1. The HARDer They Come

1/26

HARD Haunted Mansion isn't a place for the easily rattled. In contrast to other electronic dance music fests, the Los Angeles-based Halloween weekend two-nighter is neither about "vibe" — the fantastically grandiose bells and whistles often attached to such things — nor PLUR, the peace-love-unity-respect party line of today's raver. The event, which takes place at the historic Shrine Expo Hall (once home to the Oscars), is packed wall to wall with artists who serve up their beats loud, heavy and, of course, hard. One fan-made sign summarily nailed the theme thusly: "If it's too loud, you're too old."

Of course there were costumes (an impressive percentage of which could've been described as "Slutty Skrillex"), a laser show, and above-stage images of smirking jack-o'-lanterns and slack-jawed zombies, but the focus was on the broad swath of talent amassed for the fourth annual fete — from genre-smearing godhead Skrillex to elder statesman Fatboy Slim to underground legends like Skream + Benga to future stars like Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, not to mention the supremely satisfying chaos that was Major Lazer (complete with an Usher cameo). Naturally, SPIN was there to document it all.

Read on for exclusive backstage photos and interviews with HARD's stars. — Chris Martins

2. The HARDer They Come

2/26

HARD Haunted Mansion isn't a place for the easily rattled. In contrast to other electronic dance music fests, the Los Angeles-based Halloween weekend two-nighter is neither about "vibe" — the fantastically grandiose bells and whistles often attached to such things — nor PLUR, the peace-love-unity-respect party line of today's raver. The event, which takes place at the historic Shrine Expo Hall (once home to the Oscars), is packed wall to wall with artists who serve up their beats loud, heavy and, of course, hard. One fan-made sign summarily nailed the theme thusly: "If it's too loud, you're too old."

Of course there were costumes (an impressive percentage of which could've been described as "Slutty Skrillex"), a laser show, and above-stage images of smirking jack-o'-lanterns and slack-jawed zombies, but the focus was on the broad swath of talent amassed for the fourth annual fete — from genre-smearing godhead Skrillex to elder statesman Fatboy Slim to underground legends like Skream + Benga to future stars like Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, not to mention the supremely satisfying chaos that was Major Lazer (complete with an Usher cameo). Naturally, SPIN was there to document it all.

Read on for exclusive backstage photos and interviews with HARD's stars. — Chris Martins

3. Skrillex

3/26

In the Hard Hang lounge deep within the catacombs of the Shrine, Skrillex, a.k.a. L.A.'s Sonny Moore, shared small talk with an ever-growing gang of friends — half of whom were leggy Victorian vampire types in from Vegas — before his orgiastic Saturday night set. Does SPIN's October cover star feel like the center of an expanding universe? "I don't like to think about that," said Moore. "I'm having so much fun, I pinch myself every day. If it all ended tomorrow, I'd just be happy that I got to do all of this great stuff first." Like recording newly released song "Breakin' a Sweat" with the Doors, sans Jim Morrison. "Oh, man. It's got those iconic keys, and Robbie Krieger on guitar. I recorded eight minutes of us all around the microphone, just ad libbing, clapping the beat and drinking wine." Finally, the Doors found a bass player.

4. Rusko

4/26

Since moving from London to L.A. two years ago, Rusko, a.k.a. Chris Mercer, has made a few changes. He now stretches before every gig after slipping a disc while performing in January (his Friday night set was best in show for energy, due as much to his larger-than-life productions as his transformation into a mohawked cartoon jackrabbit), and after helping to popularize dubstep's more grating sounds, he's backed away from so-called bro-step. "I turned in my new album three days ago and it's completely a reaction to the masculine, dance-floor orientated, distorted mess that is the current state of dubstep. I made 14 tracks with 14 vocalists — songs with choruses that you can sing along to, rather than for DJs to play. It's the biggest statement I could make, really," and he says we can expect to hear that statement in January.

