HARD Day of the Dead Saturday Recap: Nero, Skrillex, Maya Jane Coles and more
When HARD released their Day of the Dead lineup a few months ago, we knew it was going to be something special. Though most festivals these days boast enough names to have the average dance music fan salivating, this year’s HARD Day of the Dead lineup seemed particularly exceptional. While sets from Boys Noize, Zeds Dead, Maya Jane Coles, and The Blood Beetroots would have been more than enough for a satisfactory Saturday, HARD Day 1 also boasted three extraordinary festival anomalies: a solo set from Skrillex, a live set from Nero, and a headlining set from Eric Prydz’s techno alterego, Cirez D.
Clad in skeleton masks, black dress, and ghoulish gear, the masses descended upon the first day of HARD Day of the Dead, slowly filling the dirt-laden festival grounds of LA Historic Park. Los Angeles’s own Oliver took over the main stage in the relenting afternoon sunlight, amping the crowd with their groovy selections. Standing atop a giant wooden haunted house, Oliver opened with their midtempo favorite, “Night is On My Mind,” before moving seamlessly into Dillon Francis’s moombahton remix. The duo proceeded to move through plenty of funky house tracks with Destructo occasionally jumping in on the fun.
When Zeds Dead stepped up next, the energy of the entire main stage shifted considerably. Unleashing wailing dubstep tunes like “Adrenaline” and “White Satin,” the Canadian duo evoked a riotous enthusiasm in the crowd. Fans were literally running to the main stage at the sound of Zeds Dead’s colossal tunes and it wasn’t long before the main stage conglomerated into a dense, cohesive mass of mobbing bass fans.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the park, Soul Clap was mesmerizing a much more intimate crowd on the Underground stage. As they wrapped up their set with a slew of mystical pads and synths, Maya Jane Coles emerged from the darkness of the stage. Standing behind the decks with her typically stoic demeanor, Maya slowly introduced an enormous sub bass. As her set unfolded, the wall of chugging low-end seemed relentless. The thick techno drove on, only to be punctured by some irresistibly groovy house and tech house. As her set progressed, Maya slowly built the groove,throwing in a little bit more melody and drive with each successive track. Her careful craftsmanship left no shortage of compelling IDs, all of which absorbed the crowd with their industrial, otherworldly atmospheres.
The best part of the night , however, was only just beginning. Back on the main stage, the crowd anxiously awaited the arrival of Nero. Having been in the dark for the last year or so working on their album, the entire world has been wondering: what is Nero cooking up? How big will this next album be? Our questions were answered throughout the night, as Nero debuted something close to five brand new originals. As the words “control… power… authority..” rang out from the stage, Nero could be seen atop their behemoth control deck. The ominous vibe gathered and grew until a burst of light coincided with an explosive dubstep drop. The blistering bass consumed the crowd with Nero’s characteristically cinematic sound design. This was new Nero, and it was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Teasing out the echoing synths of “Guilt,” Alana Watson emerged on stage, belting out the timeless lyrics, “Sometimes we don’t know where we’re going…” Alana would appear at various moments throughout the show. One of her most powerful performances included singing over Nero’s contribution to The Great Gatsby soundtrack, “Into the Past.” Crooning over the emphatic, reverb-coated snares, Alana’s delicate voice and Nero’s symphonic sound design combined for the most surreal moment during the entire set. As usual, Nero’s mixing was dangerously on point. Sampling with a dexterous ease and drop-hopping tracks with a flawless precision, Nero showcased the best mixing of all of Saturday.
Skrillex took the stage next for the final set of the night, but not before a thirty minute window of preparation. As the seemingly endless wait wound down, the intermission music was suddenly replaced with a slow marching beat. The near-silent bass tread on for ten minutes, much to the perplexity of the masses waiting for Sonny Moore to emerge. Was this a mind game? Were we the the subjects of Skrillex’s social experiment? Finally, the distorted, eponymous lyrics of “My Name is Skrillex” broke the tension. A menacing dubstep drop followed as the giant curtain that blanketed the stage fell down, revealing Sonny above a giant illuminated pumpkin. For the next hour and a half, Skrillex maneuvered through a torrent of boisterous dubstep, trap, electro house, moombahcore, and more. Tracks like “Scary Bolly Dub” and Alvin Risk’s “Put Em’ Up” epitomized the chaotic appeal of Skrillex’s headlining set.
Meanwhile on the Harder stage, Eric Prydz was closing out the night under the guise of his dark techno alterego, Cirez D. With his first US festival appearance since Ultra Music Festival, Cirez D took command of the secondary main stage with more than an hour of menacing, industrial techno. Leave it to Gary Richards to book two sets from Prydz, each with a prime time slot.
Day 1 will be hard to top, but with sets from Eric Prydz, Pretty Lights, Deadmau5, Giorgio Moroder, Amtrac and more, Day 2 is sure to be just as enthralling.