HARD Summer Recap

Ultimately, it was all about the dancing, and perhaps LA dub DJ favorite Gaslamp Killer put it best during his standout Saturday night set when he advised the crowd that, “If you aren’t moving right now, you’re f*cking dead.”

They were moving. It was essentially impossible not to for the 35 hours that was HARD Summer, the fifth incarnation of the annual electronic music festival by longtime LA nightlife impresario Gary Richards (aka DJ Destructo) and his crew at HARD, the Los Angeles-based production company also responsible for the longstanding HARD Haunted Mansion and the electro-party cruise Holy Ship!, among other national events.

HARD Summer went down on August 3-4 at the Los Angeles State Historic Park in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood and featured four stages on which an immaculately curated lineup of EDM heavies including Skrillex, Boys Noize, Bloc Party, A-Trak, Dillon Francis, Zedd, Nero, Datsik, AarabMuzik, Alvin Risk, and DJ sets by James Murphy, Bloody Beetroots and Chromeo thrilled a 50,000 person plus crowd with two days worth of massively energetic sets held together by an ethos of heavy sonic aggression rooted in big volume and deep bass.

The all star EDM lineup was complimented by a slew of non-electro acts including indie rock outfits Miike Snow and Little Dragon, rap punk Danny Brown and funk legend Bootsy Collins, making for a weekend showcase that was simultaneously eclectic and cohesive in terms of top shelf quality and each act’s willingness to throw down hard (or, uh, HARD) regardless of what genre they were representing.

The festival marked HARD’s first event since the announcement of the company’s acquisition by international concert and ticketing conglomerate LiveNation, and the all-around setup certainly felt high-level in terms of organization and execution, with airport-style security teams extensively searching each attendee upon entry while narcotics dogs paced nearby.

The substantial safety effort paid off, as the crowd was pleasant, enthusiastic and more or less polite under the watchful eye of omnipresent security. Despite the overt aggressiveness of the music it featured, the festival’s overall vibe was fundamentally friendly, even during at the most hectic bass drop moments on the dance floor. Moving through the crowd was consistently easy and it was rarely difficult to get into a bathroom or near the stage during any given show. Festival kids were even seen inviting people dancing solo to come and kick it with their group, so no one had to dance alone.

Warm weather on both days meant festival style bordering on flesh parade and a large percentage of the ethnically diverse crowd came dressed (and undressed) in all varieties of rave wear including the ubiquitous furry boots and tutus along with fairy wings, fangs, fluorescent contact lenses, and at least one elaborate chicken costume.

“The electronic dance movement is about a culture where we can all come together and be whatever we really are and let that inner freak come out,” said a young guy from Chico, California who would identify himself only as the Cat in the Hat. “It’s important to know that we’re not just a bunch of kids getting messed up on drugs.”

Impeccable sound at each stage (two tents, two outdoor) upped the output from youth movement heroes including Alvin Risk, Datsik, Zedd and Dillon Francis, whose Saturday night show was one of the weekend’s best attended. Donning a suit and smiling for much of the set, Francis thrilled the hometown crowd with his signature moombahton before Zedd came onstage and wrapped the night in the OWSLA tent with a body vibrating showing that ended just as Skrillex got to work closing out the festival on the mainstage. This performance, classic Skrillex digital shit storm complete with vaguely nightmarish ADD-influenced visuals, sent the crowd into spasms of bass/noise-induced ecstasy from the front row all the way to the back of the park. No surprise there.

Other fest highlights included loud sound electro tinged rock from Miike Snow, a prolific set of chopped and screwed dub from AarabMuzik, the ever-infectious disco pop stylings of Chromeo, A-Trak, who closed the Fool’s Gold tent on Friday and threw down an early evening show the next day on the main stage, and a DJ set from a relaxed looking James Murphy.

Overall, the weekend’s vibe was tight without feeling totalitarian, fun, uncompromised in its coolness and fresh in terms of featuring the best of EDM’s new generation while maintaining the heavy as a brick dance sound style that has rightfully elevated HARD to a worldwide brand.

Photos by Brittany Nelson

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