It's a Tuesday afternoon in early spring, and Ha Hau is sitting in his office at the Triad Dragons headquarters at 1235 Elati Street. He and his crew are in the planning stages of this year's Global Dance Festival. As dance music plays in the background on satellite radio, he instructs his team of interns, "Pull up that new Krewella song, and let me know what you think." (The song in question, "Killin' It," is now in regular rotation on the radio, and Krewella is playing this weekend's Global Dance Festival on opening night. Apparently the interns liked what they heard.)
Global Dance Festival is the biggest dance-music event of the year. What was launched more than a dozen years ago by KTCL as Rave on the Rocks and later came to be known as the Weekend of E has since evolved into a three-day electronic festival. Hau, the founder and owner of Triad Dragons and Global Dance Music, has helped establish the template for how these sorts of electronic festivals are produced. The focus of Global Dance Festival, as it is now known, the thing that's made it a such dominant force, both in Colorado and nationally, is providing the best dance music in the world to EDM fans.
Global Dance Festival
Global Dance Festival 2012
With Steve Angello, Wolfgang Gartner, Excision and more, 5 p.m. Friday, July 20, through Sunday, July 22, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, $69 (plus fees), 303-830-8497.
It's this mission and philosophy specifically that helped keep the festival going nearly a decade ago when Hau and his partners, Kostas Kouremenos (aka Ecotek) and John Le (aka DJ Dragon), considered pulling the plug. In 2003, the second year after they took over, attendance just wasn't meeting their expectations. Rather than folding, however, the Triad crew realized that to keep it going they simply had to become more invested. "We agreed to put 150 percent into this attempt," reveals Hau, "which meant putting the biggest names in electronic music on the lineup." The big names they had in mind were Paul Oakenfold and Deep Dish, who were added as the main headliners. It proved to be the right move: Attendance doubled from the year before. And that got the snowball rolling, ultimately turning Global Dance Festival into the largest electronic-music event in the state.
Things weren't always so peachy for Hau and company. Early on, Triad Dragons endured its share of obstacles associated with the passing of the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act (also known as the RAVE Act). Sneakily attached to the Amber Alert Act in 2003, the legislation created major hurdles for promoters, essentially making them liable if there was even the remotest chance of illegal substances being used at their events, and threatening fines of upwards of $250,000 if law enforcement officials found prevalent drug use, or even suspected that the promoters had prior knowledge of such illicit activity.
"The RAVE Act started in New Orleans — 'The Crack House Law,' or whatever they called it," notes Hau. "And they made it very hard for promoters to throw events, because it allows for law enforcement to confiscate everything." Forced to be resourceful, Hau and his crew had to rely on trial-and-error techniques to find the right venues to present their events.
"Was it unfair?" he asks rhetorically, then answers, "Yes, I think it was unfair. Luckily, everything I did was within legal parameters, and I believe I was the first promoter to hire a team of lawyers to help me with my events. I wanted to make sure I was doing everything legally."
Just the same, Hau didn't completely escape the wrath of the RAVE Act. One particular event he threw in Greeley early on in his career — Kinetix, featuring ATB, a rather popular artist touring at the time — was shut down almost immediately after it started, and Hau was issued a ticket. Upon arriving at the courthouse to deal with the citation, however, he discovered that the ticket was never filed properly, and they couldn't even find a record of the issuance.
Needless to say, Hau's come a long way since then and even longer since first immigrating to this country from Vietnam in the early '80s. Hau says his family came to America for the same reason many other Vietnamese families do — for the chance at a better life. The whole time he's been here, Hau's draw to music has always been strong. But it was his friendship with DJ Dragon, whom he met in high school, that eventually exposed him to the party scene. "DJ Micro was one of the first artists I saw," Hau recalls. "And a few months later, I booked him at the Root in Boulder, which was my first show." That inaugural outing drew a crowd of roughly 800, which eventually led Hau to where he is today.
Besides Global Dance Festival, Hau's Triad Dragons also produces the Caffeine Music Festival, Skylab, Hallowfreaknween, Trancegiving and the most recent addition, Decadence New Year's Eve, which attracted approximately 10,000 attendees in 2011. Constantly raising the bar, Hau strives to ensure that no one leaves disappointed. By merging Triad Dragons with his Global Dance Music label, he's created an unstoppable force, consistently catering to Denver's dancing masses — especially this year. "We tried something different this year," notes Hau, "and really paid attention to what the people were saying on Facebook."
As a result, this year's three-day lineup format, which was introduced last year to meet the demands of the ever-growing spectrum of electronic music, is slightly different. Whereas last year's opening day featured Empire of the Sun, Kid Cudi and Big Gigantic, GDF will not be straying quite as far this time around. This year, the main stage — which has seen Deadmau5, Skrillex, Kaskade and Pendulum previously — will feature Steve Angello, Excision and Above and Beyond, as well as locals Project Aspect, Human Agency, Ishe and Dirtmonkey, a roster that represents Hau's attempt to introduce similar styles to like-minded dance music fans. Always ahead of the curve, Hau and the Global Dance Music brand introduced Global Dub Festival earlier this year, and they're dedicating the final day of this year's three-day event to the bass-music craze.
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But it's not just the lineup that Hau and company have taken greater care with this year; they've also paid close attention to the visual aspect of the production. Along with the staging — the strobes, LED panels and occasional special headliner setup — organizers have enlisted a team of entertainers led by renowned go-go dancer Ms. Easy that has been charged with the job of crowd engagement. "What we are bringing to the show," she says, "is an aesthetic element that DJs just don't have."
Ms. Easy, who has attended and danced at Global since 2004, is bringing more than thirty go-go dancers to work for the duration of the event. "There is this sound — this vibe — coming to every show," she observes, "and so promoters want to step up the visuals with LED panels, lasers, and strobes, but they are also stepping it up with people like us."
Now's the perfect time to step it up. Global is the biggest dance event of the year — smack dab in the middle of a summer concert season dominated by EDM — and its popularity is reflective of the current takeover of dance music on the airwaves. The means to that end have been building for nearly two decades, cresting with a wave of fresh talent that's surging on the currents of early pioneers and purveyors of the genre, such as Above and Beyond, Paul Oakenfold and DJ Tiësto.
Across the globe, dance music is finally mainstream — and nobody is probably more surprised by this fact than Hau, who concludes, "I never thought in a million years this is what I would be doing."