Since Insomniac acquired Hard events, they have dominated the Halloween festival season in California. With Boo! and Escape entering major crowds with broad lineups, Hard Day of the Dead was a place for the house and techno crowd to congregate. After a two-year hiatus, the 21+ festival finally made its return in 2018. Furthermore, this year marks the second consecutive year of its return to the Los Angeles State Historic Park, so it looks like it’s here to stay.
The event honors ‘Dia De Los Muertos’, a Mexican holiday remembering loved ones who are no longer with us. In remembrance, Insomniac plans a day with beautiful art installations, thoughtful costumes, and stages with vibey music.
Speaking of vibes, this was probably one of the best crowds I’ve been a part of in a while. While I was alone during the first half of the festival, I was surprised by the number of polite strangers who interacted with me. In today’s festival culture, that can be hard to come by.
Vibes? Check. What else? Read on to see why this festival should be on the top of your bucket list.
This was my first time at the Los Angeles State Historic Park and I thought it fit the vibe perfectly for the festival. It vaguely reminded me of Surrey Park in Vancouver, Canada, which hosts Fvded in the Park. The best part about venues like these is the freedom to roam around. They make for the best festival grounds because it feels like an adult playground. The limited space in a closed venue can sometimes hinder an experience if the crowd is rowdy, so settings like this are most preferred. The openness of the LA State Historic Park allowed enough space during the performances, and it let people go from stage to stage without too much traffic.
A big part of ‘Dia De Los Muertos’ is the artistry. While trekking across the venue, there were various art installations to look at. Large sugar skull statues with colorful floral designs could be seen from a mile away. In the culture, the colors symbolize different meanings; for example, pink signifies celebration and white is a symbol of purity and hope.
Probably one of the coolest things to see at a festival is how everyone chooses to express themselves. Festival-goers were also a work of art with spirited costumes themselves. If you didn’t dress up, face painting was available at the event, so there was no excuse to not be a part of the fun.
Insomniac had two stages at the venue: the Duro Stage and Hard Stage. The former primarily featured house and techno, whose acts included John Bryars, Rosa Pistola, Goddollars & Paradise, Lauren Lane, Melé, Justin Martin, Damian Lazarus, and The Martinez Brothers. The Duro Stage resembles Insomniac’s infamous art cars, with a church-like background. It overlooked the Los Angeles skyline, making it one of the most picturesque views of the event.
The Hard Stage featured a more diverse lineup, which included Josh Pan b2b X&G, Brownies & Lemonade residents, Softest Hard, 1788-L, Elohim, TOKiMONSTA, ZHU, and the legendary Dog Blood. The iconic stage is usually at every Hard event and was a grand setting for its performers.
With this year’s talented lineup, every set was beyond amazing. The fact that there were only two stages also made it easy to watch everyone you wanted to see. However, we do want to highlight a few sets that stood out to us.
1788-L was definitely the most bass-heavy artist at the event. In spite of being at a more house-oriented festival, the emerging producer did not tone down his heavy beats at all. He performed many of his originals from his two albums, Sentience and Synthetik, as well as his popular collaboration with Rezz, ‘Hex’. The sun was beginning to set at the end of his performance, and the main stage audience headbanged into the night.
TOKiMONSTA is an inspirational DJ, as she has a very unique story. After losing the ability to understand music for a period of her life, she has made a huge comeback with her shows and always puts on a rad performance. After seeing her play a heavy set at Hard Summer Green Tent 2018, and a chiller set when she opened for ZHU’s Ringos Desert tour, I had no idea what to expect from her this time around. Heavy or chill? She gave us both. The female DJ gave the audience a vibey set, with melodic synths and hard beats. You never know what you’re going to get with TOKiMONSTA, which makes her one of my favorite artists to see.
The Martinez Brothers
After missing them at CRSSD fest this year, I made it a goal to see them at Day of the Dead (even though Dog Blood conflicted with them… damn you conflicts). This was my first time seeing them, and they did not disappoint. Even though the Duro Stage was relatively small compared to the Hard Stage, the sound production was top notch. The Martinez Brother’s techno beats vibrated through your body into your soul. They definitely brought us to church, and it was a sight to see.
I had the privilege of attending the festival with my colleague Matt Sierra who will now share his experience at ZHU and Dog Blood’s sets.
Having just seen both Elohim, and TOKiMONSTA destroy the HARD stage dancefloor, I wasn’t too sure how the crowd would react to seeing both ZHU’s Blacklizt set, and Dog Blood, one after another. As the clocks neared 8 PM, the crowd seemed to grow by the second. You could see that people were leaving, and going, in preparation for the following sets. The thing is, it was obvious that more people were coming to HARD than were leaving. As attendees moved in droves between stages, it was plain to see who they came to see.
After a brief 10-minute intermission following TOKiMONSTA’s set, ZHU took the stage for his special Blacklizt set. Now, I personally had never seen a Blacklizt set. I had, however, managed to catch ZHU for the first time at this past EDCLV. That set blew me away. Now, despite the fact that I knew beforehand that Blacklizt would be different, my expectations were already sky-high. It is safe to say that my expectations were not only met, but blown out of the water.
It was interesting to see how minimalistic the stage production was set up for Blacklizt. I guess you could say it added to the vibe. Throw in the creepy mannequins, and you could definitely call this a spooky affair. Blacklizt played most of the tracks we know and love Zhu for, albeit in a different fashion.
One of my favorite moments of this set was hearing the ‘Faded’ vocals blaring over an instrumental, other than the original mix. As a fan of deeper music, I can definitely appreciate the direction that Zhu has taken with his Blacklizt project. I honestly can’t wait to catch another set. Plus, it was interesting to hear him surprise us with some straight techno. If you like the idea behind Kaskade’s Redux project, you’ll definitely want to check this out.
After a 20-minute intermission, you would imagine that a crowd might turn down a bit. As the time for Dog Blood to take the stage neared, the exact opposite happened. Everyone in the crowd went bonkers with excitement. As much as I would have liked to see The Martinez Brothers, I couldn’t pass up Dog Blood. Since the creation of this side project in 2012, I had been yearning to catch their set. After more than seven years, the time was finally here.
Set to the backdrop of downtown Los Angeles, this closing set from the duo had all the makings of a true rager. I couldn’t have been more right. Dog Blood played a good number of what you can only assume is unreleased music. I say this, as Shazam failed to pick numerous tracks through their hour & fifteen-minute set. I could try to give you a good rundown of what I witnessed, but I would be doing you a disservice. This is one of those rarities that you seriously need to see for yourself.
Hard Day of the Dead was one of the best times I’ve had in a while. Something very important to me is the festival vibe, and I enjoyed vibing to the music with my fellow attendees. After a second successful year, we hope this unique festival is here to stay. Until next year, Dia De Los Muertos.