Go HARD or Stay Home: The Inside Scoop on L.A.'s Haunted Dance Fest

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Skrillex shot for SPIN on January 28, 2011 / Photo by Andrew Woffinden
Chris Martins WRITTEN BY
Chris Martins

Heavy techno. Blistering dubstep. Bone-rattling house. If it's got a pulse — no matter how jacked and jagged — it's got a home at HARD Haunted Mansion, the two-night dance festival hitting downtown Los Angeles' Shrine Expo Hall on Friday and Saturday, October 28 and 29 (with a cross-coastal pre-party at Terminal 5 in New York this Saturday). The event, now in its fourth year, is decidedly anti-trance.

"I'm not into Tiësto and all that," says Gary Richards, a.k.a. DJ Destructo, 40, who founded HARD in 2007 as an alternative to So Cal's exploding rave scene. "I did glow-sticks and pacifiers when I was 20. We have a more rock attitude. I'd be down to have Eddie Van Halen come out and bust the rough shit."

Unlikely, but with Haunted headliner Skrillex collaborating with Korn on their new album, the sentiment isn't that far off. HARD lives up to its name, booking acts like Odd Future, M.I.A., and Sleigh Bells at its other fests and tours around the country, and rounding out this year's Halloween lineup with heavy-hitters like big beat legend Fatboy Slim, dubstep star Rusko, and live dance-punk quartet Soulwax.

Haunted Mansion's two stages (one inside the historic venue, one outside) support a total of 10,000 fans per night, and it's sold out every time, in part due to the promoter's tradition of breaking new acts. Ask Richards who he's excited to see this time and he's likely to rattle off the entire bottom half of the bill.

There's SBTRKT, the rising Londoner whose wobbly beats are equal parts spooky and soulful. There's the amped mutant house of the U.K.'s L-Vis 1990 and the disco-addled digitalisms of L.A.'s Oliver. Also, a pair of hotly tipped Belgian acts — the positively thrashing Goose four-piece, and electro-house wiz the Magician — plus Skream + Benga, a pair of producers whose minimal bass music helped launch dubstep.

"When I book these shows, I book them like a DJ," says Richards, who also performs on Saturday. "It's not, 'What's going to sell me the most tickets?' It's, 'What's going to make for a great night?' "

It doesn't hurt that competition is flagging. Insomniac, the company behind the Electric Daisy Carnival (arguably the most recognizable rave brand in the world), is throwing a similar event on October 29, but following endless EDC controversy, the promoter has all but vacated L.A. proper. Instead, Escape From Wonderland is going down an hour east in San Bernardino, and the 14th annual Monster Massive (an All Hallow's Eve collaboration between Insomniac and a third promoter, Go Ventures) has been cancelled. (While Electric Daisy Carnival has left Los Angeles, seemingly permanently, for Las Vegas, and Monster Massive has indeed been cancelled, Insomniac still maintains an impressive presence within the City of Los Angeles. Though events like Escape From Wonderland (massives, raves, festivals) mostly take place in San Bernardino, Insomniac still promotes concerts regularly at venues like the Music Box and the Palladium, entertaining "at the very least, 8,000 Angeleno Electronic Dance Music lovers each month," according to the company.)

Read SPIN's cover story on the new rave generation now!

Richards had his own brush with bad press in 2009 with his other flagship event, HARD Summer — a few hundred gate crashers rushed the balconies of the Forum, a South L.A. arena, then began jumping into the crowd below causing Inglewood police to dispatch a riot squad — but he says he's learned his lesson. After the festival moved to a park and ramped up security (police dogs, double fences, helicopter patrol), one Los Angeles Times headline read, "Hard Summer ... The Safest place on Earth?"

The improvements — namely, HARD's willingness to work extensively with police and fire for months in advance of to avoid future disasters — have paid off. HARD Summer will go to two days next year after expanding from two stages to four this past August and tripling attendance from to 30 thousand. Richards also bans glow sticks, backpacks and "furry shit" from his events, which are typically 18 and over.

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"My goal going into HARD was, 'Let's try to do something where people think of electronic music and they think about good music instead of Ecstasy," he says. "I'm not interested in throwing a party for young kids to take drugs at. We do our best to try to keep it about the music."

Well, mostly. After Haunted Mansion, Richards is shifting gears in order to prepare for HARD's most ambitious event yet: Holy Ship!, a three-night around-the-clock party on a cruise ship bound for the Bahamas, leaving January 5 from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Skrillex is on board (literally) for that one too.

Grab tickets and set times for HARD Haunted Mansion:

Friday
HARD Stage
6:35-7:25 – Annie Mac
7:30-8:30 – SBTRKT
8:40-9:40 – Laidback Luke
9:50-11:05 – 2ManyDjs
11:20-12:35 – Fatboy Slim
12:50-1:50 – Rusko
HARDER Stage:
5:50-6:30 – The Knocks
6:30-7:10 – Beataucue
7:10-7:55 – Kingdom
7:55-8:40 – Special Guest
8:40-9:40 – Housemeister
9:40-10:40 – Pearson Sound/Ramadanman
10:40-11:40 – L–Vis 1990
11:40-12:40 – Switch
12:40-1:50 – Tiga
Saturday
HARD Stage:
6:25-7:15 – Oliver
7:20-8:20 – Goose
8:30-9:30 – Destructo
9:30-10:30 – Fake Blood
10:30-11:30 – Skrillex
11:30-12:30 – Major Lazer
12:50-1:50 – Soulwax
HARDER Stage:
6:20-7:05 – Clockwork
7:05-7:50 – Japanese Popstars
7:50-8:45 – Jackmaster
8:45-9:40 – The Magician
9:45-10:40 – Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs
10:45-11:40 – Paul Chambers
11:40-12:40 – 12th Planet
12:40-1:50 – Skream & Benga
*More Special Guests will be making surprise appearances throughout the weekend.

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