By Brent Burns
I was among the estimated 30,000 EDM-loving attendees who filtered into the starlit Los Angeles State Historic Park on Aug. 3–4 for the Hard Summer Music Festival. Gary Richards, whose company Hard Events produces the festival, provided enthusiastic fans with more than 50 acts spread across four stages over two days. The arms that weren't waving in the air to the relentless music were either around a friend's shoulder or busy taking pictures of the festival's fully immersive audiovisual attractions.
Day one of the festival included explosive performances by acts such as Magnetic Man, Bloc Party, Miike Snow, and Breakbot (whose collection of catchy synth-pop was probably the grooviest set anyone would hear all weekend). But the main attraction was the evening's headliner Boys Noize, the stage name of Alexander Ridha. Before his set, I had a chance to sit down with him to discuss what we could expect from his performance, his record label Boysnoize Records and his highly anticipated forthcoming album, Out Of The Black.
After taking almost a year off the festival circuit, Ridha recently spent time in Berlin channeling the raw elements of his early days as a producer, when he was admittedly naive and experimenting with his creative process. He says he can still be found shuffling through crates of records every week, which is where he found inspiration for not only his own music, but also for the direction of the artists he's signed to his own label — a label that is now home to approximately 20 artists. And while Ridha was tight-lipped on sharing details of his set, his smirk meant he clearly had a few tricks up his sleeve. "It will be a classic festival set. Techno-ravey, and a lot of fresh stuff you've never heard before," he slyly noted.
Before joining the sweaty thousands who surrounded the main stage awaiting Boys Noize's performance, I ran into Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters, who was there to support Ridha, his longtime friend and collaborator. If I wasn't already anxiously excited to see the show, hearing someone as incredibly talented as Shears so humbly gush about Ridha's expertise made me feel like I had just awoken on Christmas morning. "Only the horses, and Boys Noize, can bring us back home tonight," laughed Shears, making a reference to the Scissor Sisters single “Only The Horses" that was co-written by Ridha.
As expected, after an echoing Boys Noize chant called for the German producer to begin his set, the robotic vocal beginning his show turned the crowd's chant to a scream-level cheer. The festival had saved its best for last, with Boys Noize giving attendees an hour of sharp-hitting techno and thumping house anthems, served by a musical connoisseur of artistic excellence.
Day two was noticeably more crowded, and hosted an equally impressive display of virtuosic skill on stage with acts such as Dillon Francis, Zedd, Nero, and GRAMMY-winning sensation Skrillex, who was crowned with the closing slot. Accompanied by a merciless strobe, Skrillex's staging was impressive. Surrounded by what appeared to be a hybrid of a futuristic aircraft and Transformers character Optimus Prime, Skrillex was positioned in the middle with colorful screens on every side displaying warped imagery, a kaleidoscope of lighting effects and sporadic pyrotechnics synced to the artist's drum rolls and bass drops. One of the set's highlights was his remix of Benny Benassi's "Cinema," which the crowd sang along to at the top of its lungs, "You are a cinema/I could watch you forever." Even if you tried your best to remain motionless, you would have failed miserably, swaying in time.
Fans even became the feature of the festival, as the crowd's image was projected outward on main stage screens from Skrillex's point of view, giving a unique perspective to the mass of people united under the same love and devotion for the EDM culture sweeping the globe.
(Brent Burns is the dance/electronica GRAMMY.com Community Blogger.)