HARD Events CEO Gary Richards has made a name for himself as a promoter, but the music is what keeps him going.
Gary Richards is a busy guy. As founder and CEO of HARD Events, he organizes and promotes dozens of shows and festivals around the world each year, including Holy Ship!, a one-of-a-kind 4-day EDM cruise. Unlike most record execs, though, Richards is an artist himself. It is in this capacity, as the DJ Destructo, that Richards is coming to Republic tonight, as part of the Renegade Tour in support of his upcoming EP.
This won’t be Richards’ first time in New Orleans. In fact, he spent some short but formative years here, around the time he was in middle school. (The timeline is a little fuzzy). “My dad programmed a radio station called WAIL 105, and he was on from 3-7 in the afternoon,” says Richards. “So he was playing like Rick James and The Gap Band and Africa Bambaataa. All of it was brand new. And I was a little kid, so that always went into my head.
“We used to go to a club down there too,” he remembers. “It was called The Famous. And [my dad] used to do like a Friday night or Saturday night crazy party, and me and my brother would do the light show. The DJ’s name was Slick Leo. I think he’s still there because my dad’s been telling me he wants to come play HARD.”
Richards moved out to Los Angeles before high school, and soon began DJing, immersing himself in the blossoming warehouse scene. In 1991, he founded the now-ubiquitous Electric Daisy Carnival with his partner Mr. Koolaid.
“One day, Koolaid came into my apartment and was like We’re gonna do an electric daisy carnival,” says Richards. “And I was like, Alright, what’s that? And he was like, We’re gonna have a ferris wheel, we’re gonna have a fire eater, we’ll have a bearded lady, you know? And I was like, Alright cool; let’s do it!”
Soon, Richards had gone from small-time DJ and promoter to industry heavy, working with the legendary Rick Rubin to bring European DJs like Justice and Deadmau5 to the U.S. mainstream. In 2014, Rolling Stone listed him as the 25th most important person in EDM. For Richards, though, the business was always secondary to the music.
“I just wanted to DJ,” he says. “I didn’t want to do all the other crap, but I just realized OK. I have to do it because no one else is going to. I thought it might be better to work with lots of artists than just have me be the only artist. Like What if I’m really not that good? Then I’m kind of screwed. I wanted to work with other people just in case.”
Luckily for Richards, it paid off. Through the brand he’s developed with HARD, he’s been able to promote his own music quite effectively. He still has to balance his administrative duties with his artistic vision, but he’s learned to make it work. “For me, it all kind of works together,” he says. “I don’t know how or why, but it makes me better.”
The sound Richards has been pursuing lately (as Destructo) is exciting. Often labeled G-House, it combines traditional elements of deep house with hip-hop vocals. It’s beginning to carve out its own little niche in the EDM/hip-hop world, alongside related subgenres like trap. Richards, though, sees the label as irrelevant. “It’s basically electronic music and rap,” he says. “It’s been going on forever.
“I want to play at 2 in the morning, and it’s some sexy deep house vibes,” he explains. “I always thought of putting vocals on there. I really wanted to play a set that was house but had rapping in it, and there weren’t really that many records that did that. So I was like OK, well let’s just make our own. And then when I did that thing with YG, I was like Woah, this fucking works! I knew I had something special.”
Since then, Richards has collaborated with some of the hottest rappers in the game, and he’s learned from each of them. When he went to visit Bay Area legend E40 at his house, for instance, he sat and watched him work for a while, amazed at the way he annunciated each word so intentionally, fashioning his voice into an instrument.
Richards remembers Too $hort, another legendary old-school spitter, asking him what the song “Bust Them Cheeks” was about before he started writing. “I’m like It’s about dogs, and then he goes and writes this whole song about this dog who jumps the fence every night and gets out and fucks all the other dogs in the neighborhood,” he recalls. “He did it within an hour like right in front of my face. I was just like Dude, how’d you do that?”
He’s enjoyed working with younger rappers too, especially Ty Dolla $ign, who blew him away in the studio. “He just started playing the piano and singing,” Richards says. “He was warming up and doing scales and it was just like Woah dude! Sounded like Stevie Wonder or something. It was pretty cool. Eye-opening. I was just trying to make a house track. I didn’t even know I could do that; now I do, though.”
On this tour, Richards has brought one rapper in particular along for the ride. ILoveMakonnen (Makonnen for short) made a massive splash in the trap scene in 2014 with his hit single “Tuesday” (later remixed by Drake). His sadboy rapper/crooner vibe made him a welcome change-up over a trap beat and launched him to a hit-filled 2015 as well.
This past year hasn’t been quite as good to him, though, and it seems like he’s been looking for new options lately. Enter Destructo with a hot beat and Ty Dolla already $igned on. The end product is “4 Real,” the lead single off Destructo’s upcoming EP and the hottest thing Makonnen’s put out in a while. According to Richards, he first met Makonnen on the video shoot for the song, and they hit it off immediately.
“He was like Can I come on that boat? And I was like Yeah, of course. And Ty was like I wanna come too! So I’m like Alright, cool, and I had them on the boat,” he says. After that, Makonnen started turning up at Destructo’s set The Sermon, a long-time L.A. staple. “I’d be DJing at whatever hour of the morning, and on the middle of the dance floor, there’s Makonnen, just grooving, you know, he’s into it. And then we played a few shows together. He’s really good live. He puts on a good show, gets super-animated. He’s dope.”
Richards seems to have a similarly positive and spontaneous relationship with all his touring partners. The first time Drezo (who will play tonight too) came onstage during Destructo’s set, Richards describes an almost immediate bond. “He jumped in and we were all on the same page,” he says. “It’s hard to explain, but we’re in the same zone.”
He has great things to say about Sita Abellán (the final act on the bill) too. “She’s the techno princess,” he says. “Like she’s the thing I think I’m most excited to see on this tour. She really goes in.”
Obviously, Gary Richards isn’t only in it for the money. Despite his executive endeavors, he’s got a real passion for the music he makes and promotes. “People get it mixed up sometimes why we’re doing what we do,” he says. “I always do a show when there’s a cool artist to work with, and if that artist can sell 30 tickets or 30,000 tickets, it doesn’t really matter. We’ll do the show for 50 people, and it’ll be awesome.”