The headline you never saw: HARD makes a safe Los Angeles return, but at what cost?
Come Halloween weekend, eyes turn to the busiest hubs of electronic music. Metropolitan meccas truck in talent from all corners of the world for what often seems like countless festivals and club appearances while girls with electrifying grey contact lenses and boys in painted skull makeup dance.
A weekend of celebrating the pure hedonistic fun of a party – yet somehow, we’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Most eyes turned to Los Angeles this weekend, a bustling three-day run of two of the largest events of the season. Insomniac’s Escape: Psycho Circus (formerly known as Escape from Wonderland) took place Friday and Saturday while HARD’s Day of the Dead fought for the last of the weekend on Saturday and Sunday. This year, both events – held under the umbrella of the monstrous Live Nation brand – were at the core, successful.
This area found a particularly bright spotlight after the turmoil that surrounded the recent HARD Summer edition just a few months ago that ended in tragedy. Two girls were pronounced dead due to drug-related incidences, causing HARD and the entire city of Los Angeles to spiral into a heavy lock down of all electronic-related events. HARD shut its doors on a forthcoming event that was scheduled to take place in September and implemented a new and strict 21+ policy for its upcoming Day of the Dead event.
The City of Los Angeles considered placing a blanket ban on all electronic music shows and later decided that an “electronic music task force” would be created with the goal of developing a more thorough health and safety plan to be implemented for all future electronic music events.
Following the busy weekend, it was a silent, but proud celebration that no reports had come in about lives taken too soon at any of the many events that took place not only in Los Angeles, but all across the nation.
Yet still, the only news that seemed to follow the closure of these events were shocking reports of record-breaking arrests at the two Southern California events. “Nearly 500 arrested at electronic music festivals,” LA Times’ glaring headline reads, adding that 310 people were arrested at HARD’s Day of the Dead event while 180 were taken into custody from Insomniac’s Escape over in San Bernardino.
Did Los Angeles’ so-called “electronic music task force” simply implement a stronger police presence? A more thorough pat down of incoming festival goers? Though free water was made a mandatory supplement at the festivals, little else was shared about the health and safety improvements that the task force was reportedly set to create.
HARD’s Day of the Dead drew about 20,000 people while Escape brought out closer to 42,000. Take those stats in, and the “nearly 500” people who were arrested make up less than 1% of the population of party goers this weekend. Those arrested were taken in for a variety of reasons that occur at every party, including trespassing and public intoxication.
And despite the blatant negative headline spin, LA Times went on to share a quote from Lt. Richard Lawhead of San Bernardino who shared: “For the most part, all of the patrons were very, very cooperative, nice, respectful.”
But those facts just don’t have the same ring to it, do they?
Even electronic music blogs ran with the sensationalist headlines. “Almost 500 Ravers Arrested at EDM Festivals in LA,” Your EDM‘s headline boasts, along with a supplemental subheading that adds, “Festivals might never be the same again.” THUMP reiterated the “Nearly 500 Partygoers Were Arrested” sentiment later and others followed suit.
While media waved shock-value numbers in headlines, fans and actual attendees were occupied with other more pressing and lasting concerns. Though HARD has managed to make a successful and surprisingly swift return in a city notoriously known to be eager to stomp out electronic music culture, the festival did not come back unchanged.
The effects of Los Angeles’ continuously tightening belt on its own electronic music scene were evident throughout HARD’s latest event. Dozens of personal accounts of aggressive search tactics both while entering the event and throughout the show as well as extreme measures that those who were arrested had to endure rolled out as the weekend ended. Strangely, despite the efforts of a so-called “electronic music task force,” in total, there were only two medical tents on site, with one placed inconveniently on the far edge of the venue. According to the aforementioned LA Times article, only three emergency physicians were on-site while there were 184 police officers present, all equating to a confusing misplacement of effort.
But it’s hard to be surprised by a city that has made it a patterned habit to resist the phenomenon of electronic music in every way possible. Though now several years away from its glory days, Los Angeles was once the peak platform for the height of electronic music. Los Angeles’ iconic Coliseum played host to Electric Daisy Carnival for a few of its most monumental years before one of the first widely publicized drug-related deaths forced the event – and Insomniac’s brand – outside of the city and into surrounding venues like Las Vegas and San Bernardino.
EDC was banned after 15-year old Sasha Rodriguez died of a drug overdose after sneaking into the festival, and since, EDC has never been able to return to the city, despite CEO Pasquale Rotella openly expressing his interest in hosting another large-scale event for the market. But further than that, the media began to grasp how compelling drug-related death headlines were to the general population. It was scary to parents, to young people and especially damaging to the breakthrough that electronic music had just managed to accomplish after years of being exclusively underground.
Five years later, history seems to repeat itself once again – this time, appearing as a slower burn out, rather than an abrupt elimination.
Though HARD has managed to stay in the (relatively) good graces of Los Angeles, it seems as though the event has not managed to escape unscathed, an obvious fact seen through the reported attendance statistics from the weekend. HARD Day of the Dead, which for years has been an equal and crowd-dividing competitor for Insomniac’s Escape, failed to draw in even half of the crowd Escape brought. Live Nation admitted that HARD’s Day of the Dead didn’t even reach the lower quota for its final night.
Thankfully, with a strong backing from monster promoter Live Nation, HARD wasn’t forced to disappear like the late LA Electric Daisy Carnival, but inevitably, the brand has found itself entangled in the latest battle of Los Angeles’ long-standing war against electronic music.
Seeing the word “arrested” instead of “death” is something that should be celebrated, and the safety efforts of an entire city working alongside an electronic music brand shouldn’t be ignored. But it will be vital for both the city of Los Angeles and its remaining electronic crusaders to nourish what culture this city has left, and not to stomp out what remains in the process.