With a massive new venue and a dignified roster of electronic talent, this year’s HARD Summer was perhaps the most anticipated incarnation to date. Selling out months ago despite being located quite a bit further from LA, the dedication of attendees seemed to be doubled as they poured into Whittier Narrows Recreation Area by foot, car, metro and shuttle. The venue was larger than the festival’s previous home (LA State Historic Park) by orders of magnitude. This was a great solution to the sound bleed issues of HARD Summers of yesteryear, but it also meant that the trek between the main stage and the tents was a 15-20 minute vision quest each way. Arriving at your destination was always such a deserved achievement.
With a line-up boasting electronic up-and-comers as well as mega-titans, the weekend had something for everyone. All 30,000 of us. Though news of 100+ arrests and another tragic young death rattled the hearts of music fans across the country, the weekend also packed it’s share of beauty that should not be eclipsed. This festival was nothing if not overwhelming (in a good way), but here are our Top 10 Favorite Things We Saw:
1. Jack Beats
This London duo kicked things into high gear just as the sweltering Saturday afternoon heat began to break. Tucked away in OWSLA’s Purple Tent far from the rest of the chaos, Plus One and Beni G delivered a dynamic, driving mix of hard electro that served as jolt of energy in the heat-heavy day. As the sun began to relent, festival-goers could finally focus their energy on turning up instead of cooling down – and Jack Beats was more than happy to assist.
2. A$AP Mob
After an underwhelming showing at Coachella, we were all a little unsure what to expect from A$AP Mob when they hit the main stage on Saturday evening. As one of only two hip-hop acts in a weekend of high-octane electronic, they had a lot of hype to live up to. In a blaze of light and sound, all doubts were put to rest. Head honcho A$AP Rocky took to the stage first to share a few solo tracks with the screaming throngs of fans. As each member joined the stage one by one, the performance only grew in size and spectacle. The show was electric from start to finish—with one of the more iconic moments of the entire weekend was the dubstep-infused hooligan anthem du jour “Wild For The Night”. It could just be my love of hip-hop talking, but it’s safe to say that these Harlem boys did more than hold their own – they stole the show.
3. Jack U
In a year that has seen a huge rise of super groups throughout the electronic industry, Jack U is The Ultimate. Sittin’ pretty as two of the most prolific producers in the game, Skrillex and Diplo need little introduction. But what happens when these two titans/best friends collide on stage for their second festival appearance ever? Chaos. Grimey, sexy, shameless chaos. Drawing the largest crowd of the weekend despite an unrelenting rainstorm, the duo delivered in spades as they closed out Saturday night. From brilliant re-workings of Major Lazor and Skrillex tracks to the unveiling of highly anticipated new material, the set was searing from start to finish. I mean…they remixed “Circle of Life” and it was actually kinda fiyah. You could tell that they were having the time of their lives up there—it felt like a homecoming house party with 20,000 of my best buddies. This was definitely a bucket list performance for me, and it absolutely should be for you too.
4. The Unrelenting Rainstorm
I’d say the real headliner of Saturday night was the glorious, long overdue rainstorm that unleashed upon the greater LA area around 8:30pm. It was strangely overcast and humid all day with small teases of raindrops falling here and there. When the clouds finally opened up and the storm materialized, it felt like the gift we had all been waiting for. Temperatures stayed in the 80’s while the cool rain fell – and I know this sounds strange, but it was perfect. You would expect the rain to deter festivalgoers, but I think it actually had the exact opposite effect – with nothing left to lose, everybody got thunderstorm turnt and never looked back. As the rain made it’s way through the lights, fog and fire of Jack U, it seemed as though glitter was falling from the sky (#dreamscomingtrue). It was physical, sensory and mesmerizing. The Unrelenting Rainstorm turned an awesome day into a magical night—none of it will be forgotten any time soon.
A-Trak is indisputably one of the most talented DJs to ever touch a vinyl record. At the age of 15 he was already winning DMC DJ World Championships and now, almost 20 years later, Alain Macklovitch aka A-Trak is still one of the most dynamic performers in the game. He started off our Sunday afternoon with an energetic set packed with tons of different music. His acrobatics around the stage and magnanimous stage personality while executing a technically flawless set is impressive—but we’ve come to expect that. Not everybody can rock a 4:30pm Sunday set, but just about anything A-Trak touches is gold—whether it’s Duck Sauce, Fools Good Records or life as Kanye’s tour DJ– and this set was no exception. His remix of The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Heads Will Roll” was just the dance party we needed to shake off the Sunday morning daze and get ready for the ambitious day ahead.
