by Danielle Desmond

(Photo Credit: Piper Ferguson) 

If you haven't heard of Gary Richards or HARD, you're old, extremely dislike dance music, or live under a rock. Los Angeles-based duo Gladiator professed to us that Gary Richards is "THE MAN" in a recent interview. Richards, 43, is the Godfather of American dance music and the brain behind HARD Events, the world-renowned event and festival company recognized for putting together festivals with a focus on superior music, such as HARD SUMMER, HARD Day of the Dead and the three-day electronic music cruise HOLY SHIP! 

Known onstage as Destructo for 20-some yearswhen he's not in the studio creating music that challenges itself– new sounds like what he's calling "G-House," a hybrid of deep house grooves and smooth rap flows, – launching music careers, and overall is a very inspiring individual who has an exceptional ear for great music. He also is married and has two children. 

I've been captivated by Richards since the very beginning of HARD, and his knack for artist discovery and development. Quite frankly, he's single-most reason I got sucked into the crazy world of dance music. Justice, MSTRKRFT, Crystal Castles, Crookers, even deadmau5 - Richards, put them on the map. He brought Bromance to the U.S. and coined "EDC," producing the first two events, before he passed the torch to Pasquale Rotella in 1997. Not to brag, but he's also been listed on Rolling Stone's "50 Most Important People in EDM" list more than once.   
HARD Summer, one of music festival season's most successful and most sought-after events, put together by Richards went down this weekend on the left coast and was yet another one for the books. Club Planet spoke to Richards by phone and picked his brain regarding the principles HARD stands by to uphold an ongoing reputation of good music, the importance of working with the cities, police departments and fire departments to make sure his festivals go off without a hitch, and his recent performance at Electric Forest.

You were at Electric Forest so let's just start there. What was a personal highlight at Electric Forest this year?

GR: Just the setting and the location itself. There seemed liked there were very good vibes at that festival. I had a great set and then cruised through with the promoters of the festival…and meeting people and the view. The setting. I think the number one most important thing about a festival is the location. Being in a know the way they did the lighting especially along the trees, that's what I try to do with my festivals. For some reason a lot of people focus on the stages, which is great, but we're in a park, get the trees lit up man!! A lot of people in production who do concerts, they can't really get their head around like lighting up trees, it's a weird concept. Trying to get power out there… I don't know. The Electric Forest people have that down to a science though– props to them.

Do you know if there's a recording of the set?

GR: No, unfortunately I don't think anyone recorded it. A lot of the time you don't know what to expect.

I just showed up and I played after MK – that's a really good time to play for me. He's an awesome DJ and we compliment each other very well. He kind of had the “sunset set” and I got to play a lot of my new shit – a lot of my new edits and new stuff I've been working on; I think it just worked out really well. Made me feel good…. I just played in Paris Saturday night and the guys before me were playing dark, dark, dark, crazy-heavy techno, and the place was going crazy –I was like ‘ah fuck how am I going to do this.’ I know of a little DJ trick though so I can clean it up and then go right into what I'm into. I kind of dug into my shit and went ‘Ok what do I have that can match this?’ So I started off and it was like – my God, heavy techno and then transitioned into again, kind of like what I played at Electric Forest – and they were going nuts. But you never know how fans are going to react –like if I play Drake right now or what. You got to know how to kind of ease that stuff in there.

Where do you see festival culture in the U.S. going?

GR: I don't know that's a good question. I can only speak really for the one I do, but I think the key is to keep it fresh and keep challenging ourselves as producers, to make them [producers] better and bring better music constantly. You can’t just sit back and be like, ‘Ok, well we're selling tickets so we can just kick back.’ I think when we sell a lot of tickets and people are giving you their money, you want to challenge yourself to make it better and keep trying to one up the one from last year. It's funny because I always talk to my crew about it and we always laugh; because just like looking at the lineup, we’re like ‘Holy God, this is the best stuff, it’s going to be the best time,’ and how are we going to make it even better? We always manage to do it. I don't know how, it's hard work.

How has has your role at HARD Events changed since being acquired by Live Nation?

GR: I definitely have a way bigger infrastructure around me and a team of people to help that are way more than my little core group of people that have been with me at HARD for years and years. The biggest way my role has changed is that don’t have to deal with the logistics of the festival so much– so the traffic management plan, the entrances, the search, the police, the city and fire department – all those things that are critical for a festival; the basic, basic things of running a festival that you just have to have down to a science or you are screwed. This is all run by the people at Live Nation that have been doing this for a living for years and years and years; they are amazing and do such a great job. 

So it allows me to do other things. That’s all I was really focused on for so long because I didn’t have anyone solid enough to do that for me. I had to do it myself because nobody cared like I did about it. It started to weigh on me… meeting after meeting after meeting, but you know you gotta do it, and I did a good job. They respect us and I respect them. But now I have people that this is what they’ve been doing for 30 years, so I let them do their job. 

Has the identity of HARD changed since the deal with Live Nation? 

