Hard's Gary Richards Talks Pool Parties and Ultra Music Festival

Hard is ready to take over Miami's party scene. Since 2007, Hard has been giving dance music fans in the West Coast their fix with regular events that consistently feature a killer lineup. It isn't hard for, er, Hard to sell out a 30,000-person event. And with Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco's party scenes conquered, Richards has set his sight on Miami.

Last year, Hard held its first event at the pool at the Fontainebleau Hotel -- thanks to the wonderful Miami Beach noise ordinance, it was a somewhat tamer version of what the party really has to offer. But this year, Miami will finally get a taste of what the brand can really bring when it hosts Hard Miami at Grand Central with headliners Diplo and Tiga.

New Times spoke to founder Gary Richards about Miami's dance music scene, Ultra Music Festival, and this year's lineup.

New Times: You did the Hard Pool Party at the Fontainebleau last year, but really this year its your first official event. Can you explain that Hard brand to us?

Gary Richards: [Hard] is good electronic dance music and a good party atmosphere. I've been DJing since 1990, and I thought it was time to start a brand that was a little different from all the other ones out there that do this style of music. We try to bring quality artists that don't get to come to the United States very much.

Miami's kind of the quintessential place for people who enjoy electronic music. I've been going to Winter Music Conference since back in the day, and I felt if I'm going to build up Hard in the United States, I got to get to Miami. I love it there -- going to Heat games, Joe's Stone Crab, hanging around the beach.

Last year's [pool party] was great. I was kind of feeling it out a little bit. The Fontainbleau was a cool location, but I think our sound and style works better at night and indoors, so we've moved [the party] to Grand Central. I think it will be more bangin' there, and we can go 'til 5 in the morning.

You say you've been coming to WMC for years and Hard has been going on for a while as well. What took you so long to bring the party to Miami?

When I was coming to the conference, but I wasn't really a concert promoter. I was in the record business. I started Hard in 2007, initially just in LA, and then we tried New York, since that's on the opposite coast, and that sold out and did really well. Then after we did San Francisco we decided we had to get Miami in the picture, so we did the pool party. We also did the a tour recently that hit up Austin, Chicago, Toronto, and a bunch of other markets in the middle.

Miami is sort of its own little island. It's a lot further away from other major cities, so I think it's a good time to do it in March when all the dance community is there.

There are a lot of incarnations Hard -- Hard Summer, Hard Haunted Mansion, Hard New Year's. Will this be your only Miami event for the year or do you hope to have more?

I'd like to. I shouldn't really mention it because it's still in the works, but we are going to definitely have something based out of that area in the very beginning of 2012. I feel like Miami has one of the best cultural scenes, a melting pot of everyone who just likes to party and dance. My dad did a lot of work with Power 96 down there for years and years, so I'm really familiar with it. It's one of the only radio markets in the country where they play a lot of the music we play at our events. We got to get to Miami more often, it shouldn't just be when it's Ultra or Winter Music Conference.

Speaking of Ultra and WMC, what do you think of the whole debacle between the two entities?

I think it's kind of sad. I really don't know the politics or what's going on. I went to WMC in 1992 or '93 when it was held at the Fontainebleau and there were clubs like Warsaw. I guess Ultra has kind of taken over with this massive festival, and it's sad that they can't coexists at the same time. Me, personally, I can't make it down to Miami twice in March. You've got South by Southwest going and I've got shows in New York.

I had to make a decision, are we going to come at the beginning of March or the end? It was kind of a no-brainer that more people are going to come for Ultra because of all the artists they have. WMC is great though, because its kept this thing going for over 20 years when nobody cared about this kind of music.

I think they'll realize it after this month that they both need each other.

Do you think WMC will realize, or...

Yes, definitely. WMC will realize it more so than Ultra.

Yeah, look at the lineup. At the end of the day, do people want to come for DJ panels and sessions or do they want to see Tiesto and Deadmau5? That's what WMC turned into. So, maybe in the end the date change would be good for conference. When I used to go, it used to be about the industry people that really made the scene, and now its turned to this big, crazy, out-of-hand party.

Going back to Ultra. A lot of the acts Hard regularly books are signed for exclusive appearances at the festival. Did this make booking Hard Miami difficult?

It did, but at the end of day there are a lot of good artists and we can figure out how to put a bill together and make a great party. Sure they've got exclusives on what they are doing, and I get it. When I do my events in LA, we do 20,000 to 30,000-person events, I get pissed when the acts play for other people the same week. But it's different in Miami, because that's the whole vibe of it, with all the different parties.

But was it hard to put the lineup together? Not really. Where there people I wanted to book but I could because of that? Absolutely. But I'm sure some of them will be there hanging out. To me doing the event in Miami is different for me than I think it is for a lot of other people. For me, the goal is to have a rockin' party in Miami. It's not like I'm thinking, "I'm going to Miami to make a bunch of money." Really it's like, "We're Hard, this our brand, this is our style."

So really this event is just to introduce Miami to the Hard brand.

Yea. This year we're also doing a show in London and Paris, and I have a view of dance music that might be a little different from a lot of the other promoters.

How does the Hard Miami lineup represent the brand?

I think they represent it very well. We've been working with [Diplo] for a long time. We had him in New York, and he brought Santigold with him. We had him in LA, and he brought Lil Jon. He makes great records and has such a good vibe. Tiga is awesome too. Old school techno. Together they make the perfect blend. Then you got the French Ed Banger guys. The first event we did it was Justice and Busy P.

Where do you think dance music is going?

It's weird. For years, I've been trying to tell record labels that this music is the wave of the future, and people always looked at me like I was crazy. But now its infiltrated everywhere. So I'm just trying to keep it credible. I want to make sure that Hard is going forward and introduce cool electronic dance music to people, and it's just not that Britney Spears is playing it on her record and tomorrow she's into rock and dance music is done.

Hard Miami with Diplo, Tiga, SebastiAn, and more. Thursday, March 24. Grand Central, 697 N Miami Ave., Miami. Cover $30 pre-sale via Doors 10 p.m. 18+ plus with ID.

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Jose D. Duran is the associate editor of Miami New Times. He's the strategist behind the publication's eyebrow-raising Facebook and Twitter feeds. He has also been reporting on Miami's cultural scene since 2006. He has a BS in journalism and will live in Miami as long as climate change permits.
Contact: Jose D. Duran