When most people think of youth-oriented music in Los Angeles, images of bands rocking the Sunset Strip come to mind. But increasingly, L.A. is garnering a reputation as America's epicenter of progressive dance music. Perhaps it is time to replace the drumsticks with glow sticks?
Last weekend, the 11th annual Monster Massive concert drew more than 40,000, according to promoters, to the area around the Los Angeles Sports Arena to see DJs such as German superstar Paul van Dyk. And in June, about 50,000 dance music fans swarmed the Coliseum and adjacent grounds to check out big-name house, techno and electro DJs from as far away as Italy at the annual Electric Daisy Carnival.
Though only a fraction of the size of those two events, tonight's inaugural Hard Haunted Mansion, another rave-style soiree, is maybe the hottest ticket in town on one of the year's biggest party nights. Held at the Shrine Expo Hall, it features acts such as the Parisian electro duo Justice, Soulwax from Belgium and Deadmau5 from Toronto.
Los Angeles "is one of the first cities that we embraced," e-mailed Xavier de Rosnay, one-half of Justice, a duo considered to be an heir to Daft Punk's throne among the hipsterati and the headliner at the Hard Haunted Mansion. (Justice also performed at the premiere of the semiannual Hard Festival on New Year's Eve last year.)
That Hard founder Gary Richards is even holding the event is a testament to his belief in L.A.'s enthusiasm for dance music. After all, the newcomer to the concert-producing scene lost money his first two times holding large-scale events.
"Since 1990, there has always been a burgeoning underground scene in L.A.," Richards, 37, said last week during a break from preparations. "People here are more open to this kind of music than probably anywhere else in the country."
Now it looks as if aggressive-sounding house and electro music -- with its noisy loops that prompt more head-banging than disco vamping from fans -- is crossing into the mainstream. Over the past five years especially, local promoters such as Go Ventures (which put on Monster Massive), Giant (the team behind the New Year's Eve party Giant Maximus in downtown L.A.) and Insomniac Productions (the Electric Daisy Carnival producers) are prospering.
Richards, a 15-year music industry veteran, wants a piece of that electronic music pie. The ex-general manager for XL Recordings USA said he is staking his life savings on the fledgling Hard brand. So far, so good: Tickets for tonight's concert have sold out -- more than 10,000, with many of them VIP tickets that went at more than $100 a pop.
"I've always liked rock, but I've also loved techno since I was young," Richards said. "These days, it's OK to like both. . . . People here are open to a combination of the two genres, which is what you have now with remixes."
Longtime KCRW-FM DJ Jason Bentley, one of the 20-plus DJs on the Hard bill, echoes the sentiment. "Los Angeles is also a very international city more welcoming of the currents of world music," he said Tuesday, before spinning at a packed Hollywood screening of a Soulwax documentary.
"I think the inherent optimism of a 'West Coast state of mind' has helped dance music thrive," Bentley added. "The opportunity for underground artists to take their message to a wider audience is real here."
Los Angeles' geographical position also helps; savvy promoters can lure fans from San Diego as well as San Francisco -- without much publicity other than Internet marketing and street teams passing out fliers.
"Festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival and Nocturnal kept things going," Urb magazine editor in chief Josh Glazer said Tuesday night at the Hollywood screening. Now, "the Hollywood hipster scene has discovered electro. . . . Suddenly 'rave' isn't a four-letter word anymore."
Hard Haunted Mansion
Where: Shrine Expo Hall, 649 W. Jefferson Blvd., L.A.
When: 8 tonight-4 a.m.
Price: $45-$130 (sold out)
Contact: (213) 748-5116, www.hardfest.com.