Gary Richards is in a much calmer place in the leadup to the second edition of FriendShip than he was for the first. A preparty for the dance music-centric cruise at the Miami Beach nightclub Basement has sold out, and the various mechanics of the outing — the Dial-a-DJ sets, the layout of the staging on Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas, and the excursions to the Bahamian island of CocoCay — have all been refined.
“At this time for past cruises, it's been a scramble with a lot of things,” Richards shares. “Last [FriendShip] we didn't do a party because I was so focused on the ship and just trying to get that right. Now we've got it on lock, and we can just basically take everything we did last year and make it better. Last year was more like, OK, can we put