By DAN MACINTOSH
The 10th annual HARD Summer music gathering celebrated its first decade of giving Southern California dance and hip-hop fans a lineup with more variety than the similar (and formally Southern California-based) Electric Daisy Carnival has ever provided.
Sure, hardcore EDM fans could bask in the multicolored neon glow and beats from genre stars, including DJ Snake and Bassnectar. And each of HARD’s six stages featured a monster DJ riser for dance music icons to mount like sonic royal thrones. But there was more, so much more in store, including a healthy dosage of hip-hop — and even a little R and B.
Snoop Dogg was the Sunday marquee performer for this two-day affair. Rather than just bring out his regular concert setlist, the laid back gangsta traveled all the way back to his 1993 debut album, Doggystyle, which he performed in full along with a few other crowd favorites thrown into the mix. For lovers of more organic music (you know, the kind made by living, breathing warm blooded musicians, rather than cold, hard computers), the sight of a full band backing Snoop during his performance was both a pleasure and a relief. Except for, perhaps, Deadmau5, who mysteriously performs in disguise, most all DJs look pretty much the same (and honestly, oftentimes sound the same) while ‘performing’ live.
And how much of what’s “played” is actually live is an argument for another day. While reprising this pivotal hip-hop album, which produced the hit “Gin and Juice,” the relatively lovable and lanky Snoop Dogg sauntered back and forth across the stage while many times puffing on a joint. His music is so familiar that, if they ever put on a hip-hop version of the recent Classic West Festival, he’d be a perfect headliner. Even those that fain ignorance when it comes to hip-hop, know this icon.
Festival creator Gary Richards, who goes by the stage name Destructo, also performed on Sunday. In addition to bringing a setlist anchored by familiar songs, Richards was joined by surprise guest Yo Gotti who rapped a few tunes and topped off the celebratory excitement by bringing dance music pioneer Giorgio Moroder on stage to play Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.” There was talk that could be Richards’ last dance, so to speak, with HARD, making this musical choice an appropriate final number.
Tinashe’s soulful sounds stood out nicely as day turned into night Sunday. Backed by dancers and a live drummer, her welcome feminine sweetness nicely complimented this mainly male-dominated lineup. Tinashe even made a guest appearance directly after her set by performing with the DJ Snakehips. Egyptian Lover, who is even older school than Snoop Dogg, accompanied himself while performing on the overly corporatized Corona stage. (Can you venture a guess what beer was served at its adjoining bar)?
This year’s event also gave a nod to a few contemporary hip-hop combos, as the duo Rae Sremmurd appeared like darker skin-toned shirtless Iggy Pop followers by performing such hits as “Black Beatles” on Saturday, while the trio Migos came off charming on Saturday, even though they inserted just a little too much self-promotion during their set.
Although HARD didn’t offer near the variety of Coachella, a few attendees could be spotted wearing that famous Indio festival’s t-shirts. And these eclectic fans likely found just enough variety to keep them tuned in to the this significantly more genre-specific event.
With its sprawling grounds, which included a permanent main stage, VIP pool and plenty of wide open space – but not too much walking distance between venues – the Glen Helen Amphitheater made a good case to become the permanent home of HARD Summer Music Festivals in the future. Attendees appeared to be having a peaceful, good time partying out in Southern California’s perfect weather. It may be called HARD, but the festival’s producers made everything look and feel easy.