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Hard, the California-based dance festival, has grown from a few thousand attendees at its first event in Los Angeles in 2007 to nearly 18,000 at its most recent party, in Inglewood, California. That event–which took place August 8–was closed down by authorities wary of unruliness and overcrowding. It was sold-out: dozens of people crashed a gate, rushed through the venue, and then climbed down a balcony to get the main-stage level. Several police agencies responded, and officers in riot gear eventually cleared out the venue.
But the Inglewood debacle was also evidence that the dance festival–which has featured acts like Justice, MSTRKRFT, A-Trak, Spank Rock, and Steve Aoki–has tapped a youth-quake of new audiences interested in electronic dance music that paints outside the lines of traditional, DJ-driven club genres. While most superstar DJs play linear, non-stop, beat-matched grooves that are typically confined to up-tempo genres such as trance, techno and house, a typical Hard act will perform live, mix hip-hop with electronic beats, or DJ different genres at different tempos.
As part of its expansion, promoter Gary Richards is bringing Hard to New York’s Terminal 5 on Saturday. The inaugural lineup includes Crookers, Major Lazer, Rusko, Jack Beats, and DJ Destructo (Richards himself). While New York is no stranger to the Hard phenomenon–Girls & Boys, a party with a similar musical focus, happens Fridays at Webster Hall–Richards hopes to put it all under one tent for the first time. A veteran of countless dance-floor trends, the 38-year-old DJ is a forefather of early-’90s, West Coast raves–he once threw an event at Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park– and he went on to work for Rick Rubin’s ill-fated 1990s techno venture. Richards eventually established his own nu electro record label, Nitrus Records, which has released music by New York’s Kill The Noise and U.K. act Whitey. We recently caught up with the promoter to ask him a few questions.
What inspired you to bring Hard to New York?
I’ve always wanted to do events in NYC, and now’s a good time. There’s room for us to do something different. Tickets are selling, and I think it will be sold out. I think people are ready for it.
What’s your capacity?
Terminal 5 holds 2,800 people. When we first planned to go out there a lot of people wanted it to be massive. I thought that, instead of risking so much money it would be smarter and keep it simple and cool–and if it goes well, try to grow it from there. Crookers and Jack Beats are staple artists for Hard. It would be cool to add a hip-hop or rock element to it some day.
So you’re in New York to stay?
We’re working with Bowery [Presents] and Terminal 5 to maybe do a couple smaller ones and then, maybe next year, try to do something on a larger scale. But we want to build it organically instead of coming in and saying we’re taking over. I’m still learning. We’re implementing our promotions team with fliers. It’s a little foreign to them, the way we do it in L.A.
In what way?
In New York the club scene is different–it’s more sophisticated bars and clubs. People in Manhattan go out after work. People in the city are used to going out. In L.A., thousands of kids come from San Diego and San Francisco. When I talked to these guys about passing out fliers for us in New York, they said they can get out five-, maybe ten-thousand fliers. We do that in a night in L.A. It’s a different mentality. The people in L.A., when they promote one of these things, it’s hardcore numbers. How we do it has been formulated over the years since the ’90s. New York is more word-of-mouth, cool-guy stuff. But we want to get people from outside of Manhattan. In New York it’s similar to L.A.–the cool, fashionista, celebrity people aren’t going to take our fliers. Other kids will be stoked, but we have to figure out how to get to them. Obviously Facebook and Twitter are important. In New York, it’s like an experiment for me.
Have you taken any measures to prevent the kind of shutdown and unruliness that happened at Hard Summer at the Forum in Inglewood?
The Terminal 5 people own their venue. And they’ve had Justice and Hot Chip there. They do shows there every night of the week. They run a tight ship. I’m following their lead. It’s not an arena show. It’s a club. They deal with this type of music all the time.
Did the Inglewood shutdown affect your plans down the line?
What we’re looking at is a million dollar loss. And it’s split in half between me and Bill Silva [Entertainment]. It came close to bankrupting me. I have the money to carry on. I’ve got myself set up to keep it going. I literally just wrote three thousand refund checks. Everyone’s getting them now. I’m upset that event got shut down, but the kids are still willing to come.
DJ AM was a Hard performer. Were you surprised about his death?
I was thinking about it. The last time everyone saw him was at Hard. I have a lot of great footage of him from last year. Maybe we’ll do something special for him. My brother passed away in 2004. I’m not a stranger to having something like that happen. It’s sad. For me, every time I saw him it was one of those things where it was like, ‘Hey man, want a drink?’ ‘No man, I don’t drink.’ I never in a million years thought he would die from something drug-related. With that you never beat it.
Are you taking on any major sponsors?
We haven’t really had any sponsors, barely at all. I feel like I don’t want people coming there getting brainwashed to buy some kind of car. That’s not what we’re trying to do. Then again, economics play into the whole thing. Nobody has come to us with a brand I really dug. The main people who always want to come and infiltrate are the energy drinks. The energy drinks are so disgusting: I’m personally anti that. We had Red Bull at one of our events, and they attacked it with like 40 cars and people with backpacks giving out drinks.
Do you have any special production elements planned for the Terminal 5 event?
I’m brining out an LED light wall. I’m doing a mini-slice of what we do in L.A. I’ve got my guy [VJ] Vello [Virkhaus] programming. It’s like mini-Hard festival instead of another show at Terminal 5. I’m kind of nervous. In New York, I don’t know what they’re going to be like. I assume it’s the same. I hope that it translates.
Is tapping into New York talent important to your brand in the city?
To have the New York DJs on the event with a five-act bill–there wasn’t much room. But I want to integrate them in the future. They definitely have their scene here.
Hard happens Saturday, October 10 with Crookers, Major Lazer, Rusko, Jack Beats and Destructo at Terminal 5, 610 W. 56th St., Manhattan. All ages. Doors at 9. Tickets $35 in advance. Info: hardfest.com