There were no neon owls with flapping wings. Nor were there giant faces on massive suns behind the stages. There was a ferris wheel, but it wasn’t always in operation. What this weekend’s HARD Summer (August 3-4) had instead was four carefully programmed stages at the Los Angeles State Historic Park in Downtown, each reflecting the pulse of electronic music presented in a city with the most dependable weather. L.A. has been home to HARD events since they began in 2007, and even as Live Nation’s ownership of the company rounded its first birthday earlier this summer, it’s clear this is a festival that chooses to compete with music rather than flash.
Like any multi-stage fest worth its dust, each stage at HARD was decorated with massive LED screens and a full-fledged lighting rig. But unlike others, HARD has opted to forgo the thematic or even sponsored branding on each stage. Instead, stages are designed around their line-ups, making it clear to fans where they need to go for what they want to hear. On Saturday the Summer stage boasted uptempo experimentalism with TJR and Keys n’ Krates.
On Sunday it went French with Justice and a gendarme of Ed Bangers. The Underground stage featured U.K. nu-house acts Disclosure (who were the biggest draw of that tent all weekend), Duke Dumont and Julio Bashmore and on Saturday, and practically the entire roster of label Dirtybird on Sunday. The HARDer stage was not dedicated to hardstyle, but rather the many DJs whose sound is fairly aggressive: from Skrillex and Boys Noize supergroup Dog Blood, to the acerbic rap style of Flosstradamus. (Though it was Dillon Francis who told the crowd from that stage on Sunday: “If you don’t like Moombahton, you’re at the wrong fucking stage.” So not that much harder, really).
HARD’s main stage was the most varied, while still maintaining a consistent EDM spine (save for the beguiling booking of 2 Chainz on Saturday). If you craved a big show, you were most likely to get it there, be it from A-Trak and Armand van Helden’s dirty Duck Sauce on Saturday, or Empire of the Sun’s aquatic witchcraft on Sunday.
Perhaps it was the moderate temperatures, the ample free hydration stations, or just a fierce commitment to the music, but HARD’s fans displayed a relatively laid back attitude in contrast to the EDM mayhem of other events. And while some past HARD events have met an inglorious demise, with Live Nation running point on logistics this weekend, there wasn’t much room for disaster. The venue’s regulations might have helped too. As it is a state park, alchohol access was limited to select beer gardens on the perimeter; DJs weren’t allowed to drink during their sets and access to booze was fairly limited backstage too.
At two days and with an incredibly accessible location (those who chose not to drive were treated to discounted Metro rides to the train station adjacent to the park), HARD Summer is a more casual affair than rivals Electric Daisy Carnival or Coachella, both of which demand a considerable amount of time and money (HARD prices start around $130 for the weekend). And as Live Nation seems to be saving some of its money by not spending it on elaborate production and gimmicky decorations, the music stands out, giving fans an opportunity for a good time with A-list talent at a decent price.