The Trauma Harder Styles tour lived up to the "traumatic" part of its name this past Saturday (February 27) in Brooklyn—but not in the way that its promoters and attendees had intended. The two-week tour, a collaboration between Los Angeles-based promoter Trauma Live and Dutch label/booking agency RIGE, advertised itself on its Facebook event page as being the first major hard dance tour in recent United States history, bringing the genre's most respected DJs from Europe to American soil, many for the first time.
Hardcore dance music originated in the 90s Dutch rave scene, and has since splintered into sub-genres like hardstyle, gabber, and speedcore—all marked by heavily distorted percussion, whiplash-inducing tempos, and aggressive, industrial mayhem. Pioneering Dutch collective Rotterdam Terror Corps, hardstyle mainstay The Prophet, and Frenchcore heavyweight Dr. Peacock were among more than 15 headliners set to play seven shows across the US. But the anticipated event imploded on its final date when many headliners unexpectedly refused to perform, leaving many hard dance heads disappointed and concerned about the viability of the beloved but relatively niche genre in America.
The growing popularity of hard dance in America has so far been fueled by Netherlands-based powerhouse hardstyle promoter Q-Dance, which has been partnering with major dance music festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival, Mysteryland, and Tomorrowland since 2012 to dedicate entire stages to the genre. In 2013, European hardstyle stars Headhunterz and Coone were both signed to major labels—Ultra and Dim Mak respectively; Headhunterz has also worked with the likes of Krewella and Flosstradamus. Despite these industry efforts and optimistic media coverage, however, the genre has yet to achieve mainstream acceptance. The Trauma Harder Styles Tour was an opportunity to see whether it could finally break through to a larger US audience.
Starting at 10 PM on Saturday night, hardcore heads started crowding into Verboten in anticipation of an epic party, hugging each other and dancing wildly to opening act Deadly Buda's pounding Rawstyle set. Their high spirits were considerably dampened when an MC walked onstage at 11 PM and informed the room that many of the international headliners would not be playing because "the IRS caught word of this tour and a lot of the artists with visas are not going to be rocking with us."
Disbelief filled the crowd, followed by audible grumbles of "Bullshit," "What the fuck? and "Typical New York." The MC then promised that some of the acts on the lineup, like Italian DJ Stefanie and New York's Rob Gee and Lenny Dee, would still be playing.
Trouble for the tour had been brewing since the week before, when one of the original Brooklyn headliners, Italian DJ Alien T (AKA Marco Collini), announced that he would no longer be playing on several dates. Writing on his Facebook artist page on February 19, Collini blamed "organizational problems caused by the promoter" for why he dropped out.
Following the headliners' no-shows at Verboten on Saturday night, the Facebook event page exploded with anger and disbelief from fans, many of whom had traveled long distances for the show. "Flew from Texas and drove five hours to hear some Frenchcore. What kind of 'legal' shit is this?" wrote one Facebook user. "No freaking way. I flew from Mexico for this. You guys messed it up. Big time," wrote another.
Later that night at 11:23 PM, George Ruseler, the frontman for Rotterdam Terror Corps and owner of RIGE Entertainment—who acted as a partner and talent buyer for the tour—posted an apology on the event page, but provided a different explanation for the artists' absence. Instead of visa issues, Ruseler vaguely blamed a contractual dispute:
"Dear Fans, I'm very sorry to announce that I won't be performing tonight at Trauma Harder Styles Tour at Verboten Brooklyn NY due to a breach of contract. My apologies to the fans that wanted to see me tonight but it's completely out of my hands. I really hope to see you another time on a different event, ciao!"
When asked by THUMP over email to provide more information about the cancellations, Trauma Live's President Kari Lambou criticized RIGE of financial mismanagement that had led to losses for his company in excess of $300,000.
According to Lambou, Trauma Live gave RIGE over $100,000 to pay for the artists' booking fees and plane tickets, among other costs. However, Lambou claims that RIGE failed to provide them with artist contracts and receipts for expenses in return. Instead, RIGE submitted a spreadsheet of their costs, with numbers Lambou says they could have made up.
"Three weeks before the tour was to start, we still did not receive the full contract from RIGE. It was at this point that we became very suspicious of their activities," Lambou told THUMP. "All we asked for is proof of where the money went that we gave RIGE. When [they] refused to produce these documents, we refused to pay the final $5,000 owed to them." He added that the company's attorneys are now looking into options for recovering their financial losses. (Asked to respond to these allegations, RIGE's George Ruseler reiterated in a brief email that "breach of contract" was the reason for the cancellation and declined to speak further.)
As the result of an argument that exploded several hours before the Brooklyn show, many of the headliners sided with RIGE through staying in their hotel rooms in New York instead of showing up at the club. Rob Gee was an exception—and ended up as one of the night's highlights. One of the original hardcore residents at New York's legendary (and now defunct) club Limelight, Gee played every stop on the tour and vouched for Trauma Live's treatment of the artists in a telephone interview with THUMP.
"[Trauma Live] put us in AEG venues," Gee said, referring to large venues owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group like the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. Gee praised the promoter's willingness to invest in a niche genre that is only recently gaining more acceptance in the mainstream electronic dance community. "[Lambou] didn't have to do that, but he wanted to make a statement. No one does that for hardcore... I had no issue."
For Gee, the saddest part about the dispute was that the international artists missed a chance to play for what he thought was the best audience out of the tour's seven stops. "As far as crowd energy and attendance and vibe, [the final] night was the best night of the tour," he said. "I wish the other artists had gotten to experience Brooklyn, because Brooklyn was fucking rocking last night."
While the Trauma Harder Styles tour may have ended in bickering and disappointment, a DJ on the lineup, Joel Bevacqua AKA Deadly Buda, is optimistic that the future could still hold a hardcore resurgence in the US. "It might not have been a financial success, but from a fan standpoint and the future of hardcore [in the US], those last six dates have been incredible," Bevacqua told THUMP during the event at Verboten.
Video by Evan Lewis
However, Lambou lamented that the fracas would likely deter Trauma Live from throwing similar hard dance events. "Trauma put everything we have into the idea of building hardcore techno in North America," he said. "We feel betrayed by hardcore and would not likely invest in the scene again."
Local promoter and events producer Jennifer Lyon, co-founder of the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival and founder of MeanRed Productions, echoed Lambou's sentiments. Lyon believes the Trauma Harder Styles tour faced steep odds for success—and its disappointing ending might have a detrimental effect on the genre's chance at gaining a wider audience. "A lot of us [promoters] hold hope for hardstyle, myself included," Lyon told THUMP over email. "I think the cards were stacked against [the tour] here in NYC—it's a very niche genre, with a dedicated but minimal fanbase."
The impact of the headliners' cancellation, said Lyon, is that fans and supporters seeing the scene struggle may have concerns about the viability of the genre. For hard dance to flourish in New York and America, said Lyon, "we need to nurture [it] in nightclubs and support."
Trauma Live has since promised on the Facebook event page to refund tickets until Wednesday for disappointed fans. Meanwhile, many of the attendees' negative comments have since been deleted from the page.
Ultimately, promoters and artists invested in growing the American hard dance scene might do well to put their differences aside for the greater good. As Bevacqua told THUMP while standing under the club's strobing lights, "I really hope that they all work it out because it means a lot to the fans. Sometimes the artists and promoters get so wrapped up in themselves that they forget how it important it is to that kid and the $40 he paid for the ticket."
Daniel Rodriguez is on Twitter