As per usual, I’m posting my Esquire column here with extra sauce (ie. pictures and blah). By all means go check it at Esquire itself and give it a likey if you likey…
I remember raving. The early days of house. Or at least that’s what we called it back then. Now it’s “EDM”, a poppy little acronym for texters. Or worse still “electronica” which sounds like a section of SkyMall, the one with the clock radios.
Whatever it’s called, LA’s mad for it. It took a while for the States to catch onto what started in London and Manchester and random fields in the Midlands. But the oil tanker has now turned. DJ’s are making Celine Dion money with Vegas residencies. The dance tent at Coachella is a beast. And this weekend, at the Hard Day of the Dead festival in downtown LA, I’m knocking around with 70,000 punters on a 32 acre lot, jumping about to the likes of Deadmaus, Skrillex and Jamie Jones.
“I was going to do a Halloween thing,” says the promoter Gary Richards, who founded the festival. “But that was too oversubscribed. So I thought fuck it, just do Day of the Dead. It’s two days later. People have already got their costumes.”
And their makeup, Gary. Here he is now with a couple of his dancers, the Sugar Skull girls I think they’re called.
Gary’s a veteran of the dance scene. A proverbial “nice Jewish boy” from a music business family, he started running warehouse parties in the early 90s, trying to recreate the Hacienda here on the left coast. Rick Rubin sent him to explore the rave scene in England. He signed XL records to Interscope. There isn’t anyone he doesn’t know in dance music. But still, the going was tough.
“We were fifteen years too early,” he says. “It was all about grunge and Nirvana then. Nothing jumped off. My dad was on at me, like – give up techno, you need to find something with lyrics.”
But now look. This festival is $6 million of proof that Gary’s instincts were true. Hard proof (see what I did there?) Because now he’s up on the stage as DJ Destructo, looking at an ocean of bobble heads, against a backdrop of downtown’s skyscrapers, poking up like cigarettes in a packet, the sunset bursting through the gaps. Gary’s dad’s back stage taking pictures with his friends. His wife and kids are there holding signs – “Go hard Dad!”
This is how it is now for the old school ravers. A family scene, a business. Room for a couple of cocktails maybe, but nothing crazy. The comfort of golf carts and backstage catering.
I head out to the festival proper, where the kids are all dressed up and bopping in the dirt. I want to feed off their energy, feel the euphoria of the early days. I remember raves in England as chemical frenzies, all sweat and gurning, shaking water bottles and hugging strangers. The music was new then, the drugs too.
But now, EDM’s radio friendly. Deadmaus is a nostalgia act. And the crowd’s remarkably well behaved, friendly in that American way, not the throng of marauding bro’s you might expect. I’ve often felt that the lid doesn’t come off in the States quite so quickly, though when it does it rather explodes. In England, as I remember, the lid was never properly on in the first place.
We attempt a bit of a dance to Jamie Jones, but I’m just not the nipper I was. A bit chilly in this T-shirt, truth be told, even though the girls are walking around in nothing but gussets and bras. So at the merch stand, I ask the fogey question – “what’s the warmest thing you’ve got?”
And now, I’m in a Skrillex jacket, marveling at the dilated pupils around me and the vogue for glo-in-the-dark gloves – all the better to make silly swirly shapes with your hands.
But here I am thinking I’m the old one, when Giorgio Moroder comes on, a proper veteran. He’s in his 70s bless him, and going a bit deaf. But there he is anyway, on the decks, playing some power gay version of “Love to Love You Baby”. Every time he gets a bit confused, a guy next to him pops up and directs him to the right buttons to push.
And that’s all it takes. The beat builds to a climax until Grandpa Giorgio points his crinkled finger at the sky, and we all know what’s next. The drop works like a natural law – the hands go in the air, the crowd whoops and leaps… And I wonder if anything’s really changed in the last twenty years after all.
Then I bump into this guy.