This past weekend, I experienced my second EDM festival, HARD’s Day of the Dead, at Pomona Fairplex (a change from the festival’s usual spot at Los Angeles State Historic Park), and while my first “rave” experience was a whimsical descent into Wonderland, HARD emphasized the production value and performances rather than atmosphere while showcasing some of the most talented DJs in the world.

After reading Marcus Slater’s review of HARD’s unbelievable summer festival, I couldn’t wait to experience HARD Day of the Dead. HARD is working towards making their festivals a daytime celebration (the performances ended at 11pm), but the party really got going after the sun went down. The neon sugar skulls dotting the arena lit up and the stages radiated light as the beats echoed throughout all corners of the festival grounds.

In order to best cover HARD Day of the Dead’s two-day, five-stage, one-hundred-plus-acts festival extravaganza, I’ll be taking a page from the Lesley Park Guide to Covering Fests by handing out my personalized awards. Read on and let me know in the comments if you agree!

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Most Impressive Stage:

The production value was sky-high for all five stages, but the jaw-dropping main HARD stage, a giant Mayan temple structure rising out of the ground, was something you had to see to believe. The giant screens flanking the stage rotated between Day of the Dead-themed images, like dancing skeletons, and shots of the exuberant audience members.

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Biggest Breakout Performance:

My new favorites ODESZA drew a huge crowd for their closing set despite playing against some of the festival’s biggest headliners. They spun several tracks off this year’s In Return and ended the set with their dreamy remix of ZHU’s “Faded.” Their chillwave EDM was the perfect way to wind down day one, and the packed room meant these up-and-comers are getting the recognition they deserve.

Largest Firework Show:

Zedd’s set featured his pop-heavy house remixes of familiar hits, including “Stay The Night,” “Rude,” and “Clarity,” but it was the combination of incredible music, pillars of smoke, flames, and fireworks that left audience members in awe. His progressive house tracks featured perfectly-placed bass and synth drops, and the headliner unquestionably earned his top-billing spot.

Jean-Rémi LetaPhoto by Jean-Rémi Leta

Best Album Preview:

Almost every DJ debuted new songs, but the macabre headliners Knife Party announced their set would be an “album preview” showcasing their upcoming release Abandon Ship (a treat for fans as the release date has been delayed to November 24th). Surrounded by giant screens in every direction, Gareth McGrillen (no sight of the other half of Knife Party, Rob Swire) looked like he was performing from atop a haunted house, fitting since he also played several tracks off their Haunted House EP.

Best Battle:

Deadmau5 vs. Swedish DJ Eric Prydz was one of the most highly anticipated sets of the event, and the performance did not disappoint. This collaboration between two of the most-respected progressive house and techno DJs was epic, but if it were truly a battle, Deadmau5 reigned supreme when the powerful opening synth of “Ghosts and Stuff” made the audience go wild, and his remix of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” perfectly fit the Halloween-themed festival.

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Best Live Set:

Big name Pretty Lights did an excellent job with his live set on day one of HARD. His sample-heavy music combined with his signature hip-hop and soul influences perfectly fit the high energy of fans in the pit.

Most Eclectic Set:

Big Gigantic was a new discovery for me, and their trippy, neon-themed set drew me in like a moth to a flame. What set them apart, however, was their “livetronica” element as Dominic Lalli performed live saxophone solos and Jeremy Salken remained on the drum kit playing over their heavy synth beats during the duo’s remixes of “Move Your Body,” “Touch the Sky,” “Let Me See Your Hip Swing,” and Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us.”

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