Many flavors of hip feed the Hard fest

Los Angeles Times
July 17, 2008
By -- Dennis Romero

ON NEW YEAR'S Day of 1993, fans of cutting-edge music could have done worse than hanging out with Gary Richards on his 22nd birthday as he rode a roller coaster high above Knott's Berry Farm. Richards was throwing a party for himself, but more important, he was pulling rave culture and techno music out of illicit warehouses and injecting it into the concert-going mainstream, drawing a crowd 17,000 strong to his K-Rave '93 at the Orange County amusement park.

Of course, the rest is history: Rave grew up, DJs such as Paul Oakenfold went on to score Hollywood movies, and fans of the music would one day be sipping wine at the Hollywood Bowl as Underworld performed.

Some of the gentrified dance music events in town now are downright geezerly, which brings up the questions: Where are all the new kids? And what are they listening to?

Enter a familiar face, Richards, now 37, who says he's as thrilled as ever about new music and the promise of the night. Richards thinks he has tapped into a new generation of dance music fans with his Hard Summer Festival, Saturday's seven-hour party that features a mini-skate park and a wide array of hipster, hip-hop and nu-electro acts. It's an entertainment formula aimed directly at those neon punks in American Apparel.

"I went to Venice Beach recently and I was promoting, passing out fliers," says Richards, owner of Nitrus Records. "I'm just scanning and I see the one kid with the purple hat and white pants, and I go, that's my guy! It's a whole new batch. These are not rave kids. I think we're at the beginning of something that's just getting started."

That something is hard to define, except to say that, at least at the Hard Summer Festival, it includes skater hip-hop (N.E.R.D.); electro-tinged spinners (MSTRKRFT); mischievous electro-rap (Spank Rock, Kid Sister); and eclectic DJs (A-Trak, Steve Aoki). "Younger crowds seem to demand -- and appreciate -- a little bit of everything," says DJ Paul V., host of Saturday night's "Neon Noise" on Indie 103.1 (KDLD-FM). "We're witnessing the zeitgeist of the iPod generation."

"The lines between genres and scenes have been blurred so much," adds veteran concert promoter Phil Blaine of Goldenvoice. "I love it."

The event, part of a series of Hard festivals that includes Halloween and New Year's Eve parties, is expected to be the epicenter of L.A.'s burgeoning neon punk community, where acts such as L.A. Riots, Guns 'N' Bombs, Ima Robot and Casxio are mixing turntables, guitars and synthesizers and making this the nation's capital of cool kids.

Still, it's not all shiny and new. Richards finds himself enlisting friends from the rave era, such as KCRW-FM tastemaker Jason Bentley, who's also on the bill. "If I was some new guy on the scene, I would never be able to do it," Richards says. "I'm able to do this because I laid down all these roots."


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