HARD Founder Gary Richards
Live Nation has purchased Electronic Dance Promoter HARD Events for an undisclosed sum. The move brings longtime promoter and DJ Gary Richards into the Live Nation fold and might set off a new round of promoter acquistions.
The news follows an announcement by Robert Sillerman that the former SFX executive is planning a $1-billion buying spree of EDM promoters, much as he famously did with rock promoters in the late 90s before spinning off the company to Clear Channel that eventually became Live Nation.
Last month Live Nation acquired British electro organizers Cream, the megabrand behind night club parties in Ibiza, Spain and Liverpool, U.K., as well as the Creamfields festival in Daresbury Cheshire, U.K.
Purchase of HARD Events brings L.A.'s Hard Haunted Mansion into the fold, along with HARD Summer, which is gearing up for its third annual run at Los Angeles' 32-acre State Historic Park.
“I think this style of music doesn't really work well in a traditional venue with seats,” said Richards of why he decided to move his electronic dance music event to the park three years ago. “People don't want to go to an electronic dance music festival and stand in seats. The ideal venue for HARD is an airport … a giant, flat runway where we can make a lot of noise.”
But barring that unlikely scenario, Richards has struck a lucrative relationship with the Historic Park, an urban oasis that opened in 2005 with easy access from an adjoining Metro station that sits between the park and the Chinatown neighborhood. “The local community has embraced us and there is no other space like it in the city.”
The festival (Aug. 3-4) will feature sets from leading electronic acts like Skrillex, Boys Noize, Nero, and the Bloody Beetroots, plus 50 other artists spread out over four stages.
It's a shift for Live Nation, which has focused mainly on touring EDM artists including arena runs for DJs like Kaskade. The promoter giant is also backing the Identity Festival featuring Datsik, Eric Prydz, Paul van Dyk and Wolfgang Gartner, among others.
Purchasing HARD also gives Live Nation entry to other markets where Richards has promoted parties including Toronto, Miami and New York. His group also organized HARD's Holy Ship!, an electro cruise on the MSC Poesia to the Bahamas.
And HARD events continue to grow — this year HARD Summer will be held over two days and Richards said one of the reasons for expanding is to maximize the experience for fans, as well as for HARD, which has to deal with a raw space that lacks infrastructure for shows.
“There is no power, fencing, lighting, toilets … we have to basically build a minicity,” he said of the economic sense of building out the space for two days instead of a one-shot. “The other challenge is that it is a state park run by the state, but surrounded by the city of Los Angeles, with a Metro station right behind it.”
That means he must work with a variety of state, city and local governmental agencies to make it happen, from George Yu of the Chinatown Business Improvement District, to neighbors in nearby Solano Canyon, as well as the bureau of street services, sanitation agencies and state and local law enforcement.
“I had to work hard to bring people together to make it work, and it's challenging, but it's worth it,” he said of overcoming the stigma of large dance events in the city in the wake of the drug overdose death of a 15-year-old girl at a 2010 event at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during Insomniac Production's Electric Daisy Carnival. That event has since moved to the Las Vegas Speedway.
It is Richards' desire and tenaciousness about getting it right that have won him a fan in Sean Woods, superintendent for the Los Angeles sector of the California State Parks.
“When Gary approached us a few years ago we realized that to put something of this magnitude on would take a tremendous amount of coordination and effort on our part, but we thought it was worth it,” he said. “Gary has done a really good job of reaching out to local elected officials and hearing the concerns of nonprofits and government groups. Making an event like this happen goes beyond the boundaries of the park and includes other people reaping economic benefits, from the businesses in Chinatown and downtown to people booking hotel rooms.” (There is no camping at the event.)
Woods' office has one officer dedicated just to special events planning and that person spends six months out of the year working with all the regulatory agencies as well as the Los Angeles Police Department, county sheriffs, fire department, the building and safety office and California Highway Patrol to look at every potential issue and put together a plan to ensure public safety.
Why go to all this hassle? Because the rental revenue from HARD, as well as the two-day FYF Festival and a new one-day Univision gathering called the H2O Festival, pays for the park's entire operational budget for the year and helps keep it open and free to the public for the other 360 days a year. The estimated $300,000-$400,000 generated by the shows will pay for employee salaries, irrigation, maintenance and trash collection. And, in a year when 70 California state parks are on a closure list, Woods said the revenue is creating a new economic model for the future during a recessionary time when parks can no longer count on money from California's deficit-choked general fund.
“Here we are, in the urban core of Los Angeles with an incredible piece of real estate that has caught the eye of many promoters,” said Woods. “But we're very selective about who we work with and Gary has been a great partner who is very trustworthy and he delivers on his promises. He's earned the respect of many in the community and he's built trust up with HARD Summer and we hope to bring it back year after year.”
Since he started promoting shows five years ago, Richards said he has worked hard to erase the stigma associated with often illegal rave dance parties by letting local law enforcement and public officials know that he is running a proper concert. That explains why he's happy to tell the 30,000-35,000 expected daily attendees to HARD Summer that they cannot bring in backpacks, stuffed animals or open water bottles and must be over 18. “I follow the fire department's lead,” he said of those rules.
To make sure those rules are followed he's got more than 100 of his own staff on site in addition to 350-400 Staff Pro security professionals and 100 members of law enforcement. Richards declined to discuss the cost of staging the event but he said, after building four stages, paying for labor, lights and artists' fees, the cost is in the “multiple millions.”
In addition to the spike in expenses incurred by jumping to two days, Richards said the explosion in popularity of electronic music has caused artists' fees to skyrocket. “It's definitely gotten harder to get some of these acts, but the good news is that they and their managers know that I was one of the first to bring a lot of these guys here when nobody knew who they were.”
Loyalty goes a long way, but Richards lamented that some acts have quickly gone from asking for several hundred dollars to several thousand to half a million and more than $1 million per show in just the past two years. “I can't afford some of them, so I'm a victim of my own success,” he said, declining to discuss his total talent bill. “But I just have to be clever and book the next guys who are going to be in those [headlining] slots. You look at the bottom third of the bill and that's the most exciting part because those will be the top guys in another year or two from now.”
In addition to filling the coffers, Woods said another upside to hosting HARD is that Richards and his staff are helping the park as it goes into the last stages of finalizing a permanent design. With just 13 of its 32 acres currently developed, the former rail yard is slated to go into construction in 2013 and Woods hopes to tap into some of HARD's expertise to make sure he's incorporating the infrastructure required for big events.
“The park is meant primarily to teach people about the history of Los Angeles,” he said. “But we're designing it to make it an event space, which means allowing for safe ingress and egress and putting in proper wiring and sanitation. We're working with Gary's team to make sure that happens.”
Contacted for this story: Gary Richards, (323) 836-0282; Sean Woods, (213) 620-6152