Almost without question, Ultra Music Festival now dominates the American dance festival scene. But Los Angeles' Hard may be the next big event brand to rise to the top.
What started as a bunch of one-off West Coast events has become a traveling series of mini-fests for young and wild revelers. There's even a Hard party at sea, the Holy Ship! cruise, whose 2013 edition is already sold out.
Unsurprisingly, one of the most anticipated gatherings on the Hard calendar is its Winter Music Conference party, which has swelled this year into a two-night stand at Grand Central. And as the name implies, this party isn't a thing of subtlety. It's about sweating all night and losing your mind.
Here are some essential acts to catch at Hard Miami 2012.
Wednesday, March 21: Miami Moombahton Massive
The past couple of years Winter Music Conference/Miami Music Week/whatever were all about charting the rise and then dominance of dubstep. This year marks the coronation of moombahton, that midtempo, vaguely tropical style with enough low-end for the underground heads but enough danceable rhythms for a wider audience.
Reigning over this event is Diplo, whose tastemaking label, Mad Decent, also co-sponsors the evening. The Florida native is fresh off a Grammy nominations for his work on Chris Brown's "Look At Me Now." But this doesn't mean he's "sold out." Rather, Diplo is one of the few artists who rides massive commercial and underground success simultaneously, in large part because he has a talent for scouring the globe and uncovering the new sounds everyone else will be into a year later. He's been big-upping moombahton since it was invented, and his selection of tracks this night will be encyclopedic, just like they are for every other genre.
Speaking of moombahton's invention, no moombahton party is complete without its creator, Dave Nada. Of course, the legend of the genre is that Nada created it on the fly while DJing a teen cousin's party by slowing down the Afrojack remix of Silvio Ecomo and DJ Chuckie's "Moombah." So if anyone can single-handedly change the direction of the genre, it's Mr. Nada.
Rounding out Moombahton Massive's biggest names is Dillon Francis, something of a Skrillex protege, signed to the dubstepper's label, OWSLA. Plus, Miami-bred DJ Craze reps our city, whose subtropical climate is the perfect setting for moombahton.
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Thursday, March 22: The Main Event
If there was ever a signature Hard sound, it's a kind of pounding, youthful, four-four electro-house, and the kings of those circles dutifully return this evening. Among the biggest names here is Boys Noize, the pseudonym of German producer Alex Ridha. While he's moved away from the chainsaw basslines of the late '00s, his sound now has become even more stimulated, trading subtlety for the kinds of high-BPMs that make the peak hours go off.
He's also joined in top billing by Busy P, the man responsible for the entire wave of Ed Banger Records artists and all those who tried to imitate them. His sets are known for crossing a wide span of genres, and it's been a while since h's released his own material, so with any luck, maybe he'll pull out a new track or two during this set.
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Fellow Frenchman Brodinski, meanwhile, brings a flavor much more influenced by hip-hop and U.K. bass music. Some of the slightly lesser-known names here include Gesaffelstein, yet another Parisian whose best tracks are dirty, dark, manically robotic late-night techno. As always, more "special guests" are expected, and with the week in full swing and only a night to go before Ultra, that almost guarantees another mega-huge name under cover. You'll have to last through the wee hours and go hard to find out.
Hard and Mad Decent Present Miami Moombahton Massive. 10 p.m. Wednesday, March 21 at Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Tickets cost $30. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-377-2277 or visit grandcentralmiami.com.
Hard Miami. 10 p.m. Thursday March 22 at Grand Central. Tickets cost $30. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-377-2277 or visit grandcentralmiami.com.