By Dennis Romero
Behind every youth quake is a veterano who anticipated where things were going. Rock 'n' roll had Sam Phillips, who was 31 when Elvis broke; punk rock had Malcolm McClaren; and rave culture had Tony Wilson of the Hacienda (and, locally, Swedish Egil).
At Hard's Haunted Mansion, DJ AM kicked out an entire Daft Punk set.
Gary Richards was barely in his 20s when he started raving and promoting his own parties in the early 1990s, including a groundbreaking, 17,000-plus event, K-RAVE '93, at Knott's Berry Farm. Today he's one of the founding fathers of a new scene, nu electro, that blends rave's all-night euphoria with indie rock's punky colors. The popularity of acts such as Justice, MSTRKRFT and Simian Mobile Disco in Los Angeles can be attributed, at least in part, to Richards' work over the last two years. His “Hard” parties put top nu electro acts in a festival atmosphere for the 18-and-up crowd.
As recently as last year Richards, 38, admitted his endeavors were break-even propositions, and that a turnout of 5,000 was a good day. On August 8 he's moving his annual HARD Summer event to The Forum in Inglewood to take advantage of a 15,000-plus capacity. His last few events have topped the 10,000-attendance mark, and he's expanding to New York with a HARD event scheduled for October.
We asked him about his summer party.
LA Weekly: After holding events at the Shrine, what's behind your move to the Forum?
Gary Richards: I love the Shrine, but in all honesty the Shrine was not built for 15,000 people. It's built for 5,000, 6,000 people at the Expo Hall. The Forum is really built for a show for that many people. At the Shrine, if all 15,000 people went to the stage where Justice was playing, the party would be over. We had to have Justice, Boys Noize, and Deadmau5 on at the same time so there wouldn't be overcrowding. The last Halloween show we planed to do 10,000, then we expanded it to 15,000. This one we planned for the larger number right off the bat. The scene is definitely growing. I wish we could find places even bigger. There are not a lot of places in the city you can go till 4 a.m. with 15,000 people. In '91 I never thought in my wildest dreams I'd be doing an event at The Forum. I used to watch the Lakers play there.
With Underworld, you're adding somewhat of an old school act to a new school lineup.
I've always loved Underworld and I felt it would be good to change it up a little and try to get some people into Hard, people who were into what we were doing back in the day. A lot of people who wouldn't normally go to Hard are coming to see Underworld. I'm trying to expand the audience a bit. To me it's just all good electronic dance music. If you're an Underworld fan from '92, 85 percent of our bill you've probably never heard of. I think it's going to work out.
What did you think of the big numbers (a claimed 135,000 people over two days) at Electric Daisy Carnival in L.A. last month?
For me it was pretty overwhelming to see that many people in the Coliseum. It's hard for me to process the whole thing. I give full props to [organizer] Pasquale [Rotella]. It was a sea of people. Props to the city. It was like the Us Festival.
They tapped into your crowd a little.
Definitely. They had a stage that had a lot of first timers for them – Simian Mobile Disco, Boys Noize, DJ AM – that are mainstays for us.
What acts at Hard Summer excite you?
Jack Beats. Sinden. Amanda Blank – her new album's awesome. I'm glad we got her. I'm always psyched for Crookers and Chromeo. It's a full-rounded night of partying. I always try to grab what would make for the best party.
Does nu electro show any signs of waning?
We're veterans, old timers now. For the most part, I feel like I've seen this movie before. Maybe it peaked out with the numbers Pasquale has done. I know for me, our plan is to stay focused on key, quality music. If we stay focused on talent then our scene will always stay. In the early '90s, and in the late '90s, it got cheesed out. For me, I learned a lesson to stay focused, not try to do huge numbers, and let the people come to us.
You're expanding to New York.
New York – October 10th. When I went to Austin for South by Southwest, people were always like, You gotta' bring Hard to our city. I thought New York is the biggest city. So we looked at a bunch of venues and found a good partner with the Bowery and Terminal 5. A lot of people want me to make this the biggest thing ever. To me that's not what this is about. If it's 500 or 5,000 people, it's going off with cool people getting into it. So let's do something kind of small and just kill it. We booked a good lineup with Crookers, Major Lazer, Rusko, Jack Beats and me. Tickets are moving.
You've brought back your early '90s nom de DJ, Destructo, and have been playing out. How's that going?
After all these years I got a booking agent to book Destructo. After 18 years! I recently played in Pomona and Santa Barbara last week. I'm going to start getting out there. DJing this music is just in me. I get to see what's going on out there.
Hard Summer featuring Underworld, Chromeo, A-Trak, Tiga, Amanda Blank and more happens August 8 at The Forum, 3900 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood. 18+. Doors at 8 p.m. Advance tickets: $65. Info: hardfest.com.