Seasoned promoter Gary Richards takes his party on the road.
“I definitely have some grays,” says L.A. party organizer Gary Richards of the silver streaks salting his fashionable ’do, the result of on-the-job stresses. “We’ve done four events in New York, events in Miami and San Fran. All these different areas that we do, not that difficult, but L.A. is just brutal.” A music-industry veteran who’s been coordinating and deejaying parties since ’91, Richards is the one-man brain trust behind HARD, an annual summer festival in Los Angeles that he started in 2006. And since then he’s been fighting the perception that all dance-music events are raves.
Despite crackdowns by the L.A. Fire Department and cancellations due to lack of ticket sales, Richards has built on HARD’s successes, branching out from coast to coast. His work culminates this summer with the HARD summer tour: 12 dates scattered across the U.S. and Canada that include a Crystal Castles headlining stop at the Congress Theater on Friday 13. Other acts on the tour range from banging electro to rafter-rattling dubstep and include au courant names such as Digitalism, Flying Lotus and Major Lazer. The Chicago date sees indie disco act the Twelves, dubstepper Rusko, house export Sinden and Richards, under his DJ alias, Destructo.
Incorporating rock and hip-hop into the fold, Richards’s goal is to bring variety and energy, and, most important, to present the music and its offshoots in a better light. “Crystal Castles, of all the electronic bands out there, they have this punk element. They’re the essence of what HARD really is.”
“If this stuff gets pegged as rave, it’s the death of it, because it just equals kids and drugs,” the 39-year-old continues. “It’s like a four-letter word.” The rave element of electronic-music culture—“kids with pacifiers and Elmo hands,” as he describes them—has been problematic for Richards. He blames a lack of maturity, an overabundance of Ecstasy and underagers’ tendency to try to sneak into his shows for many of the problems he’s had with HARD, especially in L.A. “All I do is LAPD, LAFD, city hall. I just came back from city hall today,” he says with a chuckle.
His passion for underground electronic music grew well before the trends for Technicolor tights, glow sticks and furry boots took hold. A family in the music industry—his brother has managed both Mudvayne and Slipknot—got him hooked at an early age. “My dad started on the radio in the ’60s,” Richards says. “We saw Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Kiss. Then in the late ’80s, I started going to these warehouse parties in downtown L.A.”
In ’91, Richards began throwing his own warehouse parties. “When we first started doing parties, Robert Downey Jr. came and Madonna would come,” he boasts. The celebrity attention to his events even attracted record producer demigod Rick Rubin. “He’d just be standing there hanging out with, like, Anthony [Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers], or the dude from ZZ Top, Billy Gibbons,” Richards says. The two developed a working relationship, with Rubin hiring Richards at Def American in ’93. While there, he signed groups including the Prodigy and Lords of Acid to deals in the U.S.
Though he lasted there for more than a decade, Richards says he realized that “putting out CDs is for the birds,” and returned to his life of party promotion. That’s when he created HARD, realizing that, after 20 years, electronic music is finally starting to catch on in a major way. “Dude, I don’t give up,” he says. “I’m on a mission. I’ve been trying to break electronic music in the United States since I first heard it, and I’m not going to stop.”
HARD’s summer tour beats up the system at the Congress Theater on Friday 13.