Review: Ideas flow at Hard Summer's wild sonic mashup

Electronic dance music is here to stay. What was once dismissed as the disco of the '90s has evolved through technology and a host of talented, determined DJs into a genre of music with as many subcategories as rock 'n' roll. That rich variety was on full display this past weekend at the annual Hard Summer festival, which attracted an estimated 70,000 electronic music fans over two days to L.A. State Historic Park in Chinatown.

The stand-out star Saturday night was L.A.'s own Flying Lotus, who best represented the flexible future of EDM with his performance-based set of fluid a cappella raps juxtaposed with hazy, jazz-fueled riffs and hypnotic beats. If EDM has an indie rock star, it's Flying Lotus, whose real name is Steven Ellison and whose great-aunt is jazz composer Alice Coltrane.

"Part of the reason I love L.A. so much is because it's home to the greatest musicians this world has ever seen," Ellison said as a giant screen behind him flashed a million purple points of light, like neurons firing in an overstimulated brain. "And I get the feeling I'm not the only musician here tonight. You guys are funky, right? We gonna prove it now."

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Then he launched into a psychedelic rap that would have been at home during a Snoop Dogg show (to whom he paid tribute late in the set with a synth-heavy cover of "What's My Name?").

Across the field, in what may as well have been a different universe, Australian electro house duo Knife Party played an Earth-scorching set of techno and dubstep ripped straight from a videogame soundtrack — beginning with the systematic, trance-like build that suddenly shattered into a feverish, thumping groove. The kind that drives dance fans wild, causing them to fly into the air like so many pacifier-sucking jack-in-the-boxes.

This is electronic dance music that hits all the right sonic taste buds — manufactured for popular consumption, like Doritos or Coca-Cola.

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It was a similar scene during Oliver's set as an enthusiastic crowd bounced to pleasingly predictable dance beats with surprisingly sharp edges. The duo cut things short, though, explaining later that night via Twitter, "We thought somebody was hurt. We love you guys! Stay safe people!"

The concern for crowd safety was a legitimate one at Hard Summer. A haze of pot smoke blanketed the field, and many attendees were in visibly altered states, delicately balanced between laughter and tears, and cradling each other's faces and bodies like sweaty newborn kittens in a very small box.

Also, if fashion is indicative of a crowd's state of mind, this was a group ready to let it all hang out.

Many young women wore nothing more than string bikinis, often paired with the festival footwear of choice: massive knee-high Wookie boots in shocking yellow and pink. Most men went topless, and some could be bothered to put on only leopard-print underwear. There was also the occasional Native American headdress in Rainbow Brite colors.

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However, despite the sporadic feral flare of aggression, Saturday's proceedings remained peaceful. As a hot, dusty day bled into a balmy night, and the lights of downtown flickered to life with City Hall's triangular peak serving as a discordantly civic backdrop, fans ran from stage to stage.

Disclosure, Dogblood, Julio Bashmore and TNGHT were Saturday highlights, while Def Jam recording artist 2 Chainz proved that if Daft Punk can go indie, rap can go electronic. EDM is crossing that final frontier and breaking down the stereotypical walls that once defined it. As it crisscrosses genres and incorporates influences as varied as jazz, power-pop, rap and even opera, it gathers the strength that can only be born of diversity.

Like Flying Lotus said, just before his speakers erupted in a wild sonic mashup: "Oh man, oh man, I got so many great ideas!"


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