EDM and hip-hop fans celebrated summer in Fontana, Calif. for HARD Summer, which kicked off Saturday (Aug. 4) for a day of bass-booming, moonwalking glory per esteemed artists. Billboard went around the Auto Club Speedway to see what was hotter, the weather or the acts, during the best crowd and behind-the-scenes moments.
1:06 p.m.: Everyone is dropped off by the shuttles right outside the venue, turning around toward each other with confused looks. We look — and feel — like kids dropped off for a field trip. Lime green hair, red bandana shirts, millennial pink bralettes and someone dressed as a unicorn with a furry white hat and purple fur boots blend together in what feels like an outdoor holding cell.
2:45 p.m.: Burns remixes “Unforgettable” by French Montana feat. Swae Lee as festival goers frolic across the grass to the deep bass booming from the Hard Stage. With a clear mask covering his face, the English DJ is making part of his set obvious in its mission: paying tribute to artists, especially XXXTentacion by remixing “Moonlight.”
3:15 p.m.: Inkbox sets up their semi-permanent tattoo table at the artist lounge, as David Clifton is free-handing a peony flower on someone’s inner arm. The Toronto-based company is adjacent to Idle Hand Collective, a pop-up barber shop, and Lemonhead L.A., an adult glitter store. Although I lost the unicorn girl, there’s a unicorn floatie on the ground that compensates for her absence in the musician playground space.
4:02 p.m.: Devault remixes “A Different Way” by DJ Snake and Lauv, welcoming all the different signs hoisted in the dry air: a “Very Nice” inspired by the movie Borat, a “You Rock My Body” sign featuring the iconic image of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson sporting a black turtleneck, fraternity flags and an “Mmmm human music… I like it” Rick and Morty sign. An audience member fanned me, rubbed peppermint oil on my back “to waken my senses” and offered me gum. It was a rather nurturing move from a stranger (“I’m literally the mother,” Natalia tells me) as HARD Summer has made sure its attendees are hydrated and safe after three accidental deaths occurred during the 2016 festivities. For 2018’s edition, we’re doing a good job taking care of each other.
6:01 p.m.: A notification from the HARD Summer app circulates everyone’s phones who have it downloaded: “Due to unforeseen circumstances, Wifisfuneral will not be able to perform at HARD. In his place, we welcome Comethazine at the Purple Stage!”
6:08 p.m.: “Sway! Sway! Sway!” Jaden Smith instructs the crowd as “Fallen Down” from his debut studio album SYRE blasts from the Harder Stage. The blond rockstar played his “Icon” music video in the background for his next song. He moonwalked across the stage for a slick hip-hop set. “Don’t go crazy,” he cautioned. “Imma count the mosh pit.” It’s the control Smith has, mixed with the swagger he inherited from parents Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, that makes for an effortless performance.
— heran mamo– (@heranmamo) August 5, 2018
6:35 p.m.: Chilling by their trailer, I sit down with Louis the Child on a wooden picnic table with a shady umbrella. A natural conversation transpires between me and two guys who really love what they do, not just for the money or the Apple and Nissan commercials their songs “Go” and “It’s Strange” have appeared on respectively.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any of the ads,” Robby Hauldren directs at his partner Freddy Kennett. “I was watching like Saturday Night Live with my family and the ‘Go’ ad came on. The other day, I was watching some Netflix with some friends and the ‘It’s Strange’ ad came on. It’s just weird when you’re sitting there watching TV and then like ‘Oh wait, that’s our song. Cool!’
Even though they have more original songs to their name this year than they had two years ago when they last performed at HARD Summer, their remixes of other songs — most recently their mix of “Love Lies” by Khalid and Normani — serve just as much clout to their brand. “It’s fun to take a song, and then just take the vocals and then remake, re-imagine a song from there.”
6:54 p.m.: I run into MAX as we reminisce about his stellar, show-stopping dance moves from The Chainsmokers Pepsi Generations Summer Concert nearly two weeks ago. When I mention I’ve been listening to him since Rags, he high-fives me and calls me “a true one” for following his trajectory as an artist since his 2012 Nickelodeon film.
7:30 p.m.: Rick Ross gets the DJ Khaled-produced “All I Do Is Win” track blaring through the Hard Stage speakers for everyone’s hands to go up and, as instructed, stay there. His infectious, pompous anthem is met with a “Saturdays Are For The Boys” flag. Consequently, the fraternity flags crop back up and as much as the day has been dedicated to music, it’s representative of how strong fan branding has become. Who gets to claim the weekend? “New Flame” by Chris Brown gets the crowd naturally swaying — especially couples who thrive in this hyper-physical environment where sex-happy, R&B lyrics course through the speakers only to be switched up by Ross’ rap verse.
