My first experience with HARD Summer was in 2011 at the LA State Historic Park. It was my first time seeing Skrillex, Ratatat, Chromeo and more and featured an easily navigable venue and layout. I went back again to the same venue for the very first Day Of The Dead the following year, and was absolutely blown away once again.
My next HARD Summer was in 2014, when HARD was forced out of LA State Historic Park due to renovations on the grounds, and they found themselves at Whittier Narrows. The festival was a bit smaller, but it was still well organized, easy to navigate, and featured a variety of acts that anyone would love. Day Of The Dead that year was held at the Pomona Fairplex for the first time – nearby residents and neighborhoods of Whittier Narrows complained of traffic and noise, so the venue was moved once again. This, of course, was the first year that Deadmau5 & Eric Prydz played their epic B2B set.
HARD Summer 2015 was mired by the death of two young women, Katie Dix and Tracy Nguyen. Following their deaths, the San Bernardino City Council placed restrictions on that year’s Day Of The Dead, raising the minimum age to 21 and capping attendance at 40,000. As a consequence, the festival felt rather empty at peak set times with no one really walking around outside. However, many elements of the festival were improved, as well. There were less wait times all around – getting in and getting out – and HARD vastly improved the free water experience from HARD Summer where it was essentially a free-for-all by following Insomniac’s example and having volunteers man the stations. The 40,000 person cap also predictably made crowding and foot traffic much easier to deal with.
This brings us to 2016, HARD’s first time at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, halfway between Pomona and San Bernardino, where nearly 150,000 ravers gathered in the sun. The summertime festival has always started around noon, though end times have progressively gotten earlier since leaving LA State Historic Park. Immediately I was worried about heat, recalling how hot Las Vegas’ own speedway was even during the night. In the months leading up to the event, and the weekend of, HARD was pushing hard on social media about various ways to keep cool, as well as providing a number of free water stations at the event, so let’s look at that aspect first.
Temperatures are hot today, take breaks from dancing and take advantage of free water stations on site! pic.twitter.com/qHzpb7ovIh
— HARD Events (@HARDFEST) August 1, 2016
How to keep cool at HARD Summer 2016
The first thing to note were the three massive chill zones located in the vicinity of the Purple, Pink, and HARDer stages. These large hangars were surrounded with food, drink, misters and restrooms in order to give a place to people to cool down and rest their weary feet. Throughout the day, walking by these areas, I very rarely saw them in use. Either people didn’t know what they were for, or they were too busy walking from stage to stage in order to put time aside to cool off.
Moving on to the free water stations, it’s like HARD took all the lessons they learned from last year’s Day Of The Dead and threw them all away. The stations were once again unmanned, leading to 30+ minute wait times at peak times between sets. There were no “lines” except for the ones naturally formed by people worming their way in between others in an effort to get water the fastest. When I finally managed to actually get to the water pumps, many of them were mired by low water pressure, further increasing the wait times. Without proper security around the pumps either, many resorted to coming up behind the pumps (like they did at the HARDer stage) and taking the spigots for themselves. Lastly, the water station at the Green Stage was nonoperational all weekend.
If you opted for a VIP ticket, you had access to the massive pool at the HARD stage, which was actually a fantastic idea. The pool was packed for most of the weekend, providing sweet respite to those with weary feet and burning skin for a time.
Other air conditioned areas like the PS4 installation, the Jaegermeister House, and the Smirnoff House were available to patrons, though the latter two were only available to those 21 and over. Misters and water walks were also available at certain points along the main thoroughfare, “above” the HARDer stage, though the former was often whisked away by the wind and you were dry from the heat about 5 minutes after the latter.
— HARD Events (@HARDFEST) July 22, 2016
According to a fact sheet provided by HARD, there were “348 free water distribution valves spread over 15 locations on the site. Each point of water is capable of hundreds of gallons of water per hour. [On-site staff and security] provided over 12,000 bottles of bottled water free of charge to the audience as they entered the event/waited in line. [The venue had] 5 shaded misting stations totaling about 10,000 square ft. [There was] an additional 120,000 square ft. of covered shade area. [There were] numerous misting/water type interactive “cooling” attractions, including an 8,400 square ft. pool for the general public. Both of the entry operations were shaded, covered totaling about 34,000 square ft.”
