HARD Day of the Dead Day 2: Amtrac, Eric Prydz, Pretty Lights, and Deadmau5 close out the weekend
Returning to LA’s Historic Park for the second edition of HARD Day of the Dead, Gary Richard’s versatile Halloween festival brandished one of the most enchanting lineups in recent memory. After some stunning performances on Saturday from Nero, Skrillex, and Maya Jane Coles, HARD Day of the Dead finished strong with standout sets from Amtrac, Eric Prydz, Pretty Lights, Deadmau5, and more. Ultimately, however, it was the masked mouse himself, Joel Zimmerman, who would incite the most intrigue, premiering countless unreleased originals for the packed main stage crowd.
Draped in the early darkness of 6:00pm night, Amtrac took over the Underground Stage for one of Sunday’s most overlooked sets. Seamlessly maneuvering through hypnotic house tracks, the Kentucky producer displayed some serious talent behind the decks. While much of his own work takes a softer deep house approach, Amtrac’s funkier house side came out on Sunday night, embodied by his own original, “Walkin.'”
Back on the Harder stage, a tremendous crowd was gathering for Baauer and RL Grime’s much anticipated back-to-back set. Garnering one of the biggest audiences on the Harder Stage throughout the entire weekend, the trap phenoms introduced themselves with Rustie’s radiant original, “Slasher.” While the sizable crowd dipped and danced to Baauer and RL Grime’s most iconic originals and remixes, Eric Prdyz was commanding an equally impressive crowd over on the main stage.
With plenty of brand new EPIC edits and originals in his arsenal, Prydz unleashed some serious thunder in the form of a “Power Drive” VIP and some new Cirez D. While his characteristic “On Off Laser Beams” mashup elicited am emphatic response, it was ultimately his edit of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” that proved his most compelling.
Thanks to HARD’s savvy set times, fans were able to catch Prydz, Pretty Lights, and Deadmau5 — three performers each worthy of their own headlining slot. Still beaming off the success of A Color Map of the Sun, Pretty Lights took a break from his touring live show for a heavy DJ set. With plenty of new album material like “Done Wrong” and “Yellow Bird,” Derek showed off the brisker analog sound of his recent work. Despite the plethora of new tracks, older favorites like “I Can See It In Your Face” and “Sunday School” fit perfectly into Derek’s engrossing performance.
Finally, it was time for Joel Zimmerman to take the stage. With an hour and a half at his disposal, everyone was wondering what Deadmau5 had concocted for his headlining performance. Having previewed no less than twenty new originals in the past few months, this was Deadmau5’s opportunity to test out his numerous new productions on a beckoning festival crowd. Much to our delight, the revered Canadian producer did just that, showcasing at least five unreleased tracks.
Deadmau5’s Sunday night performance can be divided into two halves: a dreamy and experimental first half, and an invigorating and familiar second half. Opening with his curious new production “Avaritia,” Deadmau5’s set unfolded with a patient precision. As the yearning synths drew us in, Zimmerman stood atop his signature cube, unmasked, carefully introducing himself to the mammoth festival crowd. The rather unorthodox “You There?” soon followed, surprising everyone with its intentionally abrupt syncopation.
While Zimmerman’s music has always contained long bridges and extended intros, much of his new work seemed contingent on these conceptual beginnings and interludes. As a result, the transitions between songs appeared much more interesting than Deadmau5’s previous headlining stint at shows like Ultra Music Festival. It wasn’t just the lack of a conspicuous 4×4 kick-snare outros, however. On the whole, Deadmau5 had crafted a set with a faster flow and more inventive track structure.
The mystifying stream of new material continued with “Sparrows Made of Lead,” a stripped down progressive house track with a mean bassline. It wasn’t long however before Zimmerman introduced the meticulous build of “Fn Pig.” Sedated into a dreamy state of consciousness, the soporific mood was soon disrupted by the distinct bass of “Some Chords.”
For the second half of his set, Deadmau5 moved into more familiar territory, ramping up the energy with his signature “Moar Ghosts n Stuff (Hard Intro Mix)” from 2011. The thunderous “FML” was combined with “I Remember” while the beloved Tommy Trash remix to “The Veldt” supplemented the luscious original. Throughout the latter portion of the set, Deadmau5 continued to weave in inspiring new tracks like “My Pet Coelacanth” and “Phantoms Can’t Hang,” two of his most promising previews to date.
The hour and a half performance culminated with Zimmerman’s rapturous masterpiece, “Strobe.” The crowd’s collective sigh of relief was instantaneous as the familiar melody poured forth from the speakers. The track continued to progress at its patient pace, until something strange happened. Deadmau5 messed up. Whether he’d paused the track, crashed his software, or unplugged his mixer was unclear, but one thing was certain: the music had stopped, and it wasn’t intentional. Like any great musician, Zimmerman played it off well, candidly joking: “I’m supposed to be the 12th best person in the world at this, right?” Joel got the music running again and the set ended as pleasantly as it began.
On the whole, HARD Day of the Dead was a vast improvement from last year’s festival. Expanding to two days, HARD engineered one of the most eclectic and desirable lineups in recent memory. There seems to be no better promoter than Gary Richards at picking up on trends in the dance music world. From booking bigger acts like Nero, Skrillex, Deadmau5, and Eric Prydz, to under-appreciated talents like Maya Jane Coles, Oliver, Amtrac, and Kastle, HARD continues to strike the perfect balance between festival favorites and underground innovators.
Aside from some minor sound issues throughout the weekend, the event production was on point. The main stage was supplemented by a giant haunted house, LED wings, and an encompassing pyrotechnic system. The Harder stage was large enough to be a main stage of its own, and the Underground stage was seclusive enough to be its own house music paradise. The lines were manageable, the people were friendly, and the music was good — what else can we ask for from a festival?