Destructo: “Some Australian promoters might not see the good shit under their nose”

Ahead of HARD Australia’s debut festival tour this December, JACK TREGONING caught up with boss man Gary “Destructo” Richards to talk playing the promoter game and building the perfect festival line-up.

Gary “Destructo” Richards has no trouble staying busy. You probably know him first and foremost as the face of HARD Events, the LA-based powerhouse behind the likes of HARD Summer and Holy Ship. In recent years, though, the seasoned promoter has carved out his own following as a DJ and producer, turning out club bangers including Party Up, Techno, and this year’s 4 Real with Ty Dolla $ign and iLoveMakonnen.

Australian audiences have seen Gary each summer since 2011 as part of the Stereosonic tour. While he came out solo in his first year, every other edition saw him leading the HARD stage. Now, with a Stereo-sized hole in his schedule, he’s bringing a dedicated HARD tour down our way in December with the help of bass-savvy events company Out Here. He’s rolling with a solid crew, too: Zeds Dead, GTA, Rezz, Ghastly, and Chris Lorenzo. “They’re the homies I play with all the time,” Gary explains. “I was like, who wants to come to Australia?”

When inthemix got the HARD boss on the phone at his LA office, he was finishing up DJing across the US on the Renegade tour, while also considering the logistics of the Australian shows and Holy Ship. In other words, it was a regular day in the life of Gary Richards. Here’s what the full-time party specialist had to say.

You’ve been down here the past few summers with a stage at Stereosonic, and you’re coming back with the HARD shows. What’s been your impression of Australia?  

Since I’ve had the stages at Stereosonic, I always want to come back. The first year I came out, they had me on the dubstep stage and it was like, Why am I here? I remember calling Skrillex and 12th Planet, asking them to please send me some dubstep. I said to Stereosonic, let me book a stage next time. From there, I was able to craft it and make it better.

I’ve always felt like Australia – Sydney in particular, but pretty much the whole market – reminded me of California. The weather’s great in summer; people just like fucking partying, y’know? I could relate. I also bonded with a lot of the artists there, like Chris [What So Not], Harley [Flume], Wax Motif, Anna Lunoe, and Motez.

And they’re all DJs you’ve booked to play HARD shows in the US.

Yeah, it’s weird; I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t getting booked as much at home. I learned that Australia likes to import people, or their locals get big in America, then they come back. All these Australians were such great producers, but they kind of had to leave to get big and come back. Harley was the one who seemed like he was always big in Australia, but everyone else had to get out to come back.

“All these Australians were such great producers, but they kind of had to leave [the country] to get big and come back.”

I think some of the Australian promoters might not see the acts who live there, because they’re looking to bring the big guys from America or Europe, when all this good shit is right under their nose.

I remember in the early days of HARD my ‘resident DJs’ were Aoki and DJ AM. They were always on HARD shows, and they’d get pissed that they weren’t bigger on the bill. But for me it was like, “You guys fucking play here three times a week!” I didn’t see them being as big as I should have, because they were super accessible to me.

Festivals come and go, but HARD Summer keeps on growing. What do you put that down to?

Yeah, every year it’s bigger. It seems like a lot of other things are having problems with attendance, but I don’t sit back and go, fuck it, let’s just book Avicii again. I had NWA, The Weeknd, Travis Scott: I want to see something that I like.

I think some promoters rest on their laurels and get complacent. People always used to ask me, “Why do you book that shit? The shit you book doesn’t sell.” And then all of a sudden, what I do becomes the mainstream. But I remember for years people said HARD was the small, cool festival that doesn’t really sell that many tickets. Then this year we sold 150,000 tickets for HARD Summer.

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Photo credit: James Coletta

When did you feel the tide start to turn? Was there a year when it really accelerated?

In 2010, we sold 10,000 tickets and I was stumped. Why only 10,000? It was because we only had two stages and all the same kind of sound. It was Soulwax, Crystal Castles, Major Lazer, Erol Alkan, Digitalism, Tiga, Green Velvet, Proxy, and more. I was like, fuck, why only 10,000 tickets?

Then the next year we had Skrillex and Odd Future. We went up to 30,000 and from there it kept going up. Maybe the audience also wasn’t there yet. Diplo has been at most of them, Sonny [Skrillex] has been at most of them – I guess just everyone got bigger in the last six years.

You also elevate certain acts to bigger stages than they’d usually play.

Yeah. I always fuck up the pecking order. People are like, “Why is this guy so big at your show?” It’s like, I don’t know, I like them? Then I see another line-up and that guy is near the bottom.

“I always fuck up the pecking order”

Did seeing Odd Future work at the festival in 2011 encourage you to book more hip-hop?

Well, Duck Sauce and Boys Noize were the headliners that year, then Chromeo and Ratatat, then Skrillex and Odd Future. So Skrill’ was five on the bill, and Odd Future was six. But that was the year that they both blew the fuck up. Skrillex was on the small stage and I remember telling the fire department that this might be the one time at the concert where it gets tight. Between the time I booked him to the time of the show was when he released all his music.

But I’ve always had hip-hop on HARD. I always try to mix something in there besides electronic. I feel in the last year or two, especially with The Weeknd and Travis Scott, there’s so much good shit coming out in that kind of music. It feels more interesting to me right now than having the same old EDM dude again. But the heart and soul of HARD is always electronic music.

Do you ever look at your old HARD line-up posters and wonder how you pulled it all off? 

My wife actually said that to me – like, how did you do all this? In the beginning, I was going to retire. I had a record label but no one was buying music. No one was buying my music. And I thought maybe before I retire I should try to do one more show and see what happens.

And that first one had 5000 people for Justice and Peaches, but it was like a beautiful disaster. Everything about it was fucked up, but I knew I had something really special. I lost a lot of money, there was no security, the logistics were a total mess. But I knew I had something special and stuck with it.

For the second one, because we had N*E*R*D, I remember walking along Hollywood Boulevard and saying to all the girls, “Pharrell’s having a party.” So even though that show had all these beautiful girls, it still had low attendance. Then it eventually blew out, and took on a life of its own.

Have you been surprised by the size of the crowd for any particular acts at HARD Summer, or do you usually have a gauge on how big an artist’s pull is?

I mean, last summer, I went up when Zeds Dead was playing and there were fucking 60,000 people there. Also, DJ Mustard, Ty Dolla $ign, Ghastly. You can see who’s going to be big from how many people schedule it on the festival app. I mean, even I was in the top 10 or 15 scheduled. It was like, fuck. When you’re in that top 10, that means 20,000 people are coming to see you, and I’m in a little tent.

I don’t try to put myself ahead of where I should be on my own festival. DJing is fun for me; it’s a hobby. I love doing it, but I think of myself as the organiser. I don’t ever think I’m up there with the big dogs. But at HARD and Holy Ship, I guess I am one of the big dogs!

Jack Tregoning is a freelance writer based in New York. You can follow him on Twitter.

HARD Australia kicks off on December 1. You can grab tickets here.

hard aus poster