The inaugural FriendShip cruise expanded on what Holy Ship had been, inviting more than 50 DJs and electronic musicians to play for 3,000 seafaring fans from across the United States and the world. There were parties on a private island, water-gun battles by the pool, tiny-hat-making craft corners, a striptease from Dita Von Teese and, most excitingly, unscheduled pop-up parties in people's cabins, like the big blowout on the last night with Boys Noize, Busy P, 2ManyDJs and Richards himself.
“That was not planned at all,” Richards laughs. “We had a lot of people in that room, and then we opened up the balcony. Anywhere else where you had that many people in one room, the room would break. The fire marshal would be like 'get the f--- out of here.'”
The FriendShip is set to return Jan. 6 to Jan. 10, 2020, and it's packed with more DJs and discoverable silliness onto an even bigger ship from Royal Caribbean. We caught up with Richards by phone to hear how he plans to keep the magical vibe intact.
Where are you right now?
I'm in Edmonton, Canada, driving to the airport on my way to Vancouver. I was in Hawaii. Next I'll be in San Francisco, New Orleans, and then the boat.
Wow, really packing it in in the 11th hour.
Yeah, I was just telling my team here, I've got like 20 different sets to play in the next 10 days. I'm trying to figure it all out, trying to get in all these different kinds of music and make it all work.
That's probably an unsung magic of the DJ career, bringing something fresh for yourself every night.
Last night it was a big festival here, but I wanted to play groovy house. The guys before me were hitting “Sandstorm” and some Red Hot Chili Peppers shit. I'm trying to bring the freshest underground house. We'll make it work somehow. Bridge the gap.
Do you feel on FriendShip you can get away with playing whatever you want?
I want to do some reggae this time. I've gotten really into reggae. I feel that on the boat, I'll play a funk set, and they'll go for pretty much anything. For my main deck set right after Troyboi, I'm just going to play a set like I've never done before.
What's going through your head in these final days? It's about to be a new year, and we're about to go on ship.
And my birthday is on New Year's Eve. It's a new decade. We need an energy shift. I was looking at the year in pictures, and all the bullshit that's happened this year. We need a shift -- not musically, just in the world. We can live with some more of the same old EDM. That's not going to affect us.
Last year, 2018, was the big kickoff. It was the proof of concept, and it was really magical in a lot of ways. Did you have a moment where you finally stepped back and said, "It's working"?
I'm always fearless. I just jump in, but I produced it last year all on my own with a whole new team. Before that, I had teams of people who had done ships for years. When I started FriendShip, I didn't know how to get a boat, how to take reservations, how to get equipment on, anything. I knew how to book it and how to market it, but I didn't really know how to produce this. Putting a new team together, getting a new travel team, checking the reservations, it's a f---ing ordeal. Now, seeing the results, I feel much better because you can tell every aspect of it, I have my hands on. There were a lot of things I wasn't allowed to be involved in, but this time I'm much closer to the ship side of things, and I'm sure you could feel it. They wouldn't let me just go and put parties in people's rooms.
It's kind of like with HARD when I first started. In the beginning, I was just a DJ and I booked it, and then I had all these f---ing problems. I had to figure out to start meeting the accountants, meeting the police. Some smart promoters told me, "It's your money and you need to know how everything works, top to bottom." When you rely on other people and you don't know that, that's when things fall down. So check that off the box: I know how to run a cruise ship myself. That's why on this one, I've got activities buttoned up. We've got magic shows, comedy, dial-a-DJ. All we need right now is, fingers crossed, good weather. That's the biggest issue I can't control.
What interactions have you had with the FriendShip fam throughout the year? Have you been meeting people on the road?
The names All My Friends and FriendShip definitely have deeper meaning to me. Over all my years of being in the music business, it's almost 30 years now, the best people that I met, lifelong friendships, are musicians or people I made music with, or people I met at my events. I see those people everywhere. There's people that have been married at our events, people that make babies at our events. It's really special and to be honest, it's kind of what keeps me going … I was playing in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and these people chased me down like, "We met at one of your events," and then they got married. They said, “We're going to LA next week when you play, and we're going to pick you up in a party bus,” and they did! They bought one cabin [on FriendShip] to party in, one cabin to hang out in. I just feel like my shit has deeper meaning maybe than most. I put my heart into it, and it pays off.
This year, the boat's bigger and the island is bigger. How do you build something without losing that magic element?
[During embarkation last year,] I just went to the front and started handing out glasses of champagne and giving everybody hugs. It just felt good to hug everybody that walked on to the ship. There are two places to get on, so I couldn't get everybody, but then Giorgio Moroder rolled through, and Felix Da Housecat and all these people come through. We had the artist meeting and same thing. It just felt special from start to end.
This year, it's not that much bigger. Last year we had 3,000 people. This year we're going to have 3,400 people. The trick is really trying to get friends of friends. It's such a process to go on these things. Everybody says they want to go, but you're taking five days off from work and traveling. Not your average person's just going to show up there, so it's really getting people who understand what it's all about, why we're doing it and getting the right mix. It just kind of happens organically. We didn't sell it out. We still have room for probably 200 people, but we're good. Everything's solid. To me, it feels like this is going to be the one where it explodes, because of what I have in store for people now. This isn't “can I do this?” This is like, “I know this is going to be incredible.”
It seems like there's more activities than ever. Do you work on those along with artists?
I go to all the artists and see if they have ideas. Griz wanted to do the meditation, his spiritual healing thing. It's like when I started HARD. I had all these digital LED walls before people really had that, and the goal was to get people to use them with their own visuals. Why have a guy sit there and VJ? I can do it and it can look cool, but it's kind of meaningless. If you come with a show that's specific to your music on my production, it's going to make it that much better. On the ship, come with some ideas you want to do to make this thing f---ing incredible. Some people have ideas, and some don't. We're going to definitely do some ziplining and dinners. My dancer girls Marina and Paige, they came up with Twisted Twister with Destructo, so I'll play the songs, but they come up with the stuff you've got to do; like twerk on your partner for 10 seconds. Now I'm like, "What the hell am I going to play while I do Twister?"
Last year, you curated everything from the music on the hallway speakers to the TV programming. What's happening this year?
I'm making a friends playlist. Basically all songs that have the word "friends" in it. Like White Stripes "We're Going to Be Friends." All kinds of fun stuff we can't do anywhere else, because the ship is a tank.
Is there anything else about this year you want to highlight?
Definitely the island. We're going to be able to get there the first morning early. I'm really excited for Egyptian Lover. I saw a video of him playing the 808 like an accordion, so when you first get on the ship, he's going to be in the lobby rocking the 808. Ty Dolla Sign. I went in studio with him and he played me his album. He was doing a lot of air guitar and air drumming, and I was like, "can you play all this live?" He said of course, so I'm putting him in the theater to play this live. I feel like the FriendShip gifts are at an all-time high. Everybody is stoked to come and give people stuff. There just needs to be more events like this.
Monday, Dec. 30, is the last day to buy tickets for The FriendShip. It sets sail Jan. 6 to 10, from Miami to a private island in the Bahamas.