2012 marks the second time we here at Metrojolt have flocked to LA for HARD’s biggest party of the year, HARD Summer. We love this festival for a number of reasons – the stellar lineup, modest and effective lighting, and delicious food trucks are just the tip of the iceberg for why this is the show of the summer in Los Angeles. But what really sets HARD Summer apart from other festivals is their willingness to learn from their mistakes. 9 times out of 10 a festival team really wants to make the best experience for their fans, but at large scales some of the little (and big!) things simply go out the window. HARD, on the other hand, took everything wrong with last year and did a complete 180 – sound on all 4 stages was brilliant (really, some of the best we’ve heard in a long time), the crowd was much more dispersed and easier to navigate, live acts outside of EDM were chosen tastefully and the set times really could not have been better.
Now, on to what really matters – the music. We all know that HARD Summer 2012 brought a roster of some of the most talented and diverse acts in the game right now, but how did they live up to their hype?
While we arrived early enough to see bits and pieces of Little Dragon & Surkin, we really didn’t see enough to comment. Those early moments of a festival are spent gearing up for the first huge act of the weekend – in this case that was Magnetic Man, the UK dubstep trio of Skream, Artwork, and Benga. These guys are known for some incredible live sets – and this was no different. It’s hard to find dubstep as tasteful as these guys make it nowadays, but the lingering basslines and soothing vocals give off a feeling of class and style in a world of dark wubs. Their MC is brilliant as well – while some stand on stage yelling adding nothing to the show, Magnetic Man’s MC seems very into the artists and is brilliant at hyping up an already hyped crowd.
After the brief foray into dubstep, I knew the rest of the night would be completely dominated with techno and techno influenced electro. Having seen Fake Blood before, I thought I knew what was coming, but leave it to such a talented producer and DJ to surprise me with every track. He played both CDJs and vinyl, mixing flawlessly between the two whether it be in his traditional style of music (Mars, Yes & No were favorites), or some of his more experimental productions (a favorite transition of the weekend was from Green Velvet’s La La Land to Fake Blood’s remix of Level Up). The wonderfully loud/EQued speakers on the HARDER stage complemented his sound very well, and despite some technical issues towards the end pulled off a great set.
Gesaffelstein (Friday Favorite)
Next on the HARDER stage came my most anticipated act of the weekend. The king of dark French techno would play a live set, and while I had absolutely no idea what that would entail, I was absurdly excited for it. The live set consisted solely of Gesaffelstein’s music – a decision that worked extremely well as his style of techno really is unique to him. In between giant kick drums accented with synth stabs or distorted basslines, pauses and breakdowns were utilized excellently, creating an interesting tension that made the surprise of the kick that much more satisfying.
We had a chance to sit down with Erol before the show – he’s a humble guy that loves his music and that really shows in his set. He played a great dance-y techno collection of tracks, showcasing a whole bunch of music I had never heard before. I always love this in a set and this seemed to be a great reason to stick around the HARDER stage on Friday – all of these guys aren’t afraid to pull out some new wonky tracks that might not please a club crowd but most certainly satiated the techno fiends at HARDER.
Finally, we have HARD resident Boys Noize. We knew he would be playing tracks off his new album, and we knew his style of electro fit perfectly with the crowd on Friday, but we definitely did not expect the hugely awesome set he pulled out. After opening with a new track, ‘XTC’, Boys Noize kept the energy high his whole set with pounding techno/electro fusion that never showed any signs of slowing down. One thing Boys Noize has over anyone else at HARD is his long relationship with the crowd – having been there many years in the past, he interacts with the audience in a way not a lot of people are capable of, especially at a festival where every single goddamn song isn’t about PLUR and cuddling and partytime. (seriously, it was so nice to get a break from the almost mandatory progressive house shoved down your throat at large festivals). Either way, Boys Noize’s huge sound combined with the huge main stage and excellent sounding speakers made for a phenomenal headlining performance. After a day like that, I was curious to see how day 2 would pan out.
As our buddies over at Control Alt Delight mentioned, not many people can pull a giant crowd for both a headlining and an opening slot. For this early one, A-Trak pulled out the infamous A stage and delivered what he does best – straight high energy electro with just a bit of turntablism thrown in. We heard all the favorites, from Heads Will Roll to Oh!, and Boys Noize even came out to say hello.
Squarepusher[dmalbum path="/wp-content/uploads/dm-albums/Squarepusher HARD Summer/"/]
After the release of his new album, I thought I knew what to expect from Squarepusher, but I most certainly was wrong. While he did play a large number of tracks from the album, it was the way in which he performed them that was most surprising. His sound is, for lack of a better word, strange, and between live remixing and editing we really got that weird feeling we get when listening to his music outside of a show. The analog gear sounded fantastic on the main stage speakers, with every little blip and boop coming through crisp and clear.
