Gary Richards: HARD Summer’s founder on the past, present and future

Gary Richards
Gary Richards

His DJ nom de guerre is Destructo, but to the music industry Gary Richards could best be described as “impresario.” Tweny-five years into his career, Richards is not only a respected DJ, but the founder of one of electronic music’s biggest festivals and an influential promo company. His newly released EP is aptly named “Renegade.

His crown jewel, the HARD Summer music festival, which drew 70,000-plus per day last year, celebrates its 10th anniversary this August. The HARD Hawaii and Day of the Dead festivals along with the Holy Ship cruise round out his impressive roster of events. Richards has been a vanguard in the electronic music scene since the halcyon days of the early ’90s, hosting his club, Sermon, and launching the original Electric Daisy Carnival. He spent years running his own label as well as working for Rick Rubin’s Def American label and Interscope. He has had a hand breaking artists such as Deadmau5, Calvin Harris, Skrillex and Diplo.

This year’s HARD Summer features an influx of fresh hip-hop, emerging female artists and some classic faves. Headlining the second night is Snoop Dogg, who will perform his classic 1993 album “Doggystyle” in its entirety. Migos and Rae Sremmurd are among the headliners, along with the much anticipated Dog Blood, the new collaboration between Skrillex and Boys Noize. Also appearing are longtime faves Bassnectar, along with Zeds Dead, DJ Snake, Justice, Cashmere Cat, Ty Dolla $ign, A-Trak, Charli XCX, Claude VonStroke, Mike Will Made-It (the man behind Kendrick Lamar’s latest hit, “Humble”).

Buzz Bands LA’s Roy Jurgens sat down with Richards to discuss his career and HARD Summer, being held at Glen Helen Pavilion August 5-6.

Buzz Bands LA: I remember attending some of your early shows at the Standard in the early ’90s. I was involved in smaller house events in the South Bay but we kept getting raided by the cops. By the mid-’90s I had long given up on the rave scene ever becoming as popular as it was in Europe, as rave culture was still very much in the underground. Could you have ever imagined it would come to this?

Gary Richards: No way, no way … I mean, it’s funny, because I kind of jumped out of it for a little bit because my older brother Steve in 1999 was managing Slipknot. And then he got sick with a brain tumor and I quit doing electronic music to go help him. … Unfortunately he passed away in 2004. But I still had my record label and I was thinking, well, what am I going to do? I didn’t know what to do, and so I just started doing these shows and then the whole thing just took off. If you would have told me that this was going to happen I would have laughed in your face.

You were also doing A&R for Def American round that time, correct?

Richards: Yeah, I was doing A&R at Def American for Rick Rubin, and then I got my own label in 1997. It was called 1500 records with A&M, and it was an electronic label and I was with Interscope too, but none of the records ever sold. … Everybody was like “We think this guy knows what he’s doing, but it never seems to make money.”

Was Jimmy Iovine already over at Interscope at that time?

Richards: Yeah, Jimmy was there, he was like, “Sign more shit like your brother and your dad, what is this electronic crap?”

You do a great Jimmy Iovine impression by the way. I could totally imagine him saying that. But I guess you got the last laugh there. 

Richards: Well, Jimmy is Jimmy. But it is cool to see that it came around. … I remember telling people that the sampler and the computer is going to change the way music is made and consumed and everyone looked at me like I was crazy, like, what is this guy talking about? That was back in 2000. And here we are 17 years later, and it has finally really happened. Better late than never. 

In the early ’90s, I never wanted it to be mainstream. It was our special scene that no one knew about, and you’d only hear about it from certain people at 2 in the morning in downtown L.A.

Many people credit you for bringing the rave scene from the underground into the mainstream. Was there a moment where you looked out across the crowd and realized the game had changed?

