So I started off Saturday night eagerly heading to L.A.'s Forum to attend the Underworld-headlined all-nighter, HardFest Summer. But the night ended unexpectedly early, with me even more eagerly fleeing in heels to my car--with Tiga and DJ AM in tow, baton-wielding riot police hollering in my face, and cop copters and bad vibes hovering in the air.
Yes, HardFest was hard, all right. As in difficult.
As has been widely and angrily reported, blogged, and tweeted all Sunday, HardFest was shut down Saturday night after only two acts, Busy P and Crystal Castles, had performed. (Click here to read Underworld's lengthy statement on what transpired.) Rumors have run rampant about the cause of the cancellation--from the gang-related shooting of Busy P (not true) to a 30-person overdose caused by cyanide-laced Ecstasy (also untrue). But what it really came down to was a simple (or perhaps complex) case of crowd control.
This of course begs the two-part question: 1) Why wasn't adequate security staff hired for a rave with a sold-out crowd of 17,000? And B) Why was a giant dance party booked at a seating-only stadium that normally hosts Coldplay concerts and sporting events? And perhaps this even leads to a third query: Did HardFest organizers really expect 17,000 ravers to remain quietly in their seats?
From my personal perspective, I should've known from the minute I approached the Forum that the evening would end in tears. Or possibly even in teargas. The event was quite amateurishly unorganized, with no one on the premises seeming to have any idea where the media check-in was (one photographer friend of mine was sent on a wild goose chase for his photo pass that included three different will call windows, none of which were holding his credentials). Additionally, multiple entrances were sealed off to the public due to lack of staffing, which meant the queues to get inside the venue were inexcusably long.
In defense of most of the attending HardFesters, the majority of the crowd behaved patiently and respectfully while waiting to get inside and get their groove on. But I'd barely gotten inside myself when I was nearly trampled in a stampede of impatient gatecrashers--all running from security inside the VIP area with such speed that for a swift second I thought there'd been a bomb threat or fire, and I actually started to run with them before I figured out what was going on. This is when I started to feel uneasy, realizing that tonight's disorganization wasn't just inconvenient or annoying but possibly quite dangerous, in an electro-Altamont sort of way.
The chaos continued when my friend, on assignment to interview Tiga, was unable to find his subject. No one backstage seemed to know where Tiga or his dressing room were, and staffers oddly advised us to just roam around aimlessly until we found him. Eventually we did locate Tiga in the stage wings--but that was when I started to feel even more skittish, because I noticed that Chromeo were just standing idly in the area, despite the fact that they'd been scheduled to play a half-hour earlier. It didn't seem like they were going to get on that stage any time soon, and the crowd was getting audibly, uncomfortably restless.
So we moved to a safer and quieter lounge area, where my friend had barely begun his Tiga interview when suddenly the Chromeo guys marched into the room noticeably purposefully, at racewalking treadmill speed, and started gathering their belongings. Uh-oh. I knew something was up.
Chromeo were closely trailed by a distraught-looking festival worker, who said to me, Tiga, and my friend in a borderline-whisper so as not to cause panic: "Please get out of here NOW. Do not run. Do not make a scene. Do not draw attention to yourselves. Just calmly leave. Now."
Apparently twitchy fans had started jumping down from the bleacher section, over barriers, and onto the Forum floor--and that, combined with the earlier gatecrashing incident I'd witnessed, was enough for the Fire Marshall to shut down the show over safety concerns. I could tell by the tone of the festival worker's voice (and the expressions on the exiting artists' faces) that this was serious, so I wasted no time obeying his command to get the hell out.
When I made it outside, a veritable army of Inglewood riot policemen, billyclubs at the ready, greeted me and the others leaving the building. My fight-or-flight instinct suddenly kicked in and without thinking I tried to zigzag across the parking lot to reach my car, but in doing so unintentionally crossed the cops' path. (Note to self: Do NOT get in the way of riot cops in the future.) The way the cops reacted (basically screaming in my face and calling me stupid) really, really scared me; it was probably the one moment of the evening when I was genuinely afraid for my personal safety, although ironically my fear was directed at the cops, not at the supposedly rioting ravers the cops were there to control.
In another one of the evening's many bizarre moments, DJ AM and Tiga then ran up to me asking if they could get a ride to their hotel, since their limo had understandably failed to show up. I said OK, but then they spotted a cab, practically threw themselves in front of it to hail it, and escaped unscathed. I didn't blame them one bit. Luckily I made it to my car safely soon after that, and as I drove away, my heartbeat steadied and slowed with each kilometer I successfully put between myself and the Forum.
In retrospect, it could have been much, much worse. Yes, the show was a massive disaster--Hard has posted on its website and Twitter page that full ticket refunds will be granted, and has hinted that there will be some sort of makeup event (um, no thanks, I think I'll skip that)--but from what I understand, most festivalgoers exited the venue in an orderly and non-rioting manner and no one was seriously injured. And while the party was over before it really even began, at least some ravers attempted to get the party restarted in the Forum parking lot:
It's just too bad that good vibes like the ones captured in the video above couldn't have existed INSIDE the Forum last night. Really, HardFest should not have been so damn hard.