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“Eh, what’s one more massive?” That ungrateful sentence is the first thing I mumbled when the opportunity to go to HARD Summer floated my way. I was over it. I had been to three HARD events up to this point, each one progressively less fun. I finally threw in the towel at HARD Day of the Dead in 2012 when I saw several people in serious condition for stupid reasons. “Who needs this?” I thought. “They’ve forgotten the R in PLUR.”

But I decided to go on the off chance that maybe things would be different. More importantly, Disclosure was performing and I love them.

Mainly, though, I was being a jaded asshole. Yeah, the privately organized underground parties and (frequently illegal) “techno parties” that terrified parents all through the ’90s and early ’00s aren’t really the face of the culture anymore. It got popular. And like every other subculture that’s erupted into popular culture, proponents of the “old school” claim that it’s lost something. “Oh, it’s been overrun by bros!” they cry. “When will the preteens in pasties stop?” they howl. HARD Summer had both of those in bulk, but more importantly, it had an intangible quality that longtime partiers might appreciate.

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I headed out to the fest on the Metro, which was bubbling over with dudes in tank tops and sunglasses and girls in daisy dukes as bikini tops. Neon yellow crop tops. Pink eye liner. Greasy bodies. There was a lot of flesh. Admittedly, it’s amusing to see the reaction of metro passengers stumbling into this wonderland of half-naked youths. Many, many jaws were left agape.

Cars honked at the shuttle as the HARD party bus charged down the freeway, laden with rowdy revelers. Some too rowdy. It doesn’t matter how cute you are, arguing with the bus driver is a quick way to get your ass left on the street. I honestly have compassion for festival staff at events like this. Their jobs cannot be easy.

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On Sunday, at least, that struggle was made easier by a serious police presence. That’s not a bad thing, so long as they stay out the way of revelry, which, for the most part, they did. That said, it wouldn’t be HARD Summer without some over-hyped dude getting brought to the ground by a bunch of Staff Pro uniforms. I guess that’s the risk you run when you try to jump a fence.

For what it’s worth, this was the third HARD Summer that I’ve been to and also the best one by far. Whittier Narrows is spacious, but not so much so that it’s difficult to get from one end of the festival to the other. The ground might’ve been a little dusty, but whatever. Compared to the LA State Historic Park, this was a revelation.

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First highlight was DJ Sliink. The guy has made his name out of being a Jersey club DJ, but his set was more diverse than that. And by “diverse” I mean it also included house AND hip hop. There’s no getting around the difference that a real sound system makes when listening to this kind of stuff. Sure, you can wiggle and contort your body like it’s having a seizure while wearing headphones, but I’ve found you get strange looks from people that way. Also, there was twerking. There was a lot of twerking in general.

Warmed up, I struck off towards the Green tent. Even with cloud cover, the temperature was still hot and staying hydrated was a struggle. I was wearing a shirt, but I easily understood why the rest of the festival was effectively naked.

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I wanted to check out Hannah Wants mainly because I had no idea who she was. Holy shit, I do now, though. Maybe it was just the “don’t give a fuck — just dance” vibe at the Green tent, but Hannah Wants really slayed it. Her mixing and selection were killer. It’s one thing to have good taste or to be a good producer, but good DJs deserve a nod, too. It felt…ravey. Like the music wasn’t created to be blasted through stadium speakers. It pulses through your bones like a current.

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Sometimes that electricity is supposed to explode. The Harder stage was basically a continuously sustained explosion. I don’t think that stage went three minutes the entire weekend without enduring some colossal buildup followed by a mind-melting drop. The Chainsmokers did a good job of warming this jaded heart towards the big room EDM vibe a little bit. I mean, there’s really no denying the energy that they and artists like them bring to the crowd. It’s like a pep rally, but with more bass. Highlight of their set was a banger of a remix for “Selfie.” They ran the song through three different genres and two drops.

I needed a cigarette after, that’s all I’m saying.

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Even though I’ve seen him before several times, A-Trak was my next stop. His tracks were great as normal. That “Heads Will Roll” remix won’t get old ever. No real surprises there. 2ManyDJs followed (*badumtish*). Jack U and Flosstradamus and Axwell and pretty much everyone else on the Main stage I missed, but let’s be real: those guys are solid. Nothing short of a total catastrophe (no, a little rain doesn’t count) will derail their shows.

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The deep house tents were like dancing at a big outdoor nightclub. The music was what you’d hear at Sound/Exchange/Create/Lure/etc., but with a few obvious differences. People were dancing their butts off. Actually dancing, mind you. Body rolling, foot shuffling, full on movement.

Jacques Greene was a highlight for me as was Gorgon City. Shiba San was a win on two fronts. The first is having an awesome name. The second is bringing the Green stage to a boil. Can I mention Hannah Wants again? And let’s not forget Maya Jane Coles. The queen of the deep still reigns in my heart, and her set did nothing to change that.

It was interesting to see how much more traditional house music has found its way into popularity at these things. I’m finding that it’s not people’s first loves, but something that they come to be interested in after listening to other electronic music. Actually, that’s only half true. I blame Disclosure almost exclusively for the impending popularity of clubby house music.

Then, of course, there was the Main stage, which I avoided the entire time with the exception of Disclosure. Instead of wading into the ocean of humanity that was the audience, I hovered around the edges and watched the stage from a distance. There weren’t any surprises during their set, really (Mary J Blige is not a surprise), which is perfectly fine. I don’t think anyone was complaining.

Dillon Francis was also a pretty big highlight. If the phrase “Eat Sleep Rave Dad” doesn’t mean anything to you, well, you’re probably a normal person who isn’t a huge fan of Dillon Francis (or Fatboy Slim recently). As much as I dig his production, I also have to admit that this Tumblr-powered persona he’s developed is entertaining. Also, his stage was sick as hell. So there’s that.

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What I didn’t see at HARD Summer were people in a disastrous state of health, which was nice. I mean, yes, there were a lot of people who were stoned (ahem) and rolling their faces off. On Sunday there were a few flashing red lights. No limp bodies being carted away, though. I know now that one girl, a teenager, died on Monday from an overdose on Sunday, which is heart wrenching.

That said, I felt the event wasn’t as much of a humanitarian disaster as people have come to expect raves to be. No doubt the several arrests and heavy police involvement played a part in that, but I’m convinced that the spat of deaths at massives recently has had an impact on the behavior of people who go to them. I hope so at least.

HARD Summer was leagues ravier than what I expected it to be. The truth is that it is a huge festival with big names, and huge screens, and enough flesh and hedonism to make Bacchus jealous. But despite that largeness, I feel like there was a vibe for everyone. Splitting up the stages by genre actually worked to separate the subcultures present. That’s not to say it was segregated. It wasn’t at all. It just means that when you wanted to dance, there was a place for that, and when you wanted to vibe out, there was a place for that.

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That aspect of “the culture” is alive and well. Thriving, actually, simply due to the sheer number of ravers there are now. That friendly, open aspect of the scene is still present in the people. I don’t really question that this easy friendship is in part due to many people being high as kites, but that’s not everyone. Hell, it’s not even most people.

That energy was what the whole concept of PLUR was designed to protect in the first place. Scenes, subcultures, whatever you want to call them are never really about the music. Music is a catalyst: it is the accelerant to the flame of social activity.

So, in summation, was this the best HARD Fest ever? Yes. But the goodness of a festival is only a reflection of the culture at large. If HARD Summer is any indication, the kids are going to be alright (mostly).

Photo by Rukes.com
Photo by Rukes.com

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