Navigating the new venue
Without a map on the first day (whether that was Saturday or Sunday), your ability to navigate the new venue was incredibly encumbered. For the massive size of the Auto Club Speedway, the stages were extremely far apart and often difficult to actually reach, especially at peak hours. People entering through GA had the option to continue straight speedway at the HARDer Stage or turn left and head to the Green Stage, which wins an award for most inconvenient stage at any festival ever.
From there, depending on your time of entry, making your way the long way around to the HARD stage, by way of Pink and Purple, was often the smarter decision – especially if you had VIP. The only entrance to VIP at HARD was on the right side, and coming from the HARDer stage was basically saying to yourself, “I don’t care if I ever make it.”
Purple was generally pretty easy to get to, having little to no obstacles in the way. The same could be said for Pink, unless a large crowd was just exiting HARDer; but even then, there was an exit point between two of the chill zones that allowed for easier thoroughfare.
Getting back to the Green Stage, however, this was easily the most complained-about element of HARD Summer by far. Putting the stage outside of the actual speedway against bottleneck entry/exit points from the HARDer stage during peak set times was an absolute recipe for disaster from the get-go. On Saturday, very few people inside the venue could accurately point me in the right direction of the stage. On Sunday, signs had gone up around the HARD stage which led to a circuitous route that was less congested, and spit us out on the other side of the stage. However, by no fault of HARD, many people weren’t in possession of the festival guidebook and map like I was, making it even more difficult to find.
Overall, for being a completely new venue that has never held an electronic music event before, and for new ravers to the festival, the organization and navigation of the Auto Club Speedway by HARD and Live Nation doesn’t receive a passing grade.
Camp HARD x @TeamBandL
An after hours camping experience featuring Secret Guests all weekend long!
COME THRU!! pic.twitter.com/UHRNZ24uAV
— HARD Events (@HARDFEST) July 19, 2016
This was the first year that HARD offered camping at one of their events, and seeing as I was already covering the festival, I wanted to get the full experience. I’d camped at other festivals like Coachella and Serenity Gathering, but those were both on a polo ground and Indian reservation, respectively. In other words, I knew there would be somewhere to place a tent. Camping at a speedway seemed a bit more… complex.
When we arrived on Saturday, it took about 60-90 minutes for the line of four or five cars ahead of us getting checked to make their way past inspection before it was our turn – when we first approached, there were only two stations giving inspections. When we finally made it to the front, that number had jumped to five. The inspection itself took only about 15 minutes since we had so little to actually search (we only stayed for Saturday night).
We were directed to our spot against the far wall nearest the Speedway, close to the garden, Hub, and silent disco. However, the festival was already under way so we chose to familiarize ourselves with the campgrounds that night or the next morning.
Too tired to participate in Glow Dodgeball or the Twerk Off Saturday night, we explored the campgrounds on Sunday morning and found that it was pretty damn communal. Pretty much everyone was congregated in the Hub, where there were two large blocks of outlets for people to charge their phones. While doing so, you could play corn hole, ping pong, go get some food or even a massage ($1 per min was a pretty fair deal). Food trucks and the usual tents with pizza and chicken tenders were available for campers to patronize, as well as a General Store with anything from breakfast burritos to condoms. There was a convenient free water area next to the restrooms and General Store, as well as misters over by the food tents in lieu of actual shade, which would have been nice. Showers were also available, though I’m not sure how much they were actually used.
Our biggest gripe with the campgrounds came Sunday night when we returned from the festival ready to leave at 10:30, before the festival was officially over, and found that we were locked in until 1am. A security guard told us this was due to foot traffic, but… there wasn’t any. When we were finally allowed to leave at 1am, we had to dodge multiple people walking in the street on our way to the exit.
Overall, the benefits that camping provided far outweighed any negatives, and I would be happy to camp with HARD again.
— HARD Events (@HARDFEST) July 29, 2016
The actual music
HARD has never had difficulty booking quality music acts. Since my first HARD Summer in 2011, there hasn’t been a single year that I’ve felt the lineup was weak or that I wasn’t absolutely excited about who I could see. So in that regard, HARD gets a glorious A+. With the right planning, I was able to see 11 artists on the first day and 10 on the second, all without really breaking a sweat.
