Gary Richards is a superbusy dude. He is a professional party planner. He is a gigging DJ known by the name Destructo. Plus he's the mastermind behind the nationally touring Hard electronic music festival.
This Friday, Richards and his Hard series will hit the high seas aboard the inaugural Holy Ship! cruise. The ship in question is the 2,550-passenger MSC Poesia, and the event is a three-night floating dance fest featuring a solid roster of electronic dance music superstars such as Fatboy Slim, Boys Noize, Laidback Luke, Skrillex, Rusko, Diplo, and A-Trak.
Richards recently spoke with New Times about getting Hard, staying Hard, launching Holy Ship!, and electronic music being the new grunge.
New Times: How did the Hard parties lead to the Holy Ship! cruise?
Gary Richards: In the early '90s, I was a DJ and promoter in L.A. I used to do a lot of the warehouse parties, the underground stuff. Then I moved into the record business with Rick Rubin, and he hired me to sign electronic techno bands. We signed Prodigy, XL Recordings, all that stuff, and nobody ever bought it. It didn't really work out, and I just bounced around all these different record labels.
Then, in 2006, I just decided that trying to sell CDs to people is [like] trying to sell oxygen. You know, it's free. Why would people buy this? So I thought I'd go back to DJing and producing events.
I started Hard in 2007, and the first show was Justice, Peaches, and 2 Live Crew. I really felt like it hit a nerve of what people weren't really getting in America. We were doing something different and it just seemed to grow and grow. It has taken on a life of its own.
[For] all the shows I do in New York, I work with a company called the Bowery, and they do the Jam Cruise with these guys in Florida called Cloud Nine. So I told them that I've always wanted to do a cruise, and they said, "It's funny you should mention that," and we all got on a call and formed a partnership between the three of us.
Originally, it was going to be the Hard Cruise or whatever. But finally we settled on Holy Ship! It's really good to have partners that know how to run a boat and how the boat works. They know the captain and the company, and I can come in and do my thing with booking the acts and making it feel like a Hard event. On January 6, we'll see what happens.
Did you have a strong idea of which artists you wanted to play?
I just wanted the guys who would be most into the party and contributing, not someone who'd hide in their cabin and come out and play their set for an hour.
Like when I mentioned it to Diplo, [he] was so into it. We're having a Mad Decent scavenger hunt. He was like, "We should have three-on-three basketball tournaments, kissing booths." And A-Trak was like, "I want to do shuffleboard, and we're going to have fucking DJ lessons."
They're into it. They're hyped into making it a whole adventure and not just playing a set and hiding out.
Do you hope planned activities like the Steve Aoki poker tournament, Gina Turner yoga class, and A-Trak DJ lessons will break down barriers between the cruisers and artists?
That's what we're hoping. And also we have a captive audience for three days, so we have to have something else besides dancing. I would just go for three days of dancing. But my partners are like, "You've got to stop at some point so people can eat and sleep. We can't just pulverize them with music all the time."
An electronic music cruise on this scale seems very ambitious.
I haven't really done the mathematics of who goes cruising and who likes what. I just kind of know that if you put all those DJs together, there has to be a bunch of people who want to check it out. I think it's a good mix of all kinds.
We have [iconic postdisco producer] Arthur Baker on this trip. I mean, he was DJing at Studio 54 in the '70s. He produced [Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force's] "Planet Rock." He's an old-school disco guy, you know. I'm just trying to mix it up. We have dubstep. We have disco. We have techno. It's an experience where you can get a little bit of everything.
Do you think an event on the scale of Holy Ship! could really be happening right now only with the increase in popularity of electronic dance music in the U.S.?
I've been working with this kind of music since 1990. So there were probably a couple of years between 1990 and 2012 when you could have done it.
What happens is that it kind of gets big and then it kind of goes away, and then it gets big and then it goes away. This time it feels like it's a tsunami. It's everywhere. My goal is just to try to make sure it doesn't go away again.
If an event like Holy Ship! is symptomatic of a genuine movement, why do you think it has happened?
I just think people in America [are] just late to catch on. But when they catch on, they latch on. So I'm just happy and I'm glad that everyone is into it.
I think more than anything, it's a lot of kids, a lot of college kids. You know, if you want to be in a band now, you'd probably prefer to be a DJ or get a keyboard or something, not [hang out] in a garage playing speed metal with your friends. Even though I like speed metal too. But I just think that's what kids are into.
Back in the day, when I first started, I think the music was pretty basic. I mean, there were still some pretty cool tracks here and there, but it wasn't like it is now. I think if Kurt Cobain or Scott from Stone Temple Pilots were teenagers now, they might be into electronic instead of grunge or whatever they were doing. It just seems to be what's going on with the times.