As midnight approached, a large video screen behind the main stage of downtown L.A.'s Giant Village began to count down the few remaining seconds of 2002. Thousands crammed onto Flower Street -- yelling, whistling and releasing balloons as they counted down with the screen. All the while, British DJ Danny Howells, who was joined onstage by fellow DJs Paul van Dyk and Tall Paul, kept a furious array of synthesizer grooves going. A few minutes after midnight, as hundreds of white balloons descended from the rooftop of the Standard Hotel onto Flower, Howells cued up Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street." If that all-important song selection, what to play at midnight, was the DJs chance to shine, midnight, and all the pomp and pageantry that comes with it, belonged to the nearly 10,000 fans in attendance.
Live, the best dance music enhances a concert-going experience without intruding on its patrons. That axiom could be applied to the nine-hour Giant Village New Year's Eve show, which featured DJ sets from Howells, Crystal Method, Mark Farina, Van Dyk, Luke Fair and more.
Held on the tree-lined 500 block of Flower Street, which was closed off for the night, the event had an air of subtlety that served it well. A huge Ferris wheel in the middle of the street was bookended by two stages of live music. Giant, the promoters that began the New Year's Eve shows on Hollywood Boulevard two years ago and moved last year to the Sports Arena and Coliseum grounds, recognized that less was more this year. The location created much of the mood and beauty. Downtown provided a perfect backdrop, with the skyline reminding fans they were in a city.
As one attendee put it, "You felt like you were in Times Square without actually being there."
The promoters also went for quality over quantity in assembling the talent for the two stages and gave the artists a chance to shine. In addition, there was a sold-out VIP event held on the rooftop of the Standard that featured DJ Colette, Jason Bentley, Rebecca Sin and Sol.
But on the street, everyone was allotted at least two hours, which gave the DJs time to find their groove and fans a chance to connect with the mix-masters. And the diverse lineup offered nice contrasts in styles.
A perfect example was around 1 a.m. On the smaller stage, the popular group Crystal Method was just finishing up an effective DJ set, which they closed with their own hit "Busy Child." Farina followed, launching immediately into a house-music set propelled by soulful female vocals and repetitious keyboard beats. Just steps away, fans were sucked into Howells' electric mix of progressive synthesizer hooks and bongo-rich beats.
The event, though tapering off a bit, continued to feel the residual from the midnight high and the arrival of Van Dyk a little after 1:30. Making his third appearance at the Giant New Year's show, he delivered a largely trance set well-suited to the open-air setting.
Just as everything else associated with Giant Village on this night, his closing spot was perfectly planned and executed.