Kill Frenzy[dmalbum path="/wp-content/uploads/dm-albums/Killy Frenzy HARD Summer/"/]
Kill Frenzy, who was kind enough to make us a guest mix before the festival, did not disappoint. He started his set of smooth with some of his signature ‘booty tech house’ sound. The set was a great warm up as it brought you along a trip, building up as time progressed. Kill Frenzy, a dirtybird artist, filled the discotheque tent full just just the right vibes. I was able to catch my breath while building my excitement for the night to come; all the while swaying and rocking to some booty tech house. His ‘MAKE YOUR BOOTY CLAP’ shirt foreshadowed the highly expected song selection come come towards the end of his set. ‘Booty Clap’ can only fully be enjoyed lived – seriously. I can’t wait to see what Sebastian releases next.
The Gaslamp Killer (Best Surprise of the Weekend Award)
After Squarepusher, we meandered on over to the HARDER stage to catch the end of The Gaslamp Killer. Goddamn! I was not expecting the enormous amount of energy and talent this guy presented. He focused on the new trap craze in EDM for the majority of his set, but while that might have been boring from anyone else, The Gaslamp Killer pulled it off magnificently. Live remixes and drum work sounded great – and when he wasn’t creating hip hop influenced drum beats he was MCing his own show. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t agree with this practice, but for him I’ll make an exception. He MCs almost like a radio show – you never wonder what song is playing and you always know that the Killer really loves what he does. It makes a big difference to know and see that the artist really cares not only about his own music, but about other people’s music as well. Fun surprises were a rendition of the theme from Enter the Void and Handbraekes’ ‘The Qat’.
The Bloody Beetroots (Most Disappointing Set)
I can pretty much attribute my love for EDM to this masked duo circa 2008, so naturally I held them to a higher standard than most. Unfortunately, this left me with the only disappointing set I saw all weekend. Instead of their 2008/2009 fidget electro sound, the duo played almost exclusively Knife Party style big electro, and while the crowd was going absolutely insane, I was hoping for a bit more of the old, or at least a little innovation. I heard essentially the same set I would have heard from any hard electro producer, and while the addition of a live guitar for some songs was cool, it didn’t have enough of a presence to save the performance for me. I may knock it, but don’t let that discourage you from seeing these guys – the energy was likely the highest it was all weekend during this set and I had a fun time jumping around and feeling destructive.
Nero[dmalbum path="/wp-content/uploads/dm-albums/Nero HARD Summer/"/]
I don’t have much to say about Nero that their live set doesn’t say for them. Between their status as beloved idols in dubstep and live vocals from Alana, they quite obviously destroyed the place. Their sound has a certain soothing power to it that satisfied both the dude that just wants to sway back and forth and the dude that wants to jump up and down non stop for hours and hours and hours. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, these guys are the Daft Punk of dubstep.
Dirtybird Records founder Claude VonStroke did exactly what we expected – played bouncy, fun techno all evening long. The whole crew vibes together really well, and with Kill Frenzy and Justin Martin on stage with him the bearded dude looked like he was having a blast. I came in for ‘Voices’, which sounded brilliant on the speakers in the Red Bull tent. I’ve been gushing about the speakers and I think I should just mention once more – everything I heard all weekend sounded fantastic. Props to HARD for stepping it up this year.
[dmalbum path="/wp-content/uploads/dm-albums/James Murphy HARD Summer/"/]
If there’s one word I would use to describe this set it would be warm. The frontman from LCD Soundsystem played a truly vinyl disco set – not Serato, not Traktor, no computers involved. This was pure warm sounding vinyl to close out the evening, and I cannot imagine a better way to end the festival. There was some really interesting drum work between the tracks that Murphy played with, and even though a genre like disco seems easy to spin he took it to a whole new level. With the vibe at a critical chillin’ and positive messages on the LED board, Murphy played the perfect set to end a perfect weekend.
I was really blown away by the quality of HARD Summer this year. These guys are setting a new standard in electronic music, and other promoters should take note. HARD are moving away from the ‘rave’ and towards, what in my opinion, is the future of EDM and electronic music in general. They are turning the rave into a music festival and making the weekend all about the music, not carnival rides and 10 pounds of bracelets. While both the rave feel and the festival feel have their merits, HARD’s way of doing things is the first step in moving electronic music away from the negative social stigmas surrounding it – and that is certainly saying alot. Keep it up HARD, we will most certainly be back next year.