— heran mamo– (@heranmamo) August 5, 2018
8:00 p.m.: Now on stage, Louis the Child arrive promptly, and their festival etiquette is received well. The flashing lights and colors remind me of our previous conversation about how “Flashing Lights” from Kanye West’s Graduation is a masterpiece. The lyrics to “Fire” play out in a cartoon projected on the big screen, proving the guys know how to create their own. After the first beat drops during the chorus, fire bursts appear on stage and fireworks light up the sky. Freddy humbly waves to random sections of the audience. A festival goer crushes his plastic water bottle to the beat. Environmentally friendly? No. Spirited? Yes.
Hard Summer veterans @LouisTheChild brought their a-game to the festival, as the lights burned bright and their remixes of songs like “Love Lies” by @thegreatkhalid and @Normani were just as impressive as their own “The City” and “Better Not” tracks. pic.twitter.com/zWutF5mTHb
— heran mamo– (@heranmamo) August 5, 2018
8:11 p.m.: Someone downs a fourth of a Sriracha bottle just as Louis the Child remixes “All Night” by Chance the Rapper and the familiar “All night, I been drinking all night” intro lyric plays. One word: synchronicity.
8:25p.m.: Freshly dubbed “Sriracha Man,” he’s now hoisted up by about five guys on a plastic chair as he chugs more from the plastic bottle. Meanwhile on stage, “Blasé” by Ty Dolla Sign feat. Future and Rae Sremmurd has been remixed with a house music beat, one of their earlier remixes found on SoundCloud. MAX appears to sing their newest collaboration. Those signature dance moves we talked about? He brought them back, splits in the air, one arm cartwheel and all.
10:01 p.m.: Yellow Mustard — Yellow Claw and Mustard — treat the crowd to pulsating red lights and fire bursts on stage and atop its cover. Crowds catch up to the beat with their feet, but the trio impresses them with their ability to remix each other. Yellow Claw spins Mustard’s “Whole Lotta Lovin’” feat. Travis Scott (the Astroworld creator slated to arrive tomorrow for his headlining performance). “Make some motherf–king noise,” Yellow Claw instructs as “Do You Like Bass?” bubbles up and fizzles out to the next track.
“If you brought a flag, this is the perfect time to put that shit up,” they said. Green fireworks littered the sky as a glowing Shrek, fidget spinner and strobe light-outlined panda arose from the audience. “DJ Turn It Up” and “In My Room” feat. Ty Dolla Sign and Tyga play back-to-back to electrify the crowd and showcase the range of genres the Dutch DJ duo have under their belt and at their fingertips.
10:31 p.m.: YG appears onstage to perform his leading verse off “Big Bank” following his Stay Dangerous album drop Friday (Aug. 3). “Who Do You Love” from his 2015 debut studio album My Krazy Life plays, a collection familiar to what the Los Angeles-bred rapper calls “OG YG fans.” His new release forms his last words to the HARD Summer crowd: “Stay dangerous.”
10:43 p.m.: Marshmello is remixing ASAP Ferg’s “Work REMIX” on the other end of the Auto Club Speedway. The last time I saw him perform was at the 2018 Radio Disney Music Awards, a rather juvenile venue for the crowd favorite of HARD Summer’s Saturday venture. He’s pulling off The Weeknd’s “Goddamn bitch I am not a Teen Choice” vibe with his eccentric sound, distinct (and commonly repeated) look and headliner spunk.
10:52 p.m.: The caricature DJ queues “Look At Me!” by XXX as another tribute track is paid to the late SoundCloud Rapper. The mood isn’t somber, and it wasn’t before when “Moonlight” was played by Burns: at HARD Summer, he is missed and incorporated into any set without really skipping a beat.
The set does slow down for “Friends,” Marshmello’s hit with Anne-Marie, as the lyrics are projected on the big screen with different colored backgrounds. “We lost a musician this year named Lil Peep. I was fortunate enough to make a song with him. It’s called ‘Moonlight.’” The posthumous release is acknowledged, rather than being naturally weaved in like XXX’s songs have been, and it sends the crowd off in a memorable exit before it all happens again tomorrow.