6. Shiba San
Any seasoned festival-goer knows how important the day time turn-up is. As vitality wanes on the last day, it’s crucial that performers pack their sets full of hyped-up bangers to keep the good times rolling (…no pun intended but whatever, what’s done is done). Shiba San is one of France’s most promising new exports. His infectious club-hit “Okay” has garnered him recent attention and he’s poised to take the industry by storm in the upcoming year. His Sunday afternoon set was a blazing mix of deep house energy and hip-hop swag, with the crowd’s favorite moment coming (as it often does) during a massive remix of Drake’s “Started From The Bottom” – the ever-relatable anthem for those who literally can’t relate to it at all.
7. Dillon Francis
The crowned prince of Moombahthon was in perfect form when he and The Gary took the stage on Sunday evening as the sun set. A native to LA, Dillon Francis always brings his best for the California crowds—his set at HARD Summer last year was a turning point in my Dillon Francis fandom. His sound, production and presence have matured since them into something individual and inimitable. What he delivered on Sunday was one of the most spectacular sets I’ve seen from EDM’s Most Eligible Bae thus far. He premiered new music from his upcoming debut album “Money Sucks, Friends Rule” including a new Dada-esque sing-a-long called “When We Were Young” with Sultan, Ned Shepard featuring The Chain Gang of 1975. Despite this exciting new material, my favorite moment of every Dillon show will always be “Higher Without You” –ladies, are you with me or are you with me?
What is there left to even say about these two? The prodigal Lawrence brothers continue to impress the world with their innovation, consistency and style as rumors of a sophomore album swirl. They had to split the evening crowd with fellow wunderkind Martin Garrix, and those smart enough to stick around the main stage were in for quite the show. They brought the house down with their opening number “When A Fire Starts To Burn”, accompanied by HARD’s signature chorus of fire cannons – a truly breathtaking sight that everybody should witness at least once. Alternating between intricate jams and the hits off of their freshmen album, Disclosure has perfected the momentum and dynamic of their live show. This is no small feat either—each brother plays a plethora of live and electronic instruments to create their groovy niche of EDM. Disclosure is also known for pulling their all-star vocalists out for their shows and sure enough, both Eliza Doolittle and Mary J. Blige joined them on Sunday. (Not Sam Smith though, so does it even matter?)
Alongside Jack U, this was probably one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend. After years of relative silence, Nero has been recording a new album and they took this opportunity to showcase a good portion of that brilliant work. Their sound is as massive and majestic as ever. DJ duo Daniel Stephens and Joe Ray were cool as cucumbers up in the booth while dropping some of the most sub-woofer shattering sounds I’ve ever experienced. Meanwhile mega-babe vocalist Alana Watson brought the heat and added the musicality that we love so much about this British trio. In addition to the new stuff, they worked through the timeless classics from 2011’s Welcome Reality and they even dropped into Skrillex’s remix of “Promises” for a minute or two. It was a solid “Welcome Back” set for these Brits and it has us very excited about this new album. Now, we wait…
France has given electronic music some of it’s greatest gifts and among these is Bromance-label boss dog Louis Brodinski. Delivering one the best sets of the weekend, Brodinski left all of the bullshit behind and laid down the most searing blend of hip-hop and techno that I’ve experienced in a minute. He has the same rough, industrial sound as his best buddy/frequent touring partner Gesaffelstein (and most French producers in general, actually), but his set was much more dynamic and danceable. As he strutted his tall, dark and handsome self across the stage with a lit cigarette perched elegantly in his mouth, every man/woman/child/animal/security guard in the Green Tent collectively surrendered their hearts to him at once. He ended his set (and the entire festival) with a filthy remix of Gessafelstein’s swagged-out burner “Hellifornia”. Perfect. Just perfect.
This year’s iteration of this legendary electronic music festival (read: NOT a rave) was perhaps my favorite to date. If I had to choose three words: loud, dusty & triumphant. Though the venue had its logistical challenges (early closing times, thousands of wide-eyed teenagers strewn along the streets of El Monte with no ride home), it solved the sound and space problems of LA State Historic Park. It felt much more like a real festival than a day-event. We’ll be interested to see if they return to South El Monte this November for their Halloween-themed venture, HARD Day of The Dead. Pre-sale sign ups end on Friday so make sure you don’t sleep on that: http://www.harddayofthedead.com/ After the excellent shenanigans of this weekend, don’t think FOR A SECOND that LIVE music blog will be missing out. We’ll see you all in November!