Written & Interviewed by: Eric B Thornton / Edited by: Bernadette / Images Courtesy of InfamousPR & DJ E B T
Summer has arrived, bringing with it the vibrant music festival season in full swing. Amidst all the festivals happening in Los Angeles County, in addition to Taylor Swift’s multiple shows at SoFi Stadium, there’s one event that has generated more buzz than ever before: HARD Summer Fest 2023. Last weekend, one of Insomniac’s flagship events, the HARD Summer Music Festival, promised to be the biggest yet and it was, exceeding all expectations. After a decade, the festival made its grand return to its roots of Los Angeles, California.
Since 2013, the last time LA hosted the festival, HARD Summer has taken place in various locations east of the city. From Fairplex Pomona to Whittier and Auto Club Speedway in San Bernardino, the festival journeyed around the region over the past ten years. But now, making its way back to LA, the festival made its comeback to the entertainment capital of the world with a bang, gracing three massive locations in downtown: the LA Memorial Coliseum, Exposition Park, and BMO Stadium. Thousands of electronic music enthusiasts danced their hearts out this weekend. With an all-star lineup and a fresh setting, this year’s HARD Summer Music Festival was an unmissable event!
Despite the scorching heat and heavy traffic, electronic music lovers flocked to the festival grounds, adorned in their finest rave attire and carrying totem poles with amusing memes. They all have one mission: to listen to good beats and dance!
The weekend was packed with amazing artists across five stages. As you enter the festival, after walking through the construction of The Lucas Museum of Narrative art on one side and the Harder stage on the other, where attendees started dancing as they navigated the entrance, you are welcomed by the electrifyingly main stage called the Hard stage. With that said, check out Frank151’s “5 Best Things at HARD Summer 2023” and “Artist Interviews” below:
“5 Best Things We Saw at HARD Summer 2023”
- A Homecoming to Remember and Five Stages to Enjoy
The festival’s homecoming after a decade’s absence from LA might not have seemed like a monumental occasion, but the feeling of being back was like returning home. Amid the excitement of three adjacent massive venues, you’d expect a lot of legwork between stages, but miraculously the flow felt seamless. The main stage called the Hard Stage graced attendees as they entered the festival. This stage was reserved to the top billing acts such as the house music veteran Kaskade and brostep pioneer Skrillex to name a few.
Nestled within the BMO Stadium and adjacent to the main stage, the Purple Stage was a haven for acts that demanded grand production values. Australian DJ powerhouse Hayden James, who we had the pleasure of interviewing before his feel-good set (interview below). Hayden James set the stage ablaze with an energetic sunset performance on Day One, while social media personality Oliver Tree, flanked by a full band, amped up the crowd for a sunset on Day Two.
Directly next to the stadium, was the Pink Stage. This stage welcomed all House Music and Techno enthusiasts all day long. More on this below.
The Green Stage and Harder Stage, held at the Coliseum and the grounds next to it respectively, had all the big acts in Drum n’ Bass, Dubstep, and all the more heavy sounding acts such as San Diego native Knock2, England’s rising dj Chris Lorenzo who went b2b with LA native AC Slater, as well as Diesel aka Shaq, who closed out the Green Stage to name a few.
- Eclectic Lineup
This year’s lineup was nothing short of stellar. Veteran DJs, including the infectiously hilarious Dillon Francis, brought his signature energy to the stage. Surprise guest appearances, like Oliver Tree crashed his and Diplo and BLOND:ish’s set at the packed Purple Stage, added an element of surprise and delight.
LA native tech-house rising star Noizu rocked the Saturday afternoon crowd, while South African DJ, Black Coffee who typically plays more of an underground type of set had his 90-minute groovy set before the Sunday headliner. But it was not all electronic artists that performed at the festival. Renowned rappers such as New York’s own Fat Joe and multi-talented Ludacris as well as Kid Cudi graced the festival with their dynamic performances.
- The Pink Stage – A Haven for House and Techno Enthusiasts
Nestled in a corner near Figueroa, the smallest stage at the festival, the Pink Stage was a sanctuary for House Music and Techno aficionados. With uninterrupted sets throughout the day, it was a haven for fans seeking continuous grooves. Festival Goers flocked to this stage to catch veteran and rising stars like the German electro legend Boys Noize, Benin’s own DJ AmÉmÉ with his captivating afro house set, Chicago’s very own Azzecca and the beloved LA warehouse favorite Nala. (Read interviews with Azzecca and Nala below).
