This past May, fresh entertainment’s Hardstyle Arena got some buzz when they threw their first full-throttle hardstyle event in Los Angeles. Their debut included hardstyle superstars like Gunz For Hire , DJ Adaro, Evil Activites , Audiofreq, Max Enforcer along with two rising LA talents Lost boy and Andrew Lee.
I didn’t know whether to believe the hype surrounding the genre’s recent boom. In the last few months the buzz around hardstyle’s “next big thing” status in America’s already-exploding dance music scene went from gentle murmurs to a deafening shout (if you’re listening in the right places). Even I haven’t been immune to the excitement.
But how much of this sudden surge in popularity is the result of a grassroots rave moment that’s finally embracing hardstyle’s kick-in-the-face beats? And how much of it stems from a top-down effort by pot-bellied executives and sharp promoters to ignite a new dance craze—and reap the resulting profits? So when I made my pilgrimage to this unholy temple of hardstyle last May, the first question I needed to answer was… who the hell is really listening to hardstyle, anyway?
At 10PM on Friday night, I strapped on my hardiest sneakers and headed for the Club Nokia – located at LA Live new entertainment hub in downtown LA.
Once inside, I slouched against a wall and scribbled in my notebook, feeling like a total loser. Aside from a few accidental kicks from wild-eyed gurners who were shuffling like insane horses, I was largely ignored.
After about 30 min or so, a group ravers introduced themselves to me by their rave names—amazing monikers like Gvokx and Moonchild Von Roqq and Saturn and Huggy Bear—and I don’t think I ever called any of them by anything else for the rest of the night. They invited me to stick with them for the rest of the evening, an invitation I gratefully accepted like a new kid latching on to the cool crew at rave school. I quickly went from outcast loner to being friends with everyone. We couldn’t walk for more than five minutes without stopping to talk to other patches of humans covered head-to-toe in neon beads.
Then the final act of the night, Evil Activites veteran duo Gunz For Hire, were already on stage. “As we go into the last hour, INCREASING BPM.” Each drum kick felt like it was punching my sleep-deprived brain. I was wide-awake, riding on this sonic Adderall, and suddenly, something snapped. I stopped being the po-faced underground music head smirking at the earnest cheesiness around me. Now I was dancing harder than I’ve danced in a really fucking long time.
Look, I used to be a raver, and then I grew up. I remember thinking my “rave family” was everything—now I don’t know if half of them are even alive. My nights spent thrashing around deserted spaces became dinner party stories. My kandi collected dust. And until recently, I was okay with all that stuff being a “phase” remembered with a mix of fondness and embarrassment. But in a flurry of confetti and lasers and plastic baggies of unidentifiable substances, this night was bringing it all back.
After what felt like mere minutes, the show was over and my newfound friends were heading to an after-party a 30-minute drive away. After less than a second of deliberation, I decided my flight the next morning could go fuck itself, and climbed into the car with them. On the way, we blasted a happy hardcore mix—music I haven’t listened to in years—before arriving at our destination: a deserted apartment complex in the middle of nowhere. Apparently, my happy-go-lucky friends had gotten the address from some random kid who was probably too fried to get his facts right.
Turning right around, we sped back to my hotel room, where we spent the next three hours giving each other light shows and bonding with the kind of uninhibited largesse you feel with strangers you’ll probably never see again in your life. With each unsolicited massage, I felt the cynicism I’d developed in the years since I put down my glowsticks gently eroding. For one night, these affable kandi kids were my new BFFs. For one night, I didn’t need to know about their addictions, their flaws, or their day jobs. For one night, I felt a deep sense of human connection that restored my belief that raving can be more than just… doing a shit ton of drugs and partying. For one night, I touched the rave utopian ideal—and it touched me right back.
Also, I got some pretty sweet new kandi cuffs. Be sure to catch the next edition of the hardstyle arena check on: www.hardstylearena.com.