5. Fatboy Slim

5/26

Norman Cook, a.k.a. Fatboy Slim, wiped the (garishly painted yellow) smile off his face backstage after giving the kiddies outside a necessary lesson in big beats. "In England, we're used to going to a pub and watching a DJ, but here it's more of an occasion," Cook said. "It's funny for us, because we just carry on and every now and again I'm invited to America, like, 'Come to our party!' When electronic music goes underground in the States, it goes deep, but when it blows up, it blows up big time. And like the last wave — with the Chemical Brothers, Basement Jaxx and me — dubstep is living up to the occasion."

6. Major Lazer

6/26

Nearly every element to Major Lazer's late Saturday performance seemed to blatantly defy the laws of logic. Diplo and Switch smashed deep Jamaican dub cuts up against dance-pop candy like "Barbara Streisand" and remixed raunchy rap like "Face Down Ass Up." A pair of dreadlocked dudes ran around blasting air horns and beating up toy unicorns. A girl called Pink contorted herself like an oddly, um,willing pretzel. Souljah Boy prodigy and wacked-out white rapper Riff Raff moonlit as an additional hype man and, even more inconceivably, a bearded Usher watched from the sidelines the entire time. Not to be outdone, the group's original crowd-fluffer Skerrit Bwoy lubed the crowd up with a blasted bottle of champagne, climbed to the top of a ladder, tore off half of his clothes and dove bodily into their midst.

7. Soulwax

7/26

Legendary Belgian brothers Stephen and David Dewaele rocked not one, but two headlining sets — on Friday as the mix-adept flurry of hands known as 2manydjs and on Saturday with their motorik funk four-piece Soulwax (complete with an arsenal of — gasp! — analog synthesizers). "It's good for us to do both," said Stephen. "If we were just DJs we'd become bored and start doing mime. It's a challenge to play live for a crowd like this." That's not the only way they keep it fresh. "We went to Amoeba Records when we got in to stock up and, unbeknownst to us, our friend snuck in all these bad records. We get to the counter and the guy's like, 'Are you guys really buying Chinese Democracy by Guns N' Roses?'"

8. Skream + Benga

8/26

Oliver Jones (Skream) and Adegbenga Adejumo (Benga) are credited with co-inventing dubstep nearly a decade ago even though they're only 25 today. The pair met as teens through South London records shop Big Apple and have been inseparable since. "We used to fake reasons to call each other so we could play each other our new tunes," said Benga. Theirs is the dubstep of subtly inflected, darkly dreaming down-tempo. "We didn't have AIM or SoundCloud," Skream added before leaning into the recorder. "We had each other." The dressing room erupted into laughter, but Skream quickly went from silly to sentimental. "I can safely say that if it wasn't for Benga, I wouldn't be making music." "Visa-versa," his BFF chimed in.

9. 12th Planet

9/26

L.A. native John Dadzie raved in the '90s, played drum 'n' bass in the early aughts and, as a promoter and producer affiliated with the influential SMOG collective, introduced dubstep to both his city and his best bud Skrillex. "That's my boy," Dadzie told us before delivering a punishing Saturday set. "He was that kid at every show asking, 'What song is that?' He'd send me tunes too and at first I thought he was gonna be a singer. Then, within a six-month span, his production increased exponentially, where every song was just a total banger. Now on tour we see people with signs reading, 'Sonny changed my life.' It's amazing."

10. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs

10/26

Oxford's Orlando Higginbottom, clad in custom costumes and ornate headdresses no matter the season, had a chance to free himself from the bulk of his birth name but blew it with an outsized alias. "When I was a teenager I considered a lot of one-word names that'd give me street cred or atmosphere," said the singer-producer behind playful bubblers like "Trouble." "I ultimately decided that was a load of shit and I'm more about music than image so I went in the opposite direction." It's paid off. Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn tapped T.E.E.D. for a recent trip to the Congo to record for his DRC Music project. "The bands we heard there, their inventiveness in terms of the instruments they made and the sounds they made with them ... unbelievable." His genre-eroding set too felt like a long-lost revelation suddenly unearthed.

11. Switch

11/26

When we discovered Dave "Switch" Taylor in his dressing room on Friday night, the fidget house innovator and non-Diplo half of Major Lazer was three sheets to the wind with two hours to kill before his solo set. (BTW, the crowd didn't seem to mind getting roughed up by the sloshed DJ later.) Of course, he may have had good reason to want to numb his nerves. "I just saw the Gaslamp Killer perform and I don't think I'm going to be up to anything following whatever the fuck he just did. That was the most entertaining DJ set I've seen in a minute." Taylor paused to affect a wicked sneer. "Fucking showoff."

