Concert goers from all across the country flocked to a dusty outpost in California to take part in one of the biggest music festivals of the year, HARD Summer. The parking may have been a nightmare, and getting out threatened to push people past the brink of insanity, but despite all the obstacles and false starts, the audience was determined to have a good time in the sweltering heat, and they most certainly did.
The day began with Busy P who started his set with “Second Time Around,” which wowed the audience with its huge overwhelming bass. But the piddling crowd seemingly gathered mostly to pass the time, though some grooved along to the chest cracking bass that consumed their entire bodies. On his song, “Genie” he attempted a call and response that was generally ineffective as the crowd’s attention was beginning to go elsewhere. Luckily, the latter half of the song was able to get the crowd more invested with its groovy bass as he ended his set, making way for Charli XCX.
The mere idea that Charli XCX was playing this early was shocking at best, but was nonetheless a welcome treat for those that chose to tough it out in the hotter parts of the day. She began her set with “Roll With Me,” immediately replenishing the energy and size of the crowd after a somewhat lackluster performance by Busy P. During the song “Dreamer,” Charli jumped onto the center speaker between the VIP section and General Admission, turned away from the crowd and began dancing, receiving thunderous applause and cheers for both her dancing and the song itself. One of the more notable moments of the show was when she brought out Uffie, who came on too early in the day to catch, to help perform “Baby Girl.” The pair of them looked as though they would’ve had just as much fun performing it alone with each other as they would in front of this massive crowd, which only excited the audience more. As the next set began, she did an excellent cover of Icona Pop’s “I Don’t Care” which succeeded in getting the crowd to move as the set shifted over to DJ Heather B2B with Collette.
DJ Heather and B2B Collette were relegated to an extremely small stage, but its beach themed design and minuscule crowd made for a unique atmosphere at the festival and featured extremely intense bass. After some time at this stage it became apparent that the crowd mainly seemed to be at this stage to recover in between desired sets at other stages. One portion of her DJ set featured a rap remix with a huge bass presence that had the small crowd grooving out despite the intense heat at the stage. One of the concert-goers took the opportunity to shuffle dance on the comically oversized wooden beach chair. At the end of the section, the bass was so punctuated that it felt as though someone were hitting my seat with a battering ram. After a while, due to the nature of the DJ set, it became nearly impossible to determine one section from the next. The set culminated with a noticeable increase in grooviness, which took on a more funky style and attracted more passers-by on their way to and from the Charli XCX set.
Up until now, the show had been pretty solid, but nothing too exceptional barring moments of the Charli XCX performance. That changed with Cashmere Cat’s performance. He began his set with a monstrous bass thrum and a song that featured a strange gear-like rhythm, almost something from and children’s movie. The crowd was hungry for the drop and lost it as the air hummed with a wondrous noise. From a performance standpoint, Cashmere Cat himself was relatively still but clearly in command of the crowd. Further in, his set filled with immense tropical drums and a promise to get the crowd moving; one the crowd happily fulfilled as the sinus rattling drop kicked in. Cat let out a small clap as though to ask for cheers before the drop, and despite his calm demeanor the crowd answered with a furious roar, that was shortly drowned out by the unconquerable bass. “You’ll Never Be Mine” clearly excited the crowd who responded with roars and dancing. He also played an incredible remix of “Waves” by Kanye West and really engaged an already excited crowd before he shot into another Kanye remix, this time using “Wolves” before finishing with the crowd pleaser, “Do You Like Drugs.”
Not to be outdone by Cashmere Cat, Malaa came out to huge applause and absolutely the biggest crowd in the day. Even the VIP section was overcrowded and impossible to approach the stage, Malaa came out in his signature ski mask, ready to destroy the crowd. His deep house stylings on “Illicit Intro” permeated the crowd and those few not feeling it were forced into movement by the sheer mass of humanity around the stage. Smoke was shot into the audience to a huge roar and hundreds of hands grasped for the sky simultaneously. The screen graphics were colorful and exciting with “Malaa” flashing wildly about the screen in accordance with the atmosphere of the music. After the song “Diamonds,” Malaa looked over the crowd, nodding with approval before exploding into another huge drop that visibly shook the crowd. “Bring the Beat Back” featured the strongest drop of the day and the intensity and depth of it was greatly appreciated by the crowd who lapped it up eagerly, hungry for more bass. During the drop, one of the nearby audience members turned around with a shocked look on his face, excitingly declaring that it was significantly harder than the drop on the album. “Who Dat” was met with an excited crowd response, as a huge majority chanted along and undulated with the bass. “Oh Me Oh My” was accompanied with a great, almost woodblock filled drop that was tailored specially for the show to surprise the audience as it faked the drop within itself multiple times before settling into the drop and a nice verse groove that built well into the second drop before he exited the stage.
Over at the Purple Stage, the crowd for E-40’s set was respectable despite its promise to only last about 30 minutes. This should come as no surprise due to his legendary status, but to see him steal this much of a crowd for a short set at an EDM festival was extremely impressive. The makeup of the crowd was unique as well; while there was a fair share of glittered up show-goers in tight shining clothes, this stage was largely populated by people in tank tops, jerseys, and a wide array of hip hop gear instead of the usual festival fare. At around 7:25, E40 had still not taken the stage and frustrated attendees fled the stage after news spread that he had cancelled.
