I’ve never been a hardstyle fan. I just don’t get it. So at EDC, I stick to every other stage besides wasteLAND. This year, though, I wondered if maybe my distaste for the genre was a little unfair. If I can go from grooving to Alan Fitzpatrick at neonGARDEN to throwing down for Griz at bassPOD to having an emotional epiphany at cosmicMEADOW for Porter Robinson, then why shouldn’t I try to show some love for the thumping bassline of Gunz 4 Hire at wasteLAND?
This year, I went on a mission. I wanted to understand what everyone raging at wasteLAND understood—to hear the music as they heard it. Maybe I’d even become a convert myself.
The wasteLAND stage is, like every stage at EDC, an impressive piece of art to see. Themed as an Egyptian apocalypse, the semicircular space traps the vibe of the stage inside. That, plus the fact that the music played here is more hardcore than anything else at the Speedway, gives the arena the feeling that you’re in a festival within a festival, or at least in a fairly sequestered pocket of a mega-fest. The stage design, with its giant DJ-booth-enveloping scarab lit up brightly at night, helped that feeling along by giving the space the look of an end-of-the-world party.
When I first headed over to wasteLAND on day two, Gunz 4 Hire was delivering an onslaught of loud and consistently metered kick drums to a headbanging, fist-pumping crowd. It was hard to focus on anything but that kick drum. The melody, even the rest of the bassline, was lost on me. The duo’s theatrical branding and a song with lyrics taken from Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn didn’t help me take them seriously. What I did appreciate, though, was their stamina, and the stamina of everyone going 110 percent on the dancefloor.
Gunz 4 Hire ended, and wasteLAND immediately shifted into the domain of Netherlands hardstyle DJ Radical Redemption. Over his own similarly thumping kick drum, he shouted, “Imagine this was your last day on earth and this was your last party!” It was a line meant to push the crowd to enjoy the moment to the fullest, but it got me thinking: Personally, if I knew I were going to go out, I’d want to do it to something with a groove to it. My ideal soundtrack to the apocalypse would probably be something like Green Velvet or J. Phlip. But if that apocalypse wasn’t inevitable—if we could put up a fight and maybe not go down after all—then hardstyle seemed like a prudent pregame.
After Radical Redemption, I took a break from hardstyle for the night; my own stamina is not up to wasteLAND standards, and I desperately needed a Red Bull. On day three, I made the stage my destination again—this time for Gammer, who I’d heard was a little more palatable for newbies to the genre. His happy hardcore remixes of more mainstream tracks (including Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child” and Porter Robinson’s “Sad Machine”) were still intense, but they offered me a way into the nuances of hardcore music. These were melodies I knew well, had internalized, and could sing in my sleep. Suddenly, the kick drum didn’t seem so aggressive anymore. It was, after all, just part of the beat.
In the midst of this, I turned to the guy dancing rowdily to my left. Craig, 30, was here only because of a friend who’d told him that Gammer was a set to see this weekend. “This is my first time at wasteLAND this weekend,” Craig said. “I usually hang out at circuitGROUNDS or quantumVALLEY. But my friend loves Gammer, so I figured I’d check him out. So far, he’s incredible. To be honest, I like hardstyle if I’m hitting it real hard at the gym and sometimes at festivals, but normally for live music or just my everyday listening, I listen to trance. I find that a little mellower. But when I’m out at a festival like this and I have my CamelBak on, it’s great to just go hard for a little bit.”
I could see Craig’s point. When you’re looking to lose yourself, dancing to great music is one of the best ways to do it. Hardstyle and other hardcore genres give you a steady beat to dance to, and you probably don’t stand too much of a risk of crying, like you would at a Porter Robinson set (judging by the lack of dry eyes in the crowd at cosmicMEADOW on day two). In terms of getting out of your own head and enjoying the moment, hardstyle is undoubtedly a good pick. I might not be a total convert, but at least I have a better understanding of hardstyle fans—and a few new artists to add to my playlist rotation.