HARD's Gary Richards Was an EDM Hustler Before Starting SoCal's Biggest Underground Dance Fest
Gary Richards—known on the stage as Destructo—has worked since 2007 to become the only major music festival promoter in Los Angeles. Booking everything from electro, dubstep, live bands, techno, even hip-hop, Richards has helped to bring EDM artists such as Justice, Deadmau5 and Basement Jaxx into the spotlight.
By 2010, Richards' main event, HARD Summer, was host to three major music festivals, as well as several club and theater shows all over the U.S., drawing more than 100,000 people per year—the kind of numbers promoters die for. With an eye on expanding internationally, Richards sold HARD events to Live Nation last year to create a partnership that has made him one of the most powerful dance-music execs in the country. And as a DJ, Richards released "Higher" on Boys Noize Records in May; it's a mix of dirty bass and synth euphoria with a distinctly '90s feel, plus a well-placed Grand Master Flash sample that helped to propel his recent tour across Europe and North America.
It's a long way from his days of throwing underground warehouse parties all over the world. Before he ever touched a turntable, the music industry was in Richards' blood. His father worked in radio and concert promotions in Washington, D.C. He attended Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper concerts as early as age 10. By the time his family moved to Los Angeles, he was already throwing and deejaying his own parties. "I used to go out in downtown LA to warehouse parties in the early '90s," Richards says. "I heard techno and house music for the first time and was instantly hooked."
Being the ambitious hustler he is, he saw an opportunity and created "The Sermon," for which he dressed as a priest to host a weekly 6 a.m. party on Sundays for those leaving the warehouses, but not ready to end the party. "My goal was to play the hardest and most gnarly techno to keep everyone awake," he says.
After that, Richards' DJ moniker was born. He chose Destructo based on his tendency to play hard beats with Metallica and Black Sabbath influences. "I never thought in my wildest dreams that it would be like this in 2013," he says. "I thought it was going to be big a long time ago, so I kind of almost lost hope for a while. I started to think I was crazy or a weirdo because no one liked [dance music] in America."
But his good ear for music and knack for launching new artists at hip spots such as the Standard Hotel landed him a gig in A&R for the electronic-music division of Def American Recordings. In his usual entrepreneurial spirit, he established his own record labels—Nitrus Records and 1500 Records—and soon signed such outfits as Kill the Noise and released albums including the Depeche Mode tribute For the Masses.
"People then stopped buying CDs, so I decided to go back to deejaying, and that's when we started HARD," recalls Richards. Since then, HARD events have become staples in places such as Miami, New York City and San Francisco, as well as Australia and London, thanks to Live Nation. There was even an event on a cruise titled HOLY SHIP!!
For years, he dealt with logistics, city contracts and festival permits on his own. "My skills are in music, not city and LA politics," Richards says. HARD had become so large that he felt being an independent operator was too expensive and risky when there are so many opportunities around the globe. "I took it as far as I was able on my own, and without Live Nation, I wouldn't be able to withstand," he says. "Now [other people] can handle [the logistics], and I can be more creative and do the stuff I'm really good at."
Asked how he thinks his events compare to peers such as Insomniac Events, he notes, "We're a little different because we put more detail and focus on the artists and making sure the sound is amazing." With the launch of the sixth-annual edition of HARD Summer at the Los Angeles State Historic Park this weekend—featuring everyone from Skrillex side project Dog Blood to Flying Lotus and Bassnectar— this notion continues to ring true.
"When you are on the main stage, you get to see the downtown-LA skyline, and it's unbelievable," he says. "We are very lucky to be able to do events here."
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