Deep house rising stars PAWSA and Ben Sterling continued AmÉmÉ’s set on Sunday, while the always groovy German dj Loco Dice & fan favorite Gorgon City closed the Pink Stage on Saturday. The Pink Stage was definitely the favorite stage for House Music lovers. It could be compared to the Yuma tent at Coachella.
- All the B2B performances
HARD Summer has a knack for orchestrating memorable back-to-back (B2B) performances and this year was no exception. Rising stars MK and Australian DJ Sonny Fodera lit up the Sunday afternoon crowd with an unending stream of hits. Last year, the Colosseum witnessed the likes of Kaskade and Deadmau5, and this year saw Kaskade team up with John Summit for a closing set that had the crowd dancing and singing along.
Festival favorite Diplo and rising techno star BLOND:ish, surprised their fans by playing an energetic techno filled set on Saturday with massive rubber balls floating through the ecstatic crowd.
- Skrillex B2B Four Tet Set
Speaking of B2B performances, one of the standout moments was the massive collaboration between Skrillex and Four Tet. The duo, known as the Pangbourne House Mafia (minus Fred Again..), owned the main stage on Sunday, living up to every ounce of anticipation. Fresh off their historic Coachella performance, the legendary DJs had the crowd on their feet dancing to fresh hits like “Baby Again,” “Rumble,” and Four Tet’s remix of Taylor Swift’s tracks. As fans surged toward the stage, even the VIP area was briefly off-limits due to overwhelming attendance.
While not quite as crazy as their surprise set where they stepped in for Frank Ocean at Coachella Weekend 2, the duo nonetheless brought the same infectious energy to HARD Summer. Their set illuminated by a single central LED screen, exuded an after-hours vibe complete with captivating fireworks, pyrotechnics and mesmerizing lasers. It was the perfect conclusion to an unforgettable weekend.
Frank151 joined in on the celebration to the literal city of LA “welcome home party” and had the opportunity to sit down with some of this year’s unbelievable talents. Check out the artist interviews below:
HARD FESTIVAL ARTIST INTERVIEWS:
In September, your highly anticipated next release, “U Fool,” is set to make its debut on the renowned Higher Ground label, the same label that saw the release of your impressive debut track, “Other Side,” last year. While “U Fool” retains your signature style, it leans more towards a house sound compared to the techno vibes of “Other Side.” Could you share your thoughts on how your musical style has evolved over this past year? Were there any specific sources of inspiration that fueled this evolution?
AZZECCA: I feel like my production style is continuously evolving and I am always finding inspiration in new places. ‘U Fool’ was the result of a few weeks of experimenting in the studio and trying to figure out what a potential Azzecca album could sound like. I think the most important thing for me as a producer is to always make music that can’t really be put into a specific genre or box.
Throughout the summer, your tour has taken you to various cities, where you’ve graced both festivals and headlined clubs. How do you tailor your set for a club performance compared to a festival appearance? Additionally, what aspects do you enjoy the most about performing in these different settings?
AZZECCA: It’s been a crazy summer for sure! I’ve gotten to play some amazing clubs and festivals. The vibe of the set all just depends on the vibe of the venue I suppose. I love club sets because they’re usually longer and I can be a bit more experimental but I also love getting to play bigger, more dramatic songs at festivals.
Your tracks consistently have this unmistakable underground feel. In your opinion, what elements contribute to creating a standout house or techno track with that underground vibe?
AZZECCA: To be honest, I think the most important aspect of making music is originality. There is such an oversaturation of dance music right now and a lot of it sounds the same. My one goal every time I go into the studio is to make something that feels unique and authentic. I make the music I would want to hear at a dj set, and so far this mindset has worked out really well for me.
It’s evident that “Dirty Disco,” your club night in Chicago, has been an overwhelming success, prompting you to expand them in other cities. As you try to grow this project, what do you anticipate will be the most significant challenge you’ll face?
AZZECCA: My hope with Dirty Disco is that I can continue to help promote underground artists that I love. I think building trust and loyalty in the brand will always be the biggest and most important challenge. I don’t want to book big acts to play Dirty Disco because they will easily sell tickets – my goal has always been to introduce people to music they might not be familiar with, which really does require that people trust in the brand and my vision.
