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Tough summer for events promoter

Gary Richards hopes to forget the last few months, including a canceled L.A. show and fallout from a mega-rave that he was not involved in. Coming Saturday is his Hard festival at an L.A. park.

August 06, 2010|By Scott T. Sterling, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • AT THE CONTROLS: Diplo is among the artists on the bill at Saturday's Hard Summer festival in L.A.
AT THE CONTROLS: Diplo is among the artists on the bill at Saturday's… (Noel Vasquez / Getty Images )

As recently as June, summer 2010 was looking good for event promoter Gary Richards. In just three years, Richards had built his Hard music festivals from what he calls a "career Hail Mary" into a lucrative national brand featuring eclectic lineups of emerging acts, most of which make electronic dance music.

It was all about to pay off with a summer full of events, including a national tour featuring underground avant-disco duo Crystal Castles, buzzing South African group Die Antwoord and a dozen others, as well as two daylong festivals in New York and L.A., both headlined by controversial artist M.I.A.

Hard Summer music festival: An article in Friday's Calendar section about the Hard Summer music festival referred to "British beatmakers Soulwax." Soulwax is a Belgian band. —

However, that all changed after the Electric Daisy Carnival in June. The event drew negative attention when a 15-year-old girl died after attending the mega-rave. Although Richards had no business ties to that event's promoters, Insomniac Events, his Hard concerts became a part of the conversation about dance music and public space.

"There are already so many hurdles to clear for an event like this, but those hurdles grew tremendously after EDC," Richards said in his Hollywood office, walls festooned with posters and fliers for myriad events and a detailed layout of Los Angeles State Historic Park in downtown L.A., where his Hard Summer festival will take place Saturday. "We met with city government countless times, and they did have some areas where they wanted to see additional measures taken. We obliged. It's costing us more, but it's worth it for everyone to feel safe about our event."

In addition to Crystal Castles, Saturday's event will feature performances by British beatmakers Soulwax, Chicago house legend Green Velvet, dubstep pioneer Skream and L.A. producers Flying Lotus and Gaslamp Killer, among others.

The event is a fraction of the size of Electric Daisy Carnival, which attracted an estimated 185,000 people to downtown L.A. and ended tragically when attendee Sasha Rodriguez died of a suspected drug overdose (a toxicology report is still pending). The media fallout and public outcry led to the city creating a "rave task force" to take a closer look at such large-scale dance music events.

Richards canceled the first of two Hard L.A. events this summer amid a swirl of rumors, including pressure from City Hall and poor ticket sales.

"I'm moving on," he said during a recent phone interview, declining to go into specifics about the reason for the cancellation, which occurred less than a week before the July 17 event was to take place. "I thought it would be better to roll as many acts from that date into one massive party on Aug. 7. There's no need in being bummed about what didn't happen."

Richards had already weathered the drama of Hard Summer 2009, when a rowdy capacity crowd at the Forum degenerated into a chaotic scene involving gate-crashers and hundreds of attendees jumping from the balcony onto the main floor. At the peak of the event, riot police cleared the building and shut the concert down.

"Everyone got their money back and I lost more than I care to remember," Richards said. "I remember what it was like to be 20 years old and be at a party that gets shut down.... But we learned a lot from it, especially to never use multi-level venues," which precipitated the move to the state park.

"With music, you can never be calculated. You have to go with what you dig, and hopefully, it works. Hard worked," Richards said. "It took a minute, because I really didn't know how to produce an event on that level. But I knew I had something special. We'd hit a nerve."

"Gary tried to do something different, and he did it well. He put on so many big acts long before they were popular, like Spank Rock, when he was just a buzz act, and Justice before they were playing arenas," DJ-producer Diplo said by phone. He'll be performing at Saturday's event solo and as half of the electro-dub duo Major Lazer. "He books parties like they do in London, always bringing the newest and coolest acts. Gary takes big chances, and it's made the entire L.A. scene better."

Jason Bentley, a DJ and music director at KCRW-FM (89.9), has performed at multiple Hard events, and he said Richards has a good eye for breaking acts. "I was looking at some old Hard flyers, and found one where Deadmau5 is buried in the middle of the bill," he said. "Hard is an exciting hybrid that's more interesting than the genres it borrows from, like rock, rave and hip-hop. I've really got to hand it to them for what they're doing creatively."

While Richards was able to take Hard to New York on July 24 for a massive festival on Governors Island with Die Antwoord and Sleigh Bells, M.I.A.'s headlining performance was so plagued by both a rainstorm and sound problems that the artist promised a free New York City show to make up for it.

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