Friday, December 11, 2015
“HARD Summer is not a rave. It’s a music festival.”
This wry but apt joke delivered by HARD founder Gary Richards (aka DJ Destructo) in the notorious promo video announcing the 2015 event has never been more apparent than this year.
Since the inaugural HARD event back in 2007, Richards and his squad have made it a decided point to craft lineups that not only dig deep into the dance music underground and current zeitgeist, but also stacked them with crowd-pleasing hip-hop acts to deliver a diversity and edge rarely found in similarly BPM-powered fests.
This year, HARD Summer scored a coup by landing The Weeknd to top the first night’s bill, along with dance music legends The Chemical Brothers next to young rap sensations like Rae Sremmurd and breakout U.K. synth-pop heroes Years & Years among the dozens of scheduled acts.
Set this year in the sprawling Fairplex in Pomona, Calif., the opening day of HARD Summer 2015 was not without its hiccups, but still provided plenty of highlights over the course of the festival’s first day of music.
4:10 p.m.: Emerging British dance-poppers Years & Years are 20 minutes late taking the HARDer outdoor stage, but make up for it with a charming and engaging set of their signature moody synth-driven songs. Lead singer Olly Alexander is sporting a fresh shock of bleached blond hair and is in strong voice as he leads the trio (augmented by a live drummer) through tracks like “Shine,” “Desire” and their biggest U.S. hit, “King.” With their debut album, Communion, already topping the U.K. charts, Years & Years seem more than ready to make an impact here in the States.
5:22 p.m.: Inside the sweltering Purple Stage (which, like the Green and Pink stages, are set in large freestanding buildings), a sweaty fan says he’s on the verge of passing out, despite draining three water bottles, which he holds up for inspection. While Sweater Beats is still playing, the crowd starts chanting “Young Thug,” who was originally scheduled to go on at 5:10. Apparently, they hadn’t seen his message on Twitter early in the day explaining that due to “unforeseen circumstances” he wouldn’t be performing. By the time the following act, Giraffage, takes the stage, the message is received as dejected Young Thug fans stream toward the exits.
6:09 p.m.: British duo Gorgon City is serving up classic ‘90s garage and poppy house, energizing the sun-drenched mob at the HARDer Stage with melodious hits like “Ready for Your Love” and “Go All Night.” Announcing it’s their first show with a live band, singer Lulu James shines with her strong vocals and engaging stage presence.
6:51 p.m.: “Total buzzkill, dude,” mutters a disgruntled fan at the main stage when Schoolboy Q still hasn’t taken the stage despite a scheduled 6:25 start time. While diehards hold out hope, a noticeable number of them start drifting toward the exits to see what else is going on.
6:56 p.m.: A huge contingent has shown up to see Odesza, with the Seattle duo returning the favor with a charged-up set of their dreamy, danceable pop songs including “Say My Name” and remixes augmented with the occasional trap drop to keep the crowd on their toes.
7:07 p.m.: “It is not my fault why I came onstage late,” Schoolboy Q gripes to the crowd when he finally appears wearing a bright green dashiki and a sad face. “It’s my management’s fault, my DJ’s fault and the people who run the band’s fault. I’m having a very bad day, so I need y’all to cheer me up,” he explained before launching into “Collard Greens.” Running through his hits “Hands on the Wheel” and “Studio,” the rapper salvages what’s left of his set time, and despite his dour mood gets the sizable crowd of fans who waited it out to bounce along to his beats.
7:55 p.m.: Originally billed as “DJ Question Mark,” the surprise act on the main stage was DJ Snake, who turned up the delighted masses with a whiplash set of high-energy party hits, tearing through builds and drops with abandon. Mixing songs at lightning speed, snippets of Flosstradamus’ “Moshpit” and Valentino Khan’s “Bloodsucker” were among the whirlwind of tracks he hurled at the crowd.
8:12 p.m.: The Weeknd’s breakout year marches on, with R&B’s new star pulling one of the biggest and most fired-up audiences of HARD Summer’s opening day to the relatively intimate confines of the HARDer Stage. Sound issues are noticeable from the start of his set, with pockets of the crowd chanting “Louder!” Rolling out fan favorites like “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls,” “The Morning” and Drake collaborations “Crew Love” and “The Zone,” the audience energy explodes with newer songs “The Hills” and especially “Can’t Feel My Face,” which adds an entirely new wrinkle to The Weeknd’s sexually-charged show. The moment is so electric that his set-ending Fifty Shades of Grey hit “Earned It” feels almost anticlimactic.
9:10 p.m.: Porter Robinson is eliciting all of the feels on the main stage with his future-retro video game soundtracks, drawing heavily from his latest album, Worlds, with tracks like “Sad Machine” and “Flicker,” complete with plenty of pyrotechnics and full-on fireworks.
9:23 p.m.: The bass line of Rae Sremmurd’s “No Type” can be heard blasting from an overstuffed Purple Stage, with a mob of fans clamoring around the building unable to get in due to capacity.
9:34 p.m.: Dance music OGs the Chemical Brothers set it off with “Hey Boy Hey Girl,” charging through a blistering and dynamic set that stands out among the day’s most satisfying sets. Picking through their extensive catalog, founding member Tom Rowlands (Ed Simons is not performing on this tour) fires up Chems classics “Out of Control,” “Setting Sun” and “Star Guitar” from behind banks of gear and fog machines and particularly dazzling visuals. They also drop in new songs from the recently released Born in the Echoes album, including “Go” and “EML Ritual.”
10:27 p.m.: Hometown hero/Snapchat star/meme master Dillon Francis packs the main stage area for the last set of the night, mixing a slew of massive Moombahton tracks to his faithful flock that dance and crowd-surf to every drop. Grabbing the microphone, he tells his fans, “I’m playing all of this Moombahton for you.” Cranking out fan favorites like “Not Butter” and surprises like a remix of The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face,” he pumps so much bass through the system that the speakers toward the back of the crowd cut out during his set. The crowd’s energy doesn’t diminish at all, and the first day of HARD Summer 2015 ends on a high note.
(Originally published on Billboard.com 8/2/2015)
(Photo: Erik Voake)