12. Zed's Dead

12/26

DC (Dylan Mamid) and Hooks (Zach Rapp-Rovan), better known as Toronto dubsteppers Zed's Dead, were a shoo-in for best-dressed act on night one. Onstage, the Diplo-endorsed pair were a divine fury of fake hair, flowing robes and fat bass. "When you're in costume you have all this weird confidence. You just don't give a fuck," said Hooks tugging at one of his rabbinic ringlets. Still, no ancient beefs were settled onstage — it was a pretty harmonious meeting of the minds. DC adjusted his crown of thorns before explaining their dynamic, both live and in the studio, "We've worked together for years. We both kind of do the same things, just from different angles." If only it was that easy.

13. L-Vis 1990

13/26

Despite James Connolly's familiar coif-and-Hawaiian-shirt combo, Elvis Presley wasn't the namesake for this Londoner's buzzing beats project. He cribbed the alias from an '80s New Wave song about a fictional band charged with saving the world, and he may be taking the role to heart. "This is the first time I've been to America since brostep really hit," he said, using the slur attributed to dubstep's more masculine strain. "I'm worried the country's become a land of zombies, and now I've got to bring everybody back from the dead with some real house music." We ask if he agrees with James Blake's assessment that U.S. dubstep isn't made to woo female fans. "But men and women fall asleep to James Blake's music, don't they?" Maybe after fooling around, we suggest. "Nah, they put my album on first."

14. The Gaslamp Killer

14/26

On stage, the Gaslamp Killer convulsed like Frankenstein's monster coming to life, so it was fitting that the heaviest DJ associated with L.A.'s experimental Low End Theory scene (figurehead Flying Lotus was spotted stalking the grounds) spoke to us about his beastly side. "Halloween is a good time for me. My music just fits," said Willie Bensussen as he cracked the seal on a whiskey bottle. "People are like, 'This is some evil shit,' and I'm like, 'Dude, this is what I play all year.' I'll throw in some classics -- Nirvana, Kiss, Beatles -- but this is the time to bring out the moody, dissonant, brooding tracks and the stuff I'm usually listening to is so weird it's a fucking miracle if I can work it into a set where people are trying to dance."

15. Riff Raff

15/26

We never did get an interview with Major Lazer, but it wasn't for lack of trying. After bumping into Riff Raff, onetime star of MTV reality show From G's to Gents, on the unoccupied stage that once regularly hosted the Academy Awards, the genial MC led us on a well-meaning goose chase that felt more like a trip down the rabbit hole. We learned that his new label boss Soulja Boy recently bought him a condo in L.A., and that he's about halfway done with an unannounced Diplo-produced LP. We also learned things like, shouted at the rafters, "Mona Lisa is ready! Oprah is going to do the opera!" and, as he popped his head into HARD's production offices, "You guys down with pilates? You on the Twitter? Okay, your email's good." Somehow after experiencing the Major Lazer live act, it all made sense.

16. Destructo

16/26

When we caught up with HARD founder Gary Richards (who spins head-crushing techno as Destructo) early in the fest, we had to ask: Any last-minute hitches? "Zero. Everything's chill," he replied coolly before pitching a weighty query back our way. "I was actually gonna have a beer. You want one?" Does he have any other pregame rituals? "Yeah, six months of planning. Now I'm just trying to get out of the promoter hat and get into the fun hat." By night two, he'd donned a different outfit entirely — the gray suit and red bowtie of Pee-wee Herman — and was as upbeat as the fictional show host on his way to the stage.

17. HARD's Version of 'Charlie's Angels'

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18. SBTRKT

18/26

19. HARDy Partiers

19/26

20. Ghosts in the Machine

20/26

21. Laidback Luke

21/26

22. The Most Festive Festival-Goers

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23. Pearson Sound

23/26

24. HARD's Version of 'Charlie's Angels' (Part II)

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25. Housemeister

25/26

26. Our Photographer Has No Boundaries

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