillex's crowd.
Not that it mattered to the DJs. “MAJORRR LAZZERRR!” a man enthusiastically (and repeatedly) screamed into the microphone, as the crowd made a somewhat lame-duck attempt to reignite their former excitement, dancing goofily throughout the strobing lights. It became clear that Diplo and Switch (the masterminds behind Major Lazer), have a sense of humor–in addition to playing samples of popular hits (Benny Benassi's “Satisfaction”) the duo also played less serious samples–including Big Sean's “Ass (remix)” ft. Nicki Minaj and the Ghostbuster's theme song. The humor was lost on the crowd, who, after peaking in excitement just minutes before, just wanted to dance to “Pon de Floor”. Even when the famous daggering move went down on stage (when a Skerrit Bwoy jumps from a ladder onto a woman who is lying, face up, on the floor) the crowd's reponse, at best, was amused apathy. Perhaps it's time for a bigger ladder.
When the boys who comprise Soulwax finally took the same stage hours later, after a considerable delay for set up (“We're playing real instruments here tonight”), the crowd had further devolved into a zombie-esque state–miserably upright despite the purplish rings of exhaustion around their eyes. Soulwax's ghostly music eminated the stage as the headliners stood in place, silhouetted against the night sky by a string of pearly-white lights (the only color they used throughout their set). “It's not you, it's the E talking” a girlish voice doused in situational irony announced, as the band, who had performed the night before as 2ManyDjs, dutifully went through their uptempo dance-hits “Krack” and “E Talking.”
Though the boys were left to perform infront of a mass of half-dead college coeds, they still faired better than Rusko, the act who had the misfortunte of being slotted in the same time slot as Soulwax, but on Friday. Rusko's stage was appropriately outfitted with golden-yellow lights that spelled out his name (a move numerous of the DJs opted for–perhaps to avoid confusing the crowd). As Amber Coffman's airy voice in “Hold On” began to croon and the crowd lurched, it became clear that Friday ticket holders had been somewhat cheated (at least on the popularity scale) of the line up that Saturday had. A quick YouTube check confirms–at the time of publication, Fatboy Slim's popular “Weapon of Choice” has just a little over 6 million views, Tiga's “Sunglasses at night” boasts a little over 2 million, while Zeds Dead's haunting “Eyes on Fire” has 16 mil. Skrillex's “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” (which has a whopping 40 mil + views) puts the friday headliners to shame.
This is not to say that Tiga, Zeds Dead, Rusko or Fatboy Slim didn't put on a good show (they enthusiastically did) but rather, as it holds with all concerts, audience enthusiasm is half the battle, and Friday, sadly, simply wasn't cutting it.
Ergo, what HARD's haunted mansion suffered from most was a marked lack of consistency on both nights — as disproportionate were each night's line-ups and number of attendees, so too was the level of security. Security was thorough on the first night (I arrived after most of the crowd had gotten through and was asked to take off my boots) but the second night, festival goers were waved through without even a pat down or a purse check. On both nights, security did not allow festivalgoers to sit down (a bit much to ask after four consecutive hours of dancing) and they lined the pathway into the stages, staring at the unusually dressed crowd dissapprovingly.
The event was further hamstringed by it's USC-adjacent location, where Trojans watched (and heckled) the fest from a nearby building, peering out over attendees from their balconies. It, like HARD's over-zealous amounts of security, gave the uncomfortable impression of always being watched, much like children pressing their faces up against the glass to examine caged animals at a zoo. And therein lies the intrinsic dilemma that HARD must continue to address — the perfect balance between security, visibility and party time, the elusive golden hour which, outside of Skrillex's set, never properly took hold.