GR: No, I’m making sure that my job is to keep HARD, HARD. The fact that they handle those things and I can work more on marketing, and the music, and the booking, and all the things that keep it [HARD] cool. They let me do whatever I want to do. They’ve never come in and said ‘well you can’t book this person’ or ‘you can’t do that’– it’s always, ‘how can we help?’ With Live Nation, it’s been a great way to expand and do things better, again– ‘How can we help, how can we make it better?’ 

Also, its not my own money, which helps too. Every move I was making before could have affected my own assets, my children's' college etc. Now I can relax a little bit. If this thing doesn’t work perfectly, I’m not going to be homeless. It gives you a little more of confidence to take some risks, to do some cooler things, to do some bigger things, and this really has seemed to pay off for us. And they [Live Nation] make the event better. There were definitely times when I was running the festival, that there were some things I just couldn’t afford that I had to skimp on, and now I can afford those little extras that people might not even notice, but make the event better. 

What kind of preparation goes into orchestrating HARD, like what point are you at now?  (Note: The interview was conducted a couple of weeks before the big event) 

GR: It’s crunch time now… we’re three weeks away. Just the final planning with the city, the final picking of where everything is going to be – like all the stages, getting the information out to the public about transportation, where to park, the set times, just everything. Next week we load in and start building. It’s game on now. 

Going back in time a bit to the first couple of HARD events, how did you you get certain artists involved from the beginning? Like Justice, Crystal Castles etc. Were they friends? 

GR: The first show when Justice played…well it’s kind of interesting because I booked them and didn’t know them. But then I met Xavier… I was at somewhere in downtown LA. We were at a party and everyone was trying to leave and get a cab. I managed to get a cab and I saw him, he was with a girl, but I was like ‘hey dude, get in the cab, I’ll give you a ride.’  I said like ‘Hey, I’m Gary, I booked you to play New Year’s Eve’… and he was like ‘oh wow, thank you,’ and then we kind of hit it off. 

Even with Crystal Castles too, I just kind of booked them so early on. It was still in that phase of like ‘ah thanks for thanks for booking me, thanks for bringing me to LA,’ but I was like ‘thanks for making great fucking music!’ We all kind of came up together and now we’re all buddies. 

A lot of it just came from having them come play the show. A lot of times, like I was telling you with Electric Forest, you don’t know what to expect. I think back then, a lot of people went to go play shows, (shows weren’t that big then and there wasn’t that many people at them). People in Europe hated coming to America because the shows always sucked since there would be no crowd. I know how that is now, being a traveling DJ - like you fly 10 hours and you get somewhere…it happened to me in Berlin, there were like eight people at the club, and you want to kill someone. It kind of got around, if you are playing in LA, go play for this guy Gary, he knows what he’s doing. So I prided myself, like every time when it was Erol Alkan or 2 Many DJ's, where they came to me and they played a great show. I could effectively put together show after show after show. Besides the fact of making money and having really great shows, you get a relationship going with these guys and they trust you. It’s been like eight years now and I think it has worked out really well.  

How do you differentiate your DJ life vs. festival owner and producer life. How do you manage it all? 

The roles all kind of go hand and hand and work together. Being a festival owner and a DJ, they help each other because most people who do what I do with the festival, don’t know the music like I know it. It helps the festival because if James Murphy wants to play, but he’s nervous because people don’t know how to set up the Vinyl. He doesn’t play festivals a lot of times because of problems with the gears and stuff. I was like ‘Look, I’ll meet you at sound check. I’ll bring my turn tables from my house and I’ll set the shit up for you personally.’ We met down there and played some records together. Taking just that extra step of being a DJ helps me understand what everyone is going through at the event-to get through it…not just throwing people in a trailer and being like ‘fuck you.’ I know what they need to have a good show and a good time. 

What do you wish you could have told myself at 23? 

I guess what I should just stay out of [laughing]. I thought this was going to happen then. It’s just taken such a long time. There have been a million things that I’ve learned since 23, I don’t even know where to start around 23 I was crazy. 

Who is schoolin’ the game right now? What artists are coming up?

GR: That’s a good name for a band. I don’t know, you tell me.

CP: Personally, I love What So Not. Really into them, Cashmere Cat and Gorgon City for sure. You're turn. 

GR: It’s a big game. I’m doing a lot with Wax Motif. I like these guys Thee Cool Cats right now I’m looking at doing a lot of stuff with. Theres just so much good music out there right now. Danny Daze is dope. Djemba Djemba, Jesse Rose, Jimmy Edgar, Rudimental. I’m kind of into hip-hop right now. YG [featured in Destructo's new single "Party Up"] is schoolin’ the game. That’s a fucking new name for a group. 

 photo 1966801_10152273851451745_132705701_n_zpse54e348f.jpg

Richards with YG pictured above

How do you stay creative? 

Just listening to new music and being in the studio. It’s weird, with this music its endless with what you can do with it. Like when I hear something new or make something new, I just get inspired. I heard YG just rapping to that sound - I was like shit! That just keeps me going. The music keeps me going. 

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