HARD Summer returned to the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino this past weekend for its 14th(!) edition and its first ever foray as a 3-day festival. Boasting a stacked lineup featuring some of the biggest names in dance music and hip-hop, this year’s HARD was one for the ages. The stages were epic, the layout was friendly and convenient, the vibes and energy of the crowd were off the charts. Despite the sweltering heat and humidity over the weekend, Insomniac made sure that all it’s headliners were hydrated and shaded as they partied into the night.
First off, let’s talk about some of the logistical changes that Insomniac made to the layout of the festival. The first thing I noticed from an aesthetic standpoint was the remodeled stages. Obviously, NOS hosts several Insomniac festivals over the course of the year, and most of the time, the stages are enclosed in a mega-structure. For last year’s HARD, the team made the interesting choice of removing almost all of the roofs of the mega-structures, but otherwise leaving the stages intact.
This year, the mega-structure roofs were completely done away with, allowing the HARD and HARDer stages to illuminate the night sky. The HARD stage featured the familiar trapezoid design that has featured on previous HARD stages and also evokes the Mayan temple from HARD Day of the Dead. The HARDer stage underwent and even more drastic evolution. Converted into something of a smaller Coachella stage, the HARDer stage featured massive video panels adorning the entire stage. The crowds there were treated to insane colors and visuals as well as up close looks of their favorite performers on stage.
Another big change that alleviated traffic was the tunnel that went from the HARD to the HARDer stage. Last year, there was a massive wall between the two stages and one had to walk all the way around and back to travel between the two places. This year, the tunnel offered a quicker alternative, as well as a detour to the Pink Tent, and allowed for more breathability going between stages. In fact, if you went into the tunnel, you were treated to shade and misters that were way more prevalent this year. The weather may have sucked, but Insomniac did their part to help alleviate the heat.
HARD has always featured an eclectic lineup that’s slightly left of center. While of course there were artists on the lineup who fit that description and are HARD mainstays like Porter Robinson, Madeon, Alison Wonderland and Jai Wolf; House music was large and in charge this year with artists ranging from Chris Lake, Vintage Culture, Wax Motif, James Hype, Anabel Englund and Matroda all gracing the HARD stage. This year’s hip-hop lineup also offered up something for everyone. Zoomers got Lil Uzi Vert and Denzel Curry. Millennials got Three 6 Mafia (Juicy J and Project Pat are still going hard!). Everyone in between got Megan Thee Stallion and 21 Savage. Whether you wanted to get hype or get in your feels, this year’s HARD Summer got you.
It was a late arriving crowd on Friday’ it’s always brutal driving into San Bernardino from Los Angeles at that time of day. I enjoyed the shade and mist of the VIP area as Anabel Englund had whatever small amount of headliners were there vibing out to her set. James Hype was a definite highlight with his insane mixing skills and wonderful mashups of g-house and 2000s rap and hip-hop classics. Griz was another huge highlight as he has not performed at HARD Summer since 2015 back when the event was at the Pomona Fairplex. He had his full live band, psychedelic visuals, and of course, that sexy sax. I left it all out on the dancefloor for Griz’s performance. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another seven years to see him back at HARD.
Saturday definitely saw more headliners descend upon the NOS Events Center. I started the day off at the HARD stage where Matroda was throwing down the house vibes. I eventually made my way over to HARDer stage for some of LP Giobbi’s set and she continues to impress with her unique brand of groovy house as well as exceptional visuals. Once the sun went down, Three 6 Mafia took the stage, and the crowd started getting hype as the legendary Memphis duo threw down hit after hit from “Bin Laden,” “Side 2 Side” and “Poppin My Collar.” 2000’s Mark was very happy during this set as were a lot of millennials to be sure.
After brief stops at Dimension and Alison Wonderland, I made it back over to HARDer for the highlight of the night. Madeon performing Good Faith Forever live. Aside from a couple of DJ sets, I had not seen Madeon perform solo live since Coachella in 2015. He did perform with Porter Robinson at Coachella 2017, but again, it’d been awhile since I’d seen Madeon solo, and it was well worth the wait. Unleashing some of the most mind-blowing visuals I’ve ever seen, the French singer/songwriter/producer wowed the crowd with live renditions of his Good Faith tracks as well as updated versions of his old progressive classics like “Imperium” and “You’re On.”
It was another full day on Sunday, as I got in early to check out a little bit of Space Wizard at the Green Stage before heading over to the HARDer stage for Rossy. The up and coming producer and DJ threw down an appropriately HARD set of old skool trap that certainly got your blood flowing if the heat was getting you down.
Highlights of the day had to be Sidepiece and Tchami. With the sun down and the final night afoot, the duo of Nitti Gritti and Party Favor did not disappoint as they expertly blended house grooves with 90s and 2000s classics that had the dance floor vibing. Side note, if you found that open area to the right of the HARDer stage you lucked out, you had space to dance all night long. And, so we did as Tchami took the stage. The renowned French producer/DJ dropped a banger of a set featuring all types of house genres.
Porter Robinson closed out the night at the HARD stage, and fans had to be delighted by his blend of new tracks like “Look at the Sky” and “Something Comforting” as well as new re-imaginings of his classic Worlds tracks like “Easy” and “Sad Machine.” HARD maybe an electronic music fest, but the musicality of EDM itself is always on display at HARD Summer.
While there was no doubt that HARD Summer was an absolute vibe, and there are definitely performances that will stay with me for a long time. The only question I have for HARD going forward is, is three days really necessary? This time of the year is brutal, and it certainly felt like the crowd was pretty light at certain times. Insomniac also usually announces next year’s edition of the festival right away. We did not get that announcement for HARD Summer 2023. One would have to assume it will return to NOS, however, maybe it will be scaled back a day. Either way, this year’s HARD Summer was an absolute blast, and I hope that it can return in such an epic form next year.