Richards: I think over the years you’d see little inklings of that happening. You’d see things pop up here and there, but never to the level that I saw in the ’90s. But then you know, with HARD, I think it was 2008, the Halloween event, when I went from 5,000 people to 15,000 people. When that happened I realized, wait a minute, this isn’t just an underground thing. It’s weird, because I had two different views about it. In the early ’90s, I never wanted it to be mainstream. It was our special scene that no one knew about, and you’d only hear about it from certain people at 2 in the morning in downtown L.A. But then as I grew up and became more aware of the world, I realized that you know, that is kind of a selfish view. Why can’t everyone enjoy it? I never really felt like a sellout, because as long as you stay true to the music and do the things that you always do to keep it cool, why can’t more people enjoy it but it still be cool? I mean, just because it’s big doesn’t mean its not cool. I think with HARD I’ve been able to do that. I’ve been able to stick to my guns and book what I think is cool and cred and still manage to get bigger and bigger. But I’ve never changed my formula. I’d book the same if it was 100,000 people or 10,000 people. I know I always have to put something on there that will move some tickets. But at the end of the day what makes it exciting is bringing up new shit. That is the whole point, in my mind, of being a DJ. You don’t want to be the DJ that plays the same shit everyone else plays. You want to be the DJ that is playing the new shit that no one has heard. That’s how I grew up as to how to be a DJ, and it seems to work for HARD.

HARD is credited for breaking quite a few acts into the mainstream via HARD Summer. Who do you see as your breakout act(s) this year?

Richards: Thanks, that is all I’ve ever wanted. AC Slater, he’s got a record label called Night Bass. He’s not really a new guy. He’s been DJing for a long time, but he has a new “night bass” sound, it’s kinda similar to my sound. 

So it’s pretty aggressive?

Richards: Yeah, but it’s still house, but it’s bass house. It’s got this bottomless bass that just makes you wanna dance. There are just a lot of good vibes to him. Then there is Wax Motif, another guy I go into the studio with a lot. He’s got a couple of EPs that are about to drop. He’s originally from Australia but he lives in L.A. now. On the bill this year I have an act called Yeah Me Too. And that is Josh [Young] from Flosstradamus. They split up and Josh started a new group and this will be his first performance ever. Oh yeah, and I got the Egyptian Lover.

Wow, I remember playing him back in the ’80s. Those were some great records. When I saw him on the bill I said “No, that can’t be”. I mean, how old is he?

Richards: I don’t know, but he’s older than the both of us (laughs). He’s definitely not new but he’s playing. Have you even heard of What So Not? He’s from Australia, really good guy, amazing music. I’ve got Mike Will Made It on there. He’s one of the best producers in the rap game right now. This will be his first time at the festival.

||| Stream: Destructo’s Summer 17 playlist via Spotify:

I’ve noticed more and more hip hop being booked into HARD Summer. Is it a goal of yours to bridge divisions in those two camps? Or is it purely a financial consideration? 

Richards: I feel they go together really well. I’ve always tried to put rap and electronic together. I mean, I’ve had 2 Live Crew. I’ve had Pharrell, last year I had Ice Cube and NWA. I feel like we are on the outside of a moment right now, like it is the new punk rock. 

I’ve also noticed that there are a lot more female acts on the bill this year.

Richards: Yeah, that was definitely by design. I feel that there are so many really great and amazing female DJs and producers, and for whatever reason sometimes they don’t get the shot so I’ve been trying to balance that out and I’ll keep pushing that agenda, you know. But by no means are they on there just because they’re female. They are on the bill because they’ve earned it and they are amazing. 

Someone like Alison Wonderland, she’s played HARD before, right?

Richards: She’s someone I would definitely book. The thing is that there are a lot of acts I’d like to have on here, but in reality, there are politics, people get blocked, there are things like that. It kinda sucks, because I never block anyone as a promoter, but I get blocked by other people. It doesn’t do anybody any good.

Did that happen in her case?

Richards: With her specifically, yes. One of many.

I never try to hurt anybody, block anybody; I just try to blaze my own path.

So while we are talking politics, how is your relationship with Pasquale Rotella (Electric Daisy Carnival) nowadays? Are you frenemies? Do you see a point in the future where you two may collaborate on something. 

Richards: You know, I’ve got no problems with him. I just do what I do. God bless him for what he has been able to accomplish in his career. I just don’t know if that goes the other way around. I never try to hurt anybody, block anybody; I just try to blaze my own path. Once again, I’d say that that is a question for him. I only want to see other people succeed. I don’t feel like I’m in a battle with anybody, but I think a lot of times other people view that differently with me, and for no good reason, because I’m just trying to push music forward. 

So you’re now well into your mid-forties. Does your DJing and remixing role keep you young? 