Hi Hayden! (To Hayden’s wife:) Are you also from Australia?
HAYDEN JAMES: Yeah. Couple of Aussies.
Cool! I’m actually half Indonesian.
HAYDEN JAMES: Ahh nice! I love Indonesia. I’ve played Jakarta before. Bali many times.
Where’s your favorite place in Bali?
HAYDEN JAMES: Savaya..
HAYDEN JAMES: Yeah, Omnia. I’m playing there in a couple of weeks.
That’s cool! I’ll tell my friends to go to your show. And you played Jakarta too?
HAYDEN JAMES: Jakarta, I played at this festival called, um.. “This or That?”
HAYDEN JAMES: Yeah! What the fest! It’s like something like that. [laughs]
Was it last year?
HAYDEN JAMES: No, before the pandemic, 2017, 2018 maybe?
That’s awesome.. So I’m covering HARD for Frank 151. And they have their traditional festival question: If you have to make a festival, like, who’s gonna be the top three headliners?
HAYDEN JAMES: Love it!
Three headliners at your dream fest, dead or alive.
HAYDEN JAMES: Dead or alive? Oh dear.. Daft Punk is like headlining.
HAYDEN JAMES: Yeah.. so Daft Punk is definitely up there.. Um, the Arctic monkeys. They could maybe play Sunset, the Arctic monkeys. And so we’re looking for a middle ground between Arctic monkeys… –Tame Impala probably. I don’t listen to a lot of dance music, more bands and stuff, so there you go: Daft Punk, Tame Impala and Arctic Monkeys. Yeah, that’s beautiful. That’s a good one. Yeah, I’ll buy a ticket to that. [laughs]
I know you collaborate with a lot of different artists and different genres, so dead or alive, which three artists would you like to collaborate with in the future?
HAYDEN JAMES: Pharrell.. Very much alive. I love him. When I was growing up, NERD was like a big part of my childhood. I listened to them a lot with Pharell and Chad…
The NERD group yeah?
HAYDEN JAMES: Yeah the group NERD.. But who else would I want to collaborate with? Calvin Harris: just because he’s the biggest dance act in the world and he’s just awesome. I just love his songwriting and the way he writes it. I’m similar to that… just very simple ideas. Very well executed, you know and then I’d love to do something with someone like Adele or someone like that.. –just like a huge crazy voice or like a big pop star.
HAYDEN JAMES: Florence would be sick. I actually talk about her a lot. Yeah, Florence is amazing.
Have you tried to contact her about collaborating?
HAYDEN JAMES: No, not yet… She’s our age too, but yeah okay: Adele or Florence. There you go.
You’ve played a ton of clubs and festivals around the world, including one in Jakarta. How do you prepare your set at a festival compared to a club set? Is the setlist different every time?
HAYDEN JAMES: I take a lot of pride in my planning for every single new set that I do. It takes a long time but for festivals if it’s like an hour DJ set or you’re just on the stage for an hour, I’ll plan about 80% of it because it’s all music based. And I just want it to be the best experience for everyone out there as well, but at a club, say I got a three hour set, I’ll just go in and be like let’s go ‘there’. So I’m playing an after party tonight and that’s exactly what I have no idea what I’m going to play but in a good way. I’m just going to feel the energy from the crowd.
So it’s gonna be more like a kinda after hours vibe?
HAYDEN JAMES: I don’t know, I’ll find out [laughs]. I always like to prep new stuff. I always like to do new edits of my record. I’ve got a bunch of new records that I’m going to do today as well. There’s a whole bunch of new music coming out so it’s good to tease new stuff.
So every show is different?
HAYDEN JAMES: Yeah, that’s why I have people coming up to me, like, “I’ve seen you six times” and so it’s good because none of my sets are the same.
That’s great! So.. you’ve already prepared for HARD then?
HAYDEN JAMES: Yeah and looking forward to it!
Can’t wait to see your show later. Thank you very much for the interview!
HAYDEN JAMES: Yeah, no worries! Love to meet you.
Hi! So this first question is a FRANK151 traditional fest quest: If could make your own “Dream Festival” who would you choose as your top three in your lineup, Dead or Alive? NALA: Who would be on my festival lineup? How many names?
Three Headliners – Dead or alive.