The first day, I was pretty much exclusively at HARDer and Green. seeing acts like Rezz, Malaa, Slushii, Baauer, San Holo, Madeon and Pretty Lights, there was little reason for me to leave! Still, I made it halfway through pretty lights before venturing out to HARD to check out Flosstradamus and their massive new stage design, which is impressive in so many ways. Unfortunately, their set was a bit basic for my tastes, and they were on the microphone a bit too much, so I headed over to Purple for the first time to catch UK rapper & grime artist Dizzee Rascal. Put up against acts like Flosstradamus, Pretty Lights, Claude VonStroke and Herobust, Dizzee’s crowd was dizzyingly dismal – there were definitely no more than 150 people present. Even against such poor numbers, he made an effort to perform as usual and came out with a lot of energy. The highlight of his performance for me was a live rendition of his newest collaboration with Calvin Harris, “Hype.”
Of course, we can’t go over Day 1 without mentioning Slushii’s debut performance – ever – and a surprise appearance from Skrillex. As I left the Green Stage to make my way to Baauer, the tent was far beyond capacity and had hundreds of people spilling out from all sides.
The second day, after a much-needed rest at the camp area, started out with the long trek to the Green Stage for a show from Whethan. The producer who rose to fame from his remix of “XE3” by Mssingno put on a stellar show, including dropping two new collaborations with Skrillex and Flux Pavilion. He also brought out Oliver Tree who sang live for two tracks off their upcoming EP, release date TBD.
Day two was also unfortunately affected by a few cancellations, including Fakear, Mura Masa, Jackmaster and Desiigner. Fakear and Mura Masa were replaced by Crnkn and Manila Killa respectively, who each put on performances worthy of the DJs they replaced. Desiigner was replaced by Anna Lunoe, whom I unfortunately missed as I was at Zeds Dead & Dillon Francis at the time and didn’t get a notification from my HARD app until after the event was already over. Jackmaster was replaced by Ghastly, who was actually performing for the third time at HARD that weekend.
I also made my second and final trip over to the Purple Stage on Day 2 for Kayzo, who had the crowd absolutely wrapped around his finger. For every ounce of energy he put into his set, the crowd was giving it back 110%. The Purple Stage hosted mainly hip hop for the second day, but in Kayzo’s own words, “I know this is a hip hop stage, but we’re gonna rave the fuck out of this bitch!” And he did.
My biggest musical complaint for the weekend goes to Kill The Noise, who stopped his music at least six times to proclaim “Fuck Donald Trump,” including throwing up visuals of Trump making the Nazi salute with swastikas on the main stage. The heavily political set felt extremely out of place and very excessive.
Between Kill The Noise and Zeds Dead, we actually made time to visit the Smirnoff House for a set from Bixel Boys, but another set change ended up with a surprise Manila Killa b2b Jai Wolf set and we weren’t complaining one bit. Mixmag staff, who were sponsoring the stage, were fearful that the speakers were rocking so much since the place was bouncing so damn hard.
Zeds Dead brought out Twin Shadow & D’Angelo Lacy for a live performance of “Lost You,” the first time I’d seen them do so. As well as classics, they also peppered their set with tracks from their forthcoming debut album due out later this year. Dillon Francis followed up with his own heavy dubstep intro of “Red Lips.” At one point during his set, a massive Gerald piñata was thrown out into the crowd which was summarily decimated. So… RIP Gerald.
Heading to Boys Noize at HARDer, we heard the very end of Anna Lunoe’s set, confused since Boys Noize was supposed to have started 20 minutes prior to our arrival. Instead, he started his set 30 minutes late and only performed for 40 minutes – his tardiness was due to a 4 hour flight delay. Porter Robinson’s set still managed to start on time thanks to the tireless efforts of the stage managers and crew at HARD, and he went on to make the end of the night absolutely incredible.
Our favorite sets of the weekend were easily Rezz, Madeon, Whethan, Manila Killa b2b Jai Wolf, and Porter Robinson.
We can sit here talking about the good points of HARD Summer until we’re blue in the face, but three people lost their lives this past weekend. Likewise, we can debate the merits of proper EMT training or personal responsibility, as well as the detrimental effects of the RAVE Act until kingdom come. In the end, three people lost their lives and something has to change. Whether that change starts at the federal, personal, or organizational level doesn’t matter so much as someone making the first move – though, admittedly, repealing the draconian RAVE Act would be a huge step in the right direction.
I’m not sure if this will be my final HARD event, it certainly didn’t leave a great taste in my mouth. I will have to see how I feel next year, but I definitely hope that HARD addresses the concerns of attendees this year if they plan to return to the Auto Club Speedway for their 10th anniversary next year.