Gary Richards is one of the most influential individuals in electronic music. As the head honcho of the HARD event production brand, he's been an essential proponent for electronic music and has launched the careers of top-tier acts like Skrillex and Kill the Noise. Behind the decks as Destructo, he's been tearing up dance floors with a hard dance sound since before most of us were in grade school.
I was lucky enough to catch up with the HARDfather himself aboard Holy Ship!!!, a three-day electronic music festival that begins on a cruise ship that sets sail from Miami and ports at two private islands over the weekend. It features the absolute tip-top of electronic music artists performing along the way. Holy Ship!!! was the craziest party I've ever been to and it is all part of Richards' plan for world domination.
Tell me about life when pleasure is your business.
It's the best. Yeah, man. My dad was in radio and he always told me, "Love your work". I never really planned that, but somehow I worked it out in that it's my fuckin' job to party around the world with the coolest people. And it's okay, my wife's cool with it! Life is good.
How do you keep your feet on the ground?
I'm a pretty real guy. I don't let all this shit go to my head. I know that I'm really lucky and fortunate. I've been doing this since, like 1990, and nobody gave a fuck about it for like 15 years. I'm just grateful that it actually happened. If I had been doing this for two years and it actually happened, I'd probably be a fuckin' maniac. I'm so appreciative…I'm just happy that people like electronic music in America. I thought this was gonna happen in 1991, for real, and it didn't. And even when I met my wife, she was like, "What's that fuckin' music that you listen to?" and my Dad was like, "No one buys that shit, there's no songs, everyone's on fuckin' drugs". Jimmy Iovine at Interscope told me "What is this crap? It doesn't sell!" I dunno what happened but people finally started listening to it. Maybe HARD had something to do with that.
Tell me about the cult of Gary Richards that exists on this ship. People are walking around with your face on signs and I've heard your name chanted by crowds more than once. It's like you're a modern-day prophet or something.
I dunno, man. You'd have to ask them that question. I think it goes deep for them. I'm just trying to put together a really cool music event, but they've made lifelong friends that they keep in touch with throughout the whole year. When they come up to me and say, "Thank you," it's in reference to the connections with people that they've made around the globe.
Are you the kind of person who is always in charge? I saw you backstage on the island and everyone was getting wild around you, but I could see the cogs turning in your head and that you had logistics on the brain.
Usually I'm having fun and partying but today was a unique situation because of Pharrell [Williams]. He was supposed to get in a helicopter to arrive on the island at 11 a.m. He didn't get in the helicopter until 3:30 and we were all scheduled to leave the island at 4. For me, as a promoter, all I really have with my people is that I never let them down. If I say Pharrell is gonna be on the beach, I wanna have Pharrell on the beach. When I booked the dude months and months ago, I had this gut feeling…I don't think he understood what Holy Ship!!! actually is and I found out at the last minute that he's afraid of helicopters. We were looking into seaplanes, yachts. I was looking in the sky all day to see if he was gonna show. My partners were about to let it go, but as soon as I saw him, I was like, "There he is! We're not fucking moving!"
HARD has had such a big hand in defining the aesthetic of American electronic music, that electro sound. How did that come about?
I think people thought it was electro, but it's really not. I try to make it interesting and quality, but still party music. For me personally, I like Boys Noize, Erol Alkan, heavy techno shit, but I also like Dr. Dre and I love Bloc Party and Miike Snow. For me, it's about, 'how can I blend all these things together and still make them all work together'. I think it's a combination of making those things work together. The kids today are into different types of genres. I just try to stay away from the big, commercial stuff. For me, that's just pop. I don't reject it. I appreciate what they do, but it's not what HARD is about. HARD's about 'how can we find 60 dudes who all together will make a crazy party'? EDM to me is just pop disguised. HARD is the alternative to that. When I ran a record label it was the same kind of vibe and I used to get a lot of shit for it, but I'm not trying to create a Backstreet Boys or anything like that. That's where I'm at. I just want dudes who are feeling it. If they happen to hit, they hit.
As Gary finished answering the last question, a group of kids walked up and swamped him with love. That sort of thing happened to him again and again all weekend. I've never seen a promoter treated with such respect and admiration. It's been a long road for Gary Richards, but the path he's taken has shown that if you really believe in what you're doing, persistence will pay off. Richards was an iconoclast paving his own way for decades before the rest of America caught up. Now he's a legend.