NALA: Dead or alive? Honestly.. Ok.. If it was my festival, I would do, Soul Wax, DJ set, Octo Octa back to back with Eris Drew and Ben Sterling.
That’s some deep cut.
NALA: [Laughs] They’re a little deep cut, but that would be the best party.
Yeah, it’s kind of like different genres and stuff.
NALA: Yeah, I mean those are all some of my favorite sets. Maybe Honey Dijon? If I could throw in a special guest. If I have a special guest, it would be Honey Dijon.
Have you ever collaborated with her?
NALA: I haven’t collaborated with any of them, but I’ve opened for Honey Dijon before in LA at a warehouse party. But yeah, I think those are my favorite ‘DJ people’. I mean, there’s so many more.. [excited] And then the second stage would be like Green Velvet. You know what I mean? There’d be a whole other stage but those are my favorite.
Good one! So, you’ve collaborated with a lot of artists from everyone like Claude Von Stroke…
NALA: Yeah, I love Claude Von Stroke! He is a pioneer of a very iconic sound that now is like everywhere. So I mean he’s.. he’s iconic.
Your sound also has a deep vibe.
NALA: I guess my sound is inspired by him in a way. He definitely mentored me. So I have a little bit of his influence, I think also that California-Detroit sound, you know. It’s just kind of like the Dirty Bird sound definitely influenced me.
How did you get started collaborating with him?
NALA: Randomly. He was seeking out female talent and he was doing interviews basically and I showed up and was like, “…I don’t play this kind of music and I don’t make that kind of music, but this is what I do…” I’m a warehouse DJ in Los Angeles. I play raves and I make music that’s kind of left field and he was like, “Perfect! Oh my God, thank you! We need something new in this to mix in,” and then I just went into a full on.. –especially with COVID.. I went into production mode. He started coaching me on everything. And so whatever I knew as an independent artist, he honed in with his twenty plus years of experience and really was like “..this works at the club, this doesn’t work at the club…” I was like, “Oh okay..” You know what I mean? Because that’s only something you would know if you’ve been doing it for like many years…
He is a true OG.
NALA: Yeah, he’s an OG! The OG’s know, they’ll be like, “…this works, this doesn’t work. This sound would annoy people, this won’t annoy people….,” you know? So having him was kind of like a filter for almost 3 years when I was working with him. Everything was getting filtered through him and it made everything really awesome and now, I kind of have the idea.
Speaking of that, how do you prepare your set? In a warehouse or a club or even in a festival.
NALA: Everything is different, right? If I’m playing a festival that’s in the woods and it’s kind of like a hippie festival, I’m going to play a more hippie style set and I’m going to play more left field, more live music, like I’m going to be more creative. If I’m playing somewhere like Factory 93, I’m just going to go for more techno. Like EDC, I’m going to go for more electronic music. I’m just… it varies. When I’m at a club though, I play whatever I want. I feel the crowd out and I’m like, okay, whatever happens, happens.
I saw your set earlier and it was a perfect feel for a daytime set.
NALA: Yeah, it was a daytime set. You know, also I’m in between Azzecca & Ms. Mada, and, you know… –maybe this is my Miami upbringing, but like I always want to create some sense of fluidity between the sets. Again, if I’m at a forest Festival or in particular, the Pink Stage is more serious about their music and they’re music genres are more diverse. They’re more particular and I want to cater to that. So I’m going to do something that flows between both artists because that’s how I was taught to DJ. But if I’m at like, again, a forest festival or just like a random festival, any kind of thing I could do more of a showcasing type of thing where I’m like, these are all the songs I make, these are songs that I like. It doesn’t have to be a serious Euro vibe so it just depends. And then again when I’m in the club, everything goes. I just feel out the vibe. I’ll be like, “What do they want?”
So like random mash-ups and everything?
NALA: Yeah I have all my playlists that I’ve created for every different party, every different show and I just go through them because I know them so well.
Last question: Do you have any recommendations or tips for aspiring DJs and music producers?
NALA: Yeah, I guess music is always going to be the most important thing at this point in everyone’s career. Unless you’re some incredible mixing crazy mashup DJ, I guess, right; because that’s what the Tik Tokers want, but overall, I think the music speaks volumes so just focus on that and make something that people want to hear.
That’s great advice. Well, thank you very much for your time.
NALA: Yeah, thank you for having me!
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