“EVERYONE is on their fucking phones! It’s bad, and it’s getting worse. It’s the most disgusting thing, that we’re all becoming kind of inhuman."
Gary Richards sounds worn out. “It’s always crazy around here,” he answers with a hint of lament on the phone. “We’re putting the finishing touches on [Holy Ship] — the lineup, the theme nights — it never really chills.”
Unsurprisingly, Richards, known as Destructo in his musical alter-ego, is the founder and CEO of HARD Events. He’s been a busy man for the better part of the last two decades because of his industry involvement. Since founding HARD in 2007, his schedule has imploded on itself while he builds his company into a monolithic enterprise, ascending the ranks to become one of the most prominent players in today’s music industry.
Before founding HARD, Richards spent most of the '90s promoting his weekly parties — known as “The Sermon” — in LA’s warehouse rave scene, preaching the gospel of gnarly house and gritty techno from behind the decks. Besides being a shrewd concert promoter and a dexterous DJ, Richards was also known for a having a keen ear for music — leading to a stint as Rick Rubin’s go-to man for electronic music at Def American Recordings before branching out to create HARD in 2007.
Richards, now 45, somehow manages to balance the roles of being a devoted husband, father of two, sought after producer, and CEO, with relative grace and a sense of humor. Even though he says that event planning and promotion is a labor of love, he agrees that he has way more fun in the studio.
“It’s not really fun putting a festival together because it’s so tough to bring all those people together,” he says behind a laugh, “but when someone comes up and says, ‘Man, I had the time of my life at your event,’ that makes it all worthwhile.”
On top of his duties as HARD’s head honcho, Richards still puts in the hours in the studio, cooking up fresh Destructo tracks that get asses shaking and bodies moving. “It’s been really fun being in the studio lately,” he says about working on the follow-up to his 2014 EP West Coast. “I actually have a ton of new music coming out soon. I’m doing some tracks with Ty Dolla $ign, Makonnen, Problem and Pusha T.”
He mentions, while discussing his new EP, the new work will be thick with the G-house (gangsta house) vibes that Destructo has become known for in recent productions. When it comes to music, though, some might argue that his ear for talent and knack for curating unique festival lineups has started to rival his ability as a producer.
Since its first major event in 2007, HARD’s parties have quickly flourished into some of the most sought after in the modern festival circuit. Along with HARD Summer — the company’s flagship soiree — events like the Halloween-themed Day of the Dead, Holy Ship and now HARD Red Rocks, attract hundreds of thousands of fans each year, putting the organization on par (and often at odds) with other powerhouses like Pasquale Rotella’s Insomniac Events. Even though both HARD and Insomniac are essentially on the same team, both having been acquired by LiveNation (or partially acquired in the case of Insomniac), Richards’ team sets itself apart by putting more emphasis on curating unique and eclectic lineups than its competitors.
HARD’s recent mantra, “It’s a music festival, not a rave” is a reflection of its music-first mentality. Thinking about his events, which usually host a broad mix of electronic, hip-hop and alternative acts, Richards acknowledges that HARD’s position on the cutting edge has led others in the business to emulate its swagger. However, the copy cats don’t seem to bother Richards, who says that his events are “often imitated, but never duplicated.”
“People copy us, but it’s mostly flattering,” he admits. “If they’re copying us, then we’re obviously doing something right.” HARD’s dedication to presenting music that spans a range of styles and genres has certainly paid off by amassing a loyal following of fans who are looking for something deeper than the kandi-swapping antics of other festivals.
"If they're copying us, then we're obviously doing something right."
Although HARD has jostled its way to the front of the festival pack, event planning on such a massive scale still comes with an equal amount of curses and blessings. Each year, it becomes increasingly apparent that music festivals (mostly of the electronic variety) are PR nightmares just waiting to happen. “It’s just part of life unfortunately,” Richards says with regard to the many potential hazards that often plague music festivals, “these things happen everywhere every day.”
Whether it is the omnipresent potential for drug-related deaths, or more isolated incidents like the suicide that occurred during November’s Mad Decent Boat Party, Richards is adamant that safety and security is a top priority, but … he confesses, “There is only so much you can do.”
“I don’t pretend like I‘m a safety expert,” he says, “but we have an amazing team that I work with to keep things safe and secure.” With that in mind, Richards relies on his top-notch team to prevent and respond to mishaps, though he tries not to sweat it when the shit does hit the PR fan. “I just try to make every event solid and not give them something bad to write about,” he says with a reluctant chuckle, “but they’ll always find something bad to write about.”
Of course, being on the cutting edge of the festival circuit comes with challenges, but if you ask Gary Richards, he’ll probably tell you that it isn’t a bad place to be. Whether in his producing career or his work at HARD, Richards has stumbled on a formula for success by following his ear, moving forward and always putting the music first.
Catch DESTRUCTO @ Beta Nightclub – Jan 21, 2016
Artists you’ve been listening to lately?
“Drezo, Maximono, Billy Kenny. Wax Motif has been doing some cool stuff lately.”
What do you do to relax?
“When I watch football. It just takes my mind off of everything else that I do.”
Favorite Football team?
“I’m originally from DC, so the Redskins are my team.”
Biggest pet peeve?
“EVERYONE is on their fucking phones! It’s bad and it’s getting worse. It’s the most disgusting thing, that we’re all becoming kind of inhuman.”