By Scott T. Sterling
To the casual observer, HARD Summer might look like just another in a sea of raves that have all but taken over a sizable portion of youth culture in recent years.
Upon closer inspection, however, HARD events sit left of center from your garden variety EDM festival. They’re edgier, grittier affairs that what’s presented at most rave-type events, pushing the ethos of PLUR to an extreme — PLURNT, according to the Flosstradamus t-shirt of one attendee who seemed to be taking the sentiment well to heart.
Promoter Gary Richards (AKA DJ Destructo) and the HARD team have constructed their parties to encompass more than just the latest EDM buzz acts, although a few of them are thrown into the mix for good measure. Their events — which now span a wealth of parties around the country, including the upcoming Holy Ship! cruises over two weekends early next year — have always showcased a wide variety of sounds, especially hip-hop and emerging artists on the verge of breaking out.
The seventh annual HARD Summer weekend was held in a new location, the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area, as opposed the usual set up at the Los Angeles Historic State Park. The change of locale didn’t faze this year’s event, which rolled out an impressive mix of music spread out over two stages and three tents to create a memorable and enlightening weekend.
(Courtesy HARD Presents)
Jack U is more than the sum of its parts
Jack U, the anonymous moniker for the high-powered collaboration between Diplo and Skrillex, might still be a relatively new endeavor, but the duo is quickly developed a unique sound to call their own. While the notoriety of two of EDM’s biggest names sharing the same stage, between Skrillex’s hyper energy and Diplo’s cool reserve, Jack U’s unified sound is super-fun party music with more substance than standard big-room bangers. They played a wealth of new music, including the recently revealed “Take You There,” featuring vocalist Kiesza.
Flosstradamus (Rukes.com/HARD Presents)
Flosstradamus is building an army
The Chicago-based DJ troupe continues to pull bigger crowds with their raunchy trap-heavy dance mixes, but even more impressive is their merchandise sales. The number of Flosstradamus shirts, hats and even booty shorts being sported around the festival grounds over the weekend was almost disconcerting. Their caution symbol logo, 420 references and ‘HDYBYZ’/’HDYGRLZ’ prints by far outnumbered any other merch this year.
Pants were optional
While people showing skin at music festivals is nothing new, the current trend of “underbutt” has given way to just getting rid of pants altogether. Thongs, bikini bottoms and cut-out booty shorts made HARD Summer 2014 feel like the inside of a Big Freedia music video.
Pusha T is a modern folk hero
There’s no confusing former Clipse rapper Pusha T with Bob Dylan, but the number of HARD Summer attendees that know his lyrics is impressive. From the biggest bros in bucket hats down to tiny females in bathing suits covered in cheeseburger print, it seems like everyone knows the words to Pusha T’s coke boy tales of slangin’ and bangin’ by heart.
DJ Mustard is behind more hits than you even know
Mustard’s Sunday night DJ set in the Green Tent pulled a massive crowd eager to indulge in the superstar producer’s seemingly endless cavalcade of hip-hop hits. Spinning through tunes he’s crafted for the likes of Kid Ink, YG, Ty Dolla $ign, Jeremih and so many more, DJ Mustard‘s onstage boast that he runs L.A. sounded perfectly appropriate.
Martin Garrix (Courtesy of HARD Presents)
Martin Garrix isn’t going anywhere anytime soon
The reverberations from the success of his single “Animals” is still being felt, as a huge crowd swarmed the HARDER Stage for Garrix’s set. His youthful bravado and enthusiasm are infectious, with the producer jumping around behind the decks as much as anyone in the field. Spinning only the biggest and most obvious big-room hits, Martin Garrix is an apt reflection of the current EDM festival fan and will likely be a lineup staple long beyond the radio and chart popularity of “Animals.”
All trap everything
It was just a couple of years ago that dubstep was the electronic subgenre ready to break out into the mainstream. Instead, it’s trap that’s risen to touch on all aspects of popular electronic music — one would be hard pressed to find a performer at HARD Summer that didn’t incorporate the dive-bomb bass drops of trap somewhere in their sets.
Okay, Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” just might be the song of the summer
HARD Summer might be the last place one would expect to hear Azalea’s ubiquitous radio hit, but there it was. Acts from Jack U to Baauer dropped the track into their sets over the weekend.
(Courtesy of HARD Presents)
Sometimes, rain is the best thing that can happen to a music festival
Saturday’s oppressive heat was visibly wearing on many fans who’d been raging since the doors opened at 11 a.m. The heat didn’t help the swirling dust storms that overtook certain portions of the field. As evening approached, a light mist grew into a steady and cooling downpour, only heightening the energy during Jack U’s closing set on the main stage.
Plenty of people still haven’t gotten the memo about Native American headdresses
While the general public consensus is that wearing Native American headdresses as a fashion statement is offensive and should be avoided, no one told the countless number of people at HARD Summer rocking them like there was no tomorrow. Meanwhile, flower crowns (which have become quite ubiquitous at music festivals of late) were few and far between.
Cashmere Cat is on the verge of being the next Flume
Flume is setting the current standard of unorthodox EDM producers working with slower tempos, heavy atmospherics and even more melodies. Now, Norwegian beat-maker Cashmere Cat is vying to move into similar territory, recently turning up his profile is a major way by teasing the track he made with Ariana Grande (“Be My Baby”) for her upcoming album. With stellar productions of his own like 2013 release, “With Me,” Cashmere Cat’s set in a packed Purple Tent was a weekend highlight. He’s on the brink of breaking out in a major way.
Wave Racer is on the verge of being the next Cashmere Cat
In the realm of quirky and atmospheric electronic music, next in line would appear to be Australia’s Wave Racer. Playing in similar territory as Flume and Cashmere Cat, this video game-inspired producer is quickly rising in the ranks, championed by the likes of Porter Robinson for his choppy and melodic tracks.
Disclosure just keeps getting better live
The Lawrence brothers provided one of the highlights of this year’s Coachella festival, and absolutely dominated HARD’s main stage with a stellar performance that included an unexpected appearance from the queen of hip-hop soul herself, Mary J. Blige, who hit the stage to add her inimitable vocals to “F For You.” If you’re looking for the reason “deep house” is bigger than it’s ever been, look no further.
A$AP Rocky of A$AP Mob (Oliver Scherillo/HARD Presents)
A$AP Mob wants to be this generation’s Wu-Tang Clan
The crew hit the main stage hard, showcasing hits from Ferg and Lord just as much as leader Rocky, keeping the enormous crowd energized throughout the entire set. Much like Pusha T’s set earlier in the day, the number of attendees familiar with the lyrics to group’s tracks was impressive. Much like an East Coast version of California’s TDE collective, A$AP Mob proves that hip-hop groups are still very much alive and thriving in 2014.
Tiesto is still king
Even with so much going on around him, the Dutch master general cut through all of it with his weekend-closing set that showed that he’s still among the world’s foremost proponents of electronic dance music. Armed with more pyrotechnics and showmanship than pretty much anyone else on the bill, Tiesto also came with the hits, cranking through tunes like his recent radio-impacting single, “Red Lights” as well as his huge remix of John Legend’s “All of Me” to a field full of fans as HARD Summer 2014 rolled to a satisfying finish.