Luckily over at the corona beach stage, Egyptian Lover was making up for the loss of an E40 set by playing a unique blend of old hip hop beats and meticulous scratching blended with a unique and atmospheric style of electronic music. While the DJ set itself made it difficult to differentiate between tracks, the crowd seemed not to mind as many of them danced, swaying their hips and twerking, using various elements of the stage as props to dance on. Sadly his unique blend wasn’t attracting a lot of listeners but there was a palpable positive atmosphere over at the stage despite the diminutive nature of the crowd. Beyond the crowd, simply watching Egyptian Lover scratching at the tables was a joy to anyone passing by, to see such an art, so often ignored and almost entirely abandoned due to both its age and difficulty, was certainly a treat for an audience that was used to seeing music programmed to be performed live. At about halfway through the set it became disappointingly apparent that the crowd was going to continue to thin out even as he played his most exciting songs of the night. Regardless of crowd size, Egyptian Lover continued to perform at an incredibly high level, often drawing in passers-by, which is no small feat for his style of music at a show almost exclusively tailored to drop centric party music. At one point, he pulled up his 808 and managed to keep the crowd chanting, “eight oh mother fucking eight” after only one prompt, proving that while the crowd was small, they were excited and engaged by Egyptian Lover’s undeniable charisma and energy. The crowd was especially excited when he played “LA Freak” while girls danced to the bass and spectators towards the back pulled out bubble blowers and set to work adding to the fun atmosphere.
But over at the HARDer stage, something big was beginning to take place. Justice’s set began exactly on time with a menacing atmospheric opening and bright blinding lights before launching into a remix of “Welcome to the Jungle” and slaughtering the crowd with bass. To say the crowd was engaged would be an understatement, the crowd was positively transfixed, both the VIP and General sections were packed full of people dancing for one of the best openings the show had all day. The night time hour and lighting were only playing to Justices strength as “Genesis” possessed the crowd to move to the consistent, forceful, four on the floor bass thud that seemed to threaten the very molecules in the air with its intensity. Every pause in the set was met with a deafening roar from the crowd, and during “Phantom” the light show and screens sprung to life creating the most powerful ambiance of the day as the crowd clapped along to the fading out track. During the extended build up on “D.A.N.C.E” the crowd was treated to the most intense strobe of the day, the effect eaten up by the crowd who waved their hands over their heads in excitement, watching the world pass by in shutter frames until the song let loose its bass. When “Stress” was played Justice called the whole crowd to the front before the drop, creating a densely packed front stage that completely let loose, pushing back like a coiled spring when the bass finally kicked out, releasing the audience from their spell. “We Are Your Friends” might have been the biggest song of the whole festival. The crowd chanted the whole chorus back and those precious few who didn’t know the lyrics were assisted by the text “WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS” flashing on screen. Justice were kings of the festival from the front to the back of the set — while the duo may have not occupied the biggest stage, both the performance and the crowd provided plenty of reasons why Justice should have.
Over at the Purple Stage, Mobb Deep was host to a shockingly small crowd. However, when they came onstage it was immediately apparent why; it was going to be a DJ set in memory of Prodigy, and, while the sentiment was well appreciated, it was clear that it existed largely as an in between set palate cleanser before the juggernauts of the show. However, the small gathering proved to be energetic and supportive of the DJ HFat, who stated he would play a mix to honor the life of prodigy and he certainly was able to do that. His set was lively and engaging despite a slow start laced with technical difficulties. He was able to salvage the set by engaging the crowd and playing a mix that both honored Mobb Deep and showed great scratching skill while remaining fresh enough to engage a HARD Summer crowd.
The final set of the night was Ellen Allien, who began her set with “Move Your Body” which was fittingly able to set many in her relatively small crowd to dancing. One man in the VIP section began to shuffle as though it was a hardstyle set, but somehow Allien’s consistent beat was able to carry this dance without difficulty. Her crowd was fairly comparable to every set prior at the electric beach stage, but her live mixing was on par with Egyptian Lover before her and her sonic palate was sure to push the boundaries of what any HARD Summer attendee had witnessed that day. That alone seemed to be enough to attract spectators who would jump in and out of conversations and dances. Her third song blended seamlessly with its predecessor, though the crowd began to fall victim to the allure of the main stages, causing the number of spectators to dwindle after they had grabbed their beer or taken their time in the pool. Despite these setbacks, Ellen Allien continued undeterred, her full bass sound punching through the far off roars of Zeds Dead, and Doctor P at the nearby Green Stage, whose heavy dubstep acts had been cutting through other sets throughout the day. Regardless of the crowd size, Allien certainly seemed to be enjoying herself during her live mixing. Her perpetual full body dancing spoke to what crowd was there and they responded with their love and recognition. The small group of people who remained for the entirety of the show seemed to recognize the privilege and rarity of seeing Allien on American soil and her enjoyment of this opportunity increased their engagement with her exciting and off color music. During “Colors,” Allien and the crowd both came alive under its driving beat; those by the stage pumped their fists and those in the VIP section danced as though no one could even see them, all of which was met by a warm smile from Allien who was constantly pointing to and interacting with members of the crowd throughout her set. In what was perhaps the most unique show of the day, Allien managed to provide an intellectual take on the dance genre that was much appreciated by those who had taken the time to see her.
The first day of HARD Summer was an absolute success; while there were a myriad of issues both on the way in and the way out, the experience on the inside was one of the most well put together events out there. The selection of artists as well as the sound mixing at every single stage was immaculate — an achievement that is always difficult to accomplish at multiple stages. So,despite the dust and the heat and the drive, it seems safe to say that the weary attendees are excited to come back tomorrow refreshed and replenished to rage all over again.