If you weren’t careful at this year’s HARD Summer Music Festival, located at the leviathan that is the Pomona Fairplex, then you probably missed a lot of cool stuff. Whether it was Jack Black dancing around onstage with Die Antwoord, Justin Bieber performing onstage with super duo Jack Ü or The Chemical Brothers blowing away the night with their state of the art visual performance; if you were diligent, then you caught some of the most incredible sets of this festival season.
“HARD Summer is a music festival, not a rave.” HARD founder/CEO Gary Richards, or Destructo, proclaimed the HARD Summer lineup trailer, and he was right. Though ravers will remain ravers, HARD had the audacity to transcend simply being a place for PLURholes to veg out to same House DJs, moreover since it’s conception, HARD has nodded not so mainstream artists, regardless of genre, and cultivate the most exciting lineups that coalesce different music scenes into one of the greatest musical outings Southern California will ever have.
Booking artists like Peaches, Soulwax, Bloc Party, Squarepusher or Bootsy Collins in the past caught my attention, this year’s cross pollination had me all in. The stages and festival Ferris wheel, though canonical in a sense, negate the saccharine love and pretty colors ethos of other “rave” events. Though the outing in Vegas has quantity, this marvelous festival has quality. I’ve been attending HARD events since before the 18 and over rule was implemented nearly nationwide and watched the eight year old company evolve from barely legal parties to city sized festivals that work with Los Angeles County to provide the largest music festival the county has ever known.
With over 65,000 people in attendance each day this year, a smorgasbord of great artists and ALL OF THE GRILLED CHEESES! HARD Summer was a success. Each day I was astounded by the diversity of the crowd, be it the meathead bro’s more ready for the gym than the dance floor, the scantily clad girls and boys abandoning decency for passing eyes, the goths, or ironic goths perhaps, and older concert goers who found something they like, blasting the stereotype of “a young person’s event”. Running around and capturing all of the best moments of HARD Summer I could, it was madness, but possibly the best festival experience I have ever taken on.
Both days saw incredible DJ sets, including the Australian tour de force Nina Las Vegas, who gave easily the most exciting mix of the first day, and the vinyl meets digital reverie that was Jamie xx’s set for the second day. Incendiary live performances from rappers like The Weeknd, whose crowd was a sweaty morass of thousands (which makes sense if you have “the song of the summer” and Tom Cruise lip syncing to said song), Rae Sremmurd, whose crowd was an even sweatier pack of sardines and Fetty Wap delivering an electrifying, but unfortunately curtailed performance.
Or live electronic music from Aussie beat maestros Hermitude (you’ll notice a trend in my coverage about the Australian takeover), Canadian Indie Electronic hero Dan Snaith, also known as Caribou, performing in a tight circle with his band while garbed in a white ensemble or Chemical Brothers punctuating the end of the first night with their signature live show, which featured colorful visuals in perfect sync with improvised music.
The Chem Bros, who released the stunning Born in the Echoes this past month which has garnered many accolades, including recently topping the UK charts, remind the young HARD attendees who didn’t go to star DJ and scene jokester Dillon Francis’ HARD (or main) stage performance that they are still a force to be reckon with, not with hubris or showy pretension, but instead with a once in a lifetime performance that transfixed true fans and newcomers alike with it’s sheer size and masterful coordination.
Sometimes it pays off to not see the obvious headliners, not discredit Dillon, whose impressed me countless times in the past three years at HARD Summer, or Skrillex and Diplo’s party project Jack Ü, though I caught a bit of the second night’s closer set, which was an exercise in getting a massive crowd to zonk out to bass driven tunes, I spent the remainder of the night watching Electro Rock duo Ratatat power through their great new record Magnifique, including it’s singles “Cream on Chrome” and “Abrasive” along with their classics like “Loud Pipes” and “Wildcat.” I haven’t seen Ratatat since HARD Summer 2011 and was just as excited with their set here as I was four years ago.
Whether I was jumping around to the G House meets Techno party that was Destructo, whose pineapple themed stage, wild mixing and kickass originals prove that he is the boss in more ways than one. Or I was getting down low to the cerebral techno of electro wunderkind Boys Noize’s mix along with the other great DJs performing on his BNR label focused stage on Sunday, there was a lot of music to take on.
Though I’m sure burgeoning producer Jauz killed it, French artist Mr. Oizo blew away the stage with his eccentric yet exciting mix. Sacrifices were made, with these many great artists scheduled together you had to pick and choose, or catch a portion of one to traverse the festival grounds for the other. But with whatever I saw, I was not disappointed.
Many standouts of the first day include Mija, whose down and dirty bass output rattled the crowd earlier on, plus Drum and Bass wielding Frenchmen Dirtyphonics turned their early time into a wild bass explosion for the rapidly filling crowd. Griz and Big Gigantic both bringing their tenor sax driven future funk on this day also got a great portion of the attendees to boogie down, I only hope to see both acts more often to give me my much needed dose of Funk amongst all the thumps and synths, plus beat music thaumaturge Cashmere Cat stepping in for an absent Brodinski, who had difficulties getting into the country for his stateside shows, was a real treat atop my five cheese grilled cheese.
Special guest DJ Snake brought a thumping trap meets house set in his not too inconspicuous time slot and Detroit Techno legend Kevin Saunderson gave a booming set to remember on the Pink stage, also seeing Tchami, who dressed as a real McCoy anointing his jam packed crowd with the gospel of Future House on the HARD stage was unexpectedly great, but it was the Chemical Brothers closing, playing their new music along with seminal numbers like “Galvanize”, “Do it Again” and closing with a hyperkinetic rendition of my personal favorite, “Block Rockin’ Beats.”
After hours of great music… and a Duck confit infused grilled cheese ($17, go me), I can easily say impressed me and ensured that the following day would not fail to deliver either.
Which it most certainly didn’t, between masked newcomer Slow Magic’s percussive show and the clangy beats of Mr. Carmack, the second day offered as much great music as the last, between interviewing great artists and running to catch as much as I could, there never was a lull of no music, catching a bit of Chromeo’s set induced some fancy footwork or shaking it all off to What So Not’s deep down low bass set kept the fun going into the night.
Jack U surprised me with their wild mix that hyped what could’ve been half of the HARD attendance beyond the threshold, bringing out guests including Justin Bieber and a walking Febreze bottle, this could’ve been laughed off for how ridiculous it was but Diplo and Skrillex know how to put on a show.
Though it was Ratatat, and a bacon and Mac n’ Cheese grilled cheese (it was from the Grilled Cheese Truck, how could I not?) that ended my night, and my HARD Summer 2015. Having attended HARD for a long time I can see with this year’s outing that the only direction for the event company is up.
My only hang ups lie in the attendance, but for every five douchebags toting offensive, sexist or transphobic signs there was one nice person I could chat with about all the great music happening around us. Which can be reflective of HARD itself, if dialogue was unabashedly positive within the festival, highlighting the good more so than the bad we all have at festivals, then you can say that HARD did the job right. What could’ve been an overcrowded hodgepodge of music was actually the best thing to happen to live music in California this year, in the parlance of our times, that s**t was fire.
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