Last weekend a record setting 170,000 dance music fans gathered in the middle of the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California for the 12th HARD Summer festival, now a staple of Southern California festival offerings.
HARD Summer has always tried capturing the range of dance music with their lineups and, especially in recent years, have incorporated popular current and legacy rap acts. Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg headlined back-to-back in 2016 and 2017, and Travis Scott rounded out the second day of last year’s festival. This year Kid Cudi and Gunna joined Alison Wonderland, DJ Snake, Major Lazer and RL Grime with day-ending sets.
This year’s combination of dance and rap made for standout performances and interesting crossovers between the two genres, whether you’re a fan of hyphy music from the Bay or European techno. Here are ten of the best musical moments Billboard witnessed from this year’s HARD Summer Festival.
Shoreline Mafia Surprise Appearance
The promoters understood their audience when they booked Shoreline Mafia, a last minute replacement for G Herbo. The narcotic East Hollywood group have been a favorite among SoCal millennials since their 2017 hits “Musty” and “Bottle Service.” (Plus, SoCal’s Latinx population has been a fixture of HARD Summer, and there’s significant overlap with Shoreline’s fanbase.) On Saturday afternoon, last summer’s carousing “Bands” had a midday energizing effect on the crop of New L.A. fans.
For the better part of the last decade, Henry Laufer has been operating as a musician, DJ and producer in Los Angeles’ dance scene. He’s produced for pop acts such as Banks and rappers like Lil Yachty but, on Saturday night at the Purple Tent, he stuck to performing his own instrumentals and remixing other dance tracks with his syrupy textures.
He walked on stage wearing his characteristic pink wig topped with a bowler hat, a mix of familiar and foreign that complements his music. The crowd was especially into his performance of “Apathy,” a haunting track that was paired with a three-tiered shadow of Shlohmo projected onto a red background to complete the sinister look.
The Ferris Wheel Crew
Ferris wheel’s are sort of a given at music festivals. If you can brave the line it’s a nice moment of solitude and a chance to see the scale of it all. They’re not required to play a masterful mix of Bay Area hip-hop, but that’s what the operators at HARD Summer did. Whoever controlled the music had attendees rapping along to Mac Dre, E-40 and Too $hort, whether riding the ferris wheel or resting in its shadows. Put this wheel on the official billing next year.
Nostalgia isn’t a good criterion for music criticism, and wearing CUDI SAVED MY LIFE t-shirts is kind of cheesy, but Kid Cudi’s music still plucks a heartstring for many 18-25 year olds. You could see the palpable connection people have with his music as tens of thousands hummed along to the Cleveland native’s catalogue during his Saturday night headlining set. For an artist well into his second decade in music, it was a humbling moment for Cudi, and he was all smiles throughout the set. The crowd justified him belting, “I can still feel the love!” the moment he queued up that song.
If you’re unfamiliar with Fontana, California, it’s basically in the desert — and, as a result, HARD Summer has a reputation for being hot. This year was no different, and as the thermostat was capping out at 101 on Sunday afternoon, Lauren Lane was commanding the muggy Pink Tent from behind red-tinted shades. There were plenty of kind souls making sure everyone dancing was misted and hydrated, and Lane’s paced and aquatic house blends made their jobs a lot easier.
By far the most left-field (and welcome) booking for HARD Summer was JPEGMAFIA. He’s the antithesis to much of the festival’s other performances: abrasive, acutely political and willing to get pummeled by his fans. The rapper-producer performed his catalogue of “dirty ass” noise raps to an enthusiastic crowd, running through and performing in between moshpit shoves for about a third of his set. Before he performed “Germs,” off last year’s Veteran tape, he told the crowd, “This next song is the worst beat I ever made in my life. This shit sound like it don’t make any damn sense.” The audience, however, seemed to find the right sort of logic in it.
Yultron has assumed many roles in the music world, including sought-after EDM DJ, rapper and music producer. At his 6 p.m. Sunday set — when the heat was still breaching triple digits — he seemed more like a conductor, orchestrating the crowd with mixes of popular SoCal rap and his own frantic productions like “Imma Be a Raver.” The highlight of his set though was when he made the audience collectively groan by not dropping Kendrick Lamar’s “m.A.A.d city” after playing the song’s memorable a cappella intro. He knew it was a cheat code song for DJs, and instead just wagged his finger at the crowd while smiling in a custom Lakers jersey.
It was weird to see an SOD Money Gang image thrown on a screen in 2019, but how could you miss the (now) Big Soulja’s journey through his high points at the end of the last decade? “Turn My Swag On” and “Kiss Me Thru the Phone” made people wish they were filming the set with their Sidekicks, and “Donk” reminded us that “sippin’ on something that match my shirt” is one of the high points in the history of musical liquor references.
Loco Dice is the stuff of Ibizan dance party legends, and the Tunisian DJ turned the penultimate set at the Pink Tent into a techno oasis. Whether spinning his collaborations with U.K. grime artist Giggs or more reserved instrumentals like “Positive Vibin,’” he gave the crowd a proper transition from the evening heat to the brisk desert night. By the time his set finished, the back of the tent was overflowing with people.
Producer Kenny Beats has mastered social media through interactions with his collaborating artists, memes, and his freestyle series called “The Cave.” It also helps that he’s a talented and diverse producer with a command of minutiae and an understanding of regional rap directions.
His DJ set on Sunday night was a mixture of all these parts. It saw him bring out Rico Nasty and Shoreline Mafia’s Ohgeesy and announce that “you ain’t up on L.A.” if you didn’t know he was playing AzChike. The memes about him being a cop or looking like Franklin the Turtle were thrown up on the screen behind him, nodding to the very online people in the crowd. The most absurd moment was when comedian Zack Fox walked onstage, performing Natasha Bedingfield and doing a perfect rendition of Blueface learning how to crip walk.