HARD Summer finally happened Saturday, August 7th in L.A.’s State Historic Park. After the HARD LA date on July 17th was cancelled, many disappointed fans had to wait to get their HARD fix, and they had to be content with a new lineup of headliners. Official reasons for the cancellation and rescheduling are unknown, but some suspect that it was partly due to poor ticket sales and LA County’s recent establishment of a rave safety task force in response to the most recent Electric Daisy Carnival, where many were hospitalized and one fifteen year old girl died. HARD LA’s promoter, Gary Richards, a.k.a. Destructo, spoke to the L.A. Times saying, “We do not allow raves. Raves have a stigma attached to them.” The definition of ‘rave’ is, of course, totally unclear, and even at this concert, the onstage LED screen at a certain time asked, “Is this a rave?”
HARD Summer seemed to run quite smoothly. Props for not selling tickets through Ticketmaster. The staff and security did their job and didn’t get in the way, L.A.’s State Historic Park was a nice sized area to hold the festival, and the palm trees and downtown skyline made for a great backdrop behind the HARD stage. The crowd seemed genuinely excited and totally ready to have a great time, it was easy to talk to people, and someone taught me how to shuffle (look it up on YouTube if you don’t know it). Also, the sound was fantastic.
The HARDER stage was the smaller of the two, and the DJs there were generally spinning harder beats with more focus on transitions and builds, and less on catchy melodies. Sticky K was a crowd favorite early in the day and he closed his set with “We Love Animals”. He was pumped up to the crowd by Gaslamp Killer, who immediately followed with a set of his own. Far and away the best DJ showman of the entire festival, Gaslamp Killer’s long curly hair blew in the breeze while he enthusiastically pantomimed his own sounds with his hands and acted electrocuted by buzzing noises. His energy was very physical, and his music was equally intense.
Over on the HARD stage was Rory Phillips, playing to the early crowd. They were no less appreciative than the later crowd, only smaller. Though his stage presence was understated, he made an effective connection by treating his performance like an intimate club gig. Also, when he brought out his Polaroid camera to snap a shot of the audience, we all gave him big smiles. Another nice touch was his telephone that he used in place of the classic DJ single headphone for onstage monitoring.
Following Rory Phillips on the HARD stage was duo Theophilus London. The first frontman singer of the day, Theophilus commanded the stage in a Navy hat and jacket. They treated us to a preview of a brand new song that will be appearing on their upcoming album neither of which they gave titles for. The new song had a Grandmaster Flash vibe, and Theophilus’ live vocals were strong.
The HARDER stage continued to be less about pop accessibility and more about beats and transitions. Switch stood out in this way successfully pulling off some of the most complex metric modulations of the day. His style, besides that, was very classic. He let build after build after build grow to its zenith before letting that good ‘ol beat drop back in, and that’s exactly what the crowd was at the HARDER stage for. It felt like (dare I say it?) a ‘rave’, even though there were only a few people with huge pants on and pacifiers in their mouths, but beads and finger lights were still pretty popular. I regret that I missed out on getting a personal light show from one of the several neon finger gymnasts in the area. Are those things really what make it a ‘rave’? What is a ‘rave’ anyway? I ask you.
As Switch was serving up his U.K. beats, The Twelves, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, were spinning their concoctions of pop and electronic remixes from the main stage. Their sampling pulled from a tasteful range of well-known and obscure pop and electronic hits, which kept the audience in constant pop re-mix euphoria. Switch saved the big guns for towards the end of their set; Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” put the euphoria over the top.
Benga and Skream shared each other’s one hour set times on the HARDER stage. They both hyped the audience for each other, but had some trouble keeping the crowd engaged at this point in the late afternoon, as the people who had been there all day were probably in need of some rest and the newcomers filling out the grounds were just getting warmed up. But, Benga and Skream didn’t fail to garner great response with their better-known jams, “Dirty Face,” and “Paranoid.”
Meanwhile, house music veteran, Green Velvet, a.k.a. Cajmere, braved the late afternoon lull without breaking a sweat on the HARD stage in his white linen shirt and pants, a long way from his ‘90s electro punk look. He treated the audience to his 90s hit “Coffee Pot (It’s Time For The Percolator)”. Showing his appreciation and oneness with the crowd, he would occasionally let the music play itself and he would step out to dance for us, which the crowd loved. He also made a heart shape with his hands towards the fans. When it was time for Erol Alkan to take over, Green Velvet and he made a seamless transition. Erol Alkan continued to tastefully move out of Green Velvet’s style into his own, and his whole set took a big step up in energy when he closed with “Lemonade.” As his set ended, the sun set behind the Catholic church on the hill overlooking the park, the palm trees were silhouetted, and the L.A. heat was cooling down. It was all very California.
Diplo took the stage for his 7 p.m. set and unloaded his barrage of familiar remixes, but he didn’t seem quite content with the crowd’s energy. He was constantly trying to get the crowd pumped by asking those yelling questions like, “Are you ready to have some fun?!!!” His yelling didn’t seem all that necessary when he was playing music that most people knew and enjoyed.
One of the big treats of the night was Flying Lotus on the HARDER stage. An L.A. hometown hero, Flying Lotus brought an underground and experimental hip-hop element to his set that made him stand out from most of the other DJs. His friend Gaslamp Killer returned to introduce Flying Lotus and a few other DJs not so keen on showmanship.
Finally, one of the really big names of the night began their set on the main stage. Crystal Castles and their signature screaming vocal sounds was the first major event of the night. The big, circular lighting rig backdrop on the stage was finally unleashed in its full glory, and the video DJs on both stages started pulling out new tricks. Crystal Castles themselves were hardly visible on stage, and it seemed like more of a listening party with lights because they didn’t execute many clever transitions. They often just let silence transition them into the next song.
Back on the HARDER stage Tiga and Proxy both delivered great sets. Proxy was joined by go-go dancers with painted-on bikini tops dancing in front of the stage, but the real circus show of the night came from Major Lazer on the HARD stage. The Jamaican commando character, Major Lazer, dominated the stage and electrified the audience. He was flanked on either side by people in Chinese dragon suits. Unfortunately, they were cut off in the middle of their last song, “Hold the Line”, but Soulwax needed time to soundcheck their live instruments, the only live instruments of the night.
Digitalism wrapped up the night for the HARDER stage where the energy had been kept super high all day and night, and they carried the torch right to the end. On the HARD stage, after getting mic checked and all setup with drums, bass, and keyboards, Soulwax completely brought the house down and made the price of admission worth it if it was worth it at all. There’s something about a live snare sound that a drum machine can’t hope to achieve and vice versa. Soulwax uses both. There’s also an automatic visual excitement when multiple people play instruments live on stage. They took the opportunity with their hit “Another Excuse” to endear themselves to the L.A. crowd by singing “It’s just another excuse to come to L.A. to play for you guys!”