One hot week­end

Hard fes­ti­val pro­moter’s swan song is bit­ter­sweet

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Au­gust Brown

To­ward the end of Dog Blood’s main-stage set Sun­day at Hard Sum­mer, the pro­ducer Skrillex — half of the dance-mu­sic duo — climbed on top of his DJ rig and rat­tled off the names of his best friends in the “Hard fam­ily.” His shout-outs to DJ pals earned po­lite ap­plause, but when he screamed the name “Gary Richards,” the crowd howled in ap­proval.

Sun­day was Richards’ last day on the field of his sig­na­ture two-day fes­ti­val as the face of Hard, as the event will re­main the full prop­erty of pow­er­house Los An­ge­les-based pro­moter Live Na­tion when Richards leaves the com­pany he founded. This week­end’s show marked the 10th an­niver­sary of Hard Events, which de­buted with a New Year’s Eve per­for­mance in 2007.

Since then, Richards has played an out­sized role in the pub­lic iden­tity of the fes­ti­val. While other pro­mot­ers like Gold­en­voice’s Paul Tol­lett and Elec­tric Daisy Car­ni­val’s Pasquale Rotella aim to stay more or less be­hind the scenes, Richards of­ten DJ’s as Destructo dur­ing the shows and reigns over the an­nual Holy Ship cruise fes­ti­val like a home­com­ing king.

Fans re­spect his vi­sion — a pi­o­neer­ing blend of EDM, hiphop and the many sub-scenes where they in­ter­min­gle. But they also just like him.

So what’s the fu­ture of Hard with­out him?

News of Richards’ de­par­ture changed the tim­bre of pretty much ev­ery­thing hap­pen­ing at

Hard, from fans’ con­ver­sa­tions on the Glen He­len Am­phithe­ater lawn to the nos­tal­gia-tinted headline set from Snoop Dogg per­form­ing his land­mark 1993 solo de­but, “Dog­gystyle.”

Some fans mulled boy­cotts of fu­ture Hard shows — on so­cial me­dia, fans roasted Live Na­tion with threats of “#NoGaryNoShip” in ref­er­ence to the 2018 cruise, which is al­ready sold out — while oth­ers looked for­ward to his next project (Hard rep­re­sen­ta­tives would not con­firm it, but Richards is widely be­lieved to be headed to LiveStyle, a re­vived firm from the once-bank­rupt pro­moter SFX En­ter­tain­ment).

Dur­ing his own mid­day set, the 46-year-old Richards toted out his young kids on­stage, and as cor­po­ra­te­owned-fes­ti­val-be­he­moth mo­ments go, it was sweet and un­guarded.

Hard has earned — and de­served — pub­lic scru­tiny. Last year, three young fans died af­ter at­tend­ing the fest, then held at Auto Club Speed­way near Fon­tana. All three at­ten­dees died of Ec­stasy over­doses, the San Bernardino County coroner ruled late last year.

What’s more, Hard has changed lo­ca­tion five times in as many years, a re­sult of rapid growth and skep­ti­cism from L.A. County su­per­vi­sors that the events are worth the risks. While fans have shown a will­ing­ness to schlep ever-far­ther east, their pa­tience won’t be in­fi­nite (and the traf­fic snarls com­ing out of Glen He­len were in­deed frus­trat­ing this year).

But watch­ing Richards’ on­stage fam­ily scene, it was clear why his fans keep com­ing out to Hard Sum­mer.

In con­trast to Hard’s more pun­ish­ing past lo­ca­tions, the green lawns and shade (and sec­ond-stage swim­ming pool) at Glen He­len were rel­a­tively bu­colic. Not quite on the level of the Gold­en­voice-pro­moted Coachella Val­ley Mu­sic and Arts Fes­ti­val, but closer than Hard has got­ten yet. It seemed to pay off. As of Monday morn­ing, no deaths were re­ported at the fes­ti­val, al­though there were 107 ar­rests and 19 hos­pi­tal­iza­tions over the two days, ac­cord­ing to state­ments from the San Bernardino County Sher­iff ’s Depart­ment.

Also, the week­end’s 80,000 two-day at­ten­dance es­ti­mate was no­tably down from last year’s es­ti­mated at­ten­dance of 147,000.

Still, the lineup was one of the best Hard has booked, mak­ing strides in look­ing more like its young, di­verse au­di­ence. On Sun­day, the bill sported Bri­tish grime from JME (Satur­day had grime su­per­star Skepta) and fe­male-driven ex­per­i­men­tal club mu­sic from Madam X, Uni­iqu3, J. Ph­lip and Louisaaah: artists ex­actly on the pulse of mu­sic right now.

Tinashe was a par­tic­u­lar pow­er­house. At a fes­ti­val mainly driven by DJs, the R&B singer’s strong vo­cals and stage pres­ence twisted the mu­si­cal threads at Hard into some­thing essen­tial. While Mi­gos felt over­ex­posed af­ter end­less Coachella cameos, Tinashe’s show felt as­cen­dant.

But with Richards’ de­par­ture hang­ing in the air, it was hard to get a read on what the fu­ture may hold. The ele­giac mood sneaked into Dog Blood’s rau­cous set, even as the act, fea­tur­ing dance giants Skrillex and Boys Noize, turned tracks like Ken­drick La­mar’s “Hum­ble” into apoc­a­lyp­tic bangers. Vibey sets from Float­ing Points and Claude VonStroke were hip enough to cross over into L.A.’s ware­house-party scene, but in its new era, it may be tougher for Hard to thread the nee­dle of main­stream ap­peal and un­der­ground cred­i­bil­ity.

Snoop Dogg’s set was al­ways in­tended to be a look back, but as he worked through “Mur­der Was the Case” and “Ain’t No Fun,” the Long Beach na­tive’s fond re­visit of a clas­sic al­bum seemed to match the fans’ pin­ing for more in­no­cent times.

Hard has al­ways booked clas­sic rap — its first event sported 2 Live Crew near the top of the bill — but as the fest moves on from Richards’ idio­syn­cra­sies, one won­ders if that el­e­ment will re­main.

There must be a weird feel­ing in Richards’ house right now, as he watches Live Na­tion sort out what to do with a scene he al­most sin­gle-hand­edly helped build.

Will fans re­turn to Hard out of habit or are de­fec­tions afoot? Time will tell if Hard Events’ ship is big enough to run with­out its cap­tain.

Pho­to­graphs by Jenna Schoene­feld

TINASHE turns in a mem­o­rable set Sun­day at the Hard Sum­mer fes­ti­val at Glen He­len Am­phithe­ater in San Bernardino.

A MEM­BER of the fes­ti­val-jump­ing rap group Mi­gos prowls the stage dur­ing a Sun­day set at the two-day event, which drew some 80,000 fans.

SNOOP DOGG took fans all the way back to 1993 with a spir­ited, songby-song per­for­mance of his mega-smash de­but al­bum, “Dog­gystyle.”

Pho­to­graphs by Jenna Schoene­feld

CLAS­SIC RAP, a main­stay in past Hard fest tal­ent line­ups un­der out­go­ing pro­moter Gary Richards, was well rep­re­sented by Long Beach rap­per Snoop Dogg.

THE CROWD gets caught up in Snoop Dogg’s strong per­for­mance on Sun­day.

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