Richards: Definitely. I’m DJing Saturday in Vegas and I mean, what am I gonna play? I’m always looking for something new to play. I don’t know, for whatever reason, but my musical tastes are like that of a 15-year-old boy (laughs). The first time I heard Korn I loved them. I don’t know why, but I was onto Korn from day one. I was onto Slipknot from day one, I love Metallica, I love Zep, I love Boys Noize, I love Crystal Castles. I have a young spirit, I have a young ear and I love to DJ. I don’t know, I don’t really look at the age. I guess most people when they’ve reached my age they’ve moved on. I mean I have a wife and kids, but I still DJ up in my bedroom and make a racket. 

Yeah, how does one mix fatherhood and debauchery?

Richards: Oh, I’m a good guy. I’ve never cheated on my wife.

That’s not what I was going for (laughs).

Richards: I know, I know (laughs). I mean, I’m around it, but I go home. You know there is nothing good that is gonna happen for me if I hang around.

Yeah, you’ve been there and done that.

Richards: I just go home to my wife and my family and I keep it real. And when I’m home I’m home. I love being a dad. To be honest with you, I think it keeps me in a perfect balance. Just when I’ve had enough of being on the road as a DJ, I’ve got coaching my son’s basketball team, going to gymnastics with my daughter and hanging with my wife. You know, until the kids make you crazy and then you go DJ again, and then you come back home and you are ready to roll again. 

Perry Farrell, with Lollapalooza, is the only guy I can really think of that is in your position as a promoter and an artist. How does one go about figuring out exactly where to put yourself on the bill?

Richards: That’s a tricky question. I’ve always put myself low on the bill because I never wanted to use that to my advantage. My dad was always like “put your yourself at the top,” but I never wanted to do that. … In the beginning I’d put myself at the very bottom and then I slowly moved up a little bit. But I really didn’t really do much until I started out putting out my own music and Boys Noize released it. And in the last year or two, I realized that I’ve got 10-20,000 people scheduled to come see me play. And so I realized that I’m probably a bit bigger than I’ve given myself credit for. But my main goal at HARD is to make sure all the other artists shine. It is important to me to put on a good show [but] that comes second to making sure everyone else is good. I’ll always take the back seat in the second row of that festival, but on other festivals I try to shine the most, where I don’t have to worry about everything else. But push come to shove, I’ll always give somebody else the spotlight at HARD because, you know, I’m not an egomaniac. I don’t wanna be that guy.

You just moved the venue for this year’s festival from the Speedway to Glen Helen Amphitheater. Was there a specific reason behind that move?

Richards: Yeah, after July 4 we looked at the way things were going and we just felt that it was a better fit at Glen Helen for this year’s show. 

Was that something you worked with Live Nation on?

Richards: Yeah, it was mostly Live Nation. I was actually on vacation and they brought this idea to me. And I said, well if you guys think this is a good move I’m open to it. I went out there and looked at it.

However hard you search people, and however many police officers you have, if someone wants to sneak a Tic-Tac into the event they are gonna get it in. 

The other issue that you have got to deal with is that your security has to be ramped up because of the tragic events of the past three years. I imagine the city and the county are expecting a higher level of security from you because of illicit substances.

Richards: We’ve always done that. We were already doing that. We did all that before the county said anything. I mean they made the rules based upon how we do it. It doesn’t matter, though — however hard you search people, and however many police officers you have, if someone wants to sneak a Tic-Tac into the event they are gonna get it in. 

That sounds impossible to stop.

Richards: I mean we do act responsibly but there is only so much we can do. 

So all one can do is have emergency medical support available. With that many people in one place, the possibility of something bad happening is always present. In Europe they are doing something called “harm reduction.”

Richards: Yeah, harm reduction is fantastic, I wish we could do that here. I’ve played events where they have that and it works 100 percent.

We are way too puritanical for something like that here?

Richards: Yeah, it’s the laws. The laws here are zero tolerance.

Have you ever thought of taking the HARD Festival abroad?

Richards: We’ve done shows in Australia, shows in Tokyo, Osaka and Europe. We’ve never had a full massive festival in other countries, but we’ve done stages and shows, but it is definitely in the cards.

||| Live: HARD Summer is Aug. 5-6 at the Glen Helen Amphitheater. Tickets.

||| Also: Watch the mini-documentary about HARD.