As the sunset, shadows of buildings crawled through the empty streets of downtown Phoenix on Sunday, transitioning the city from day to night, from weekend to work week.
You would never guess from the quiet and calm streets that the world's number one ranked DJ -- at least according to DJ Magazine (whatever that means) -- Hardwell, had landed in Civic Space Park.
The nearly three-acre park was gated off, and from the the outside looking in, was filled with the movement of 20-somethings dancing under laser lights and to the thump of a kick and snare.
Getting in was easy. The lines were short, there weren't any issues.
Upon entering attendees were immediately greeted by the RB Deep stage, which overlooked a grassy area where people were sitting and dancing. When I arrived Kill Frenzy was delivering groovy house beats that sent out relaxed Sunday vibes.
I was surprised to find that the crowd appeared to be more sober than not. Aside from the chick by the 21-and-over ID check who was passed out and being tended to by multiple paramedics, the crowd seemed to be in good spirits. It was only around 7 p.m., though.
Zeds Dead came on promptly at 7:30 with a blaring bass introduction that was hard to miss. The backdrop and the DJ booth were covered by digital screens that flickered visuals of space and mechanics between each bass kick. Laser lights shot out from the stage horizontally, cutting the space between the heads of the crowd and the sky. If you've listened to Zeds Dead's recent mix for Pete Tong's BBC Radio 1 show, the set was pretty similar to that. Zeds Dead played a lot of original music like "You Know" and "Collapse" along with a samples from Daft Punk, Deadmau5, Ca$ville, and Prodigy. Overall the set was solid and the crowd loved it.
After Zeds Dead played their final song for the night, there was some down time before Hardwell was ready to go. Heading back over to the RB Deep Stage I caught the tail end of Route 94's set, which seemed solid, although the bass on the stage was pretty overpowering and made it difficult to really hear the music.
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I had never seen Hardwell before and his set was exactly what I had always assumed it would be like, which isn't a good thing. He played his original music like "Eclipse" and popular crowd pleasers like Calvin Harris' "Control," but there was nothing extremely creative or mind-blowing that swept me off my feet. It was just the same sort of pop-house stuff that you hear everywhere. There was a point in the set that showed potential when he dropped the opening piano chords to "Still Dre" by Dr. Dre, but it was literally a build up of the song intro that was smashed down into some ridiculous drop that didn't fit with the song at all. The Chronic 2001 is a classic. Ifif DJs are going to attempt to remix the greats, they need to do it right or not at all.
After about 30 minutes of being unimpressed by Hardwell, I decided to go explore the festival grounds. I really dug the location for this event. Not only was it pretty clean for festival standards, the artistic architecture with the "Her Secret Is Patience" art installation hovering over the park, with a few different multi-colored light installations gave the event something unique. The grassy and sitting areas made the event comfortable.
Visit the next page for Critic's Notebook and more photos.
Last Night: Zeds Dead and Hardwell at Phoenix Lights festival
Overheard in the crowd: "Just put your hands by your sides and jump in one place! Keep jumping!"
Random Notebook Dump: This was one of the most friendly, good-vibed crowds I've experienced in a while. People were friendly, they looked clean and happy, said excuse me when they had to push through the crowd, were open to conversations -- this is one of the things I love most about raves.
Now for the negatives: the drink line and ID check process was confusing and caused a lot of people issues at the festival. Upon entering the event there was an ID check, which a lot of people assumed was the 21-and-over ID check. There weren't signs or any kind of guidance by the staff that said you had to go to a separate ID check area to get a wristband if you wanted to drink. So, people would get into a 40-minute alcohol line, only to find out that they couldn't get a drink without a wrist band, so they would have to leave the line, go wait in the other ID line, then come back and wait in the drink line again. This happened to a handful of people I encountered, and they weren't happy about it.
The event also ran out of beer around 7:30 p.m. which kind of sucked. Then the bartenders were removing the caps off of water bottles, because apparently the brand of water bottles they were serving had giant caps and people were throwing them on stage. Or at least that's what the bartender said, but this bartender also had a lot of issues when it came to counting. It's pretty hard to carry an open water bottle through crowds of people, especially if you want to dance. Setting down an open water bottle at a rave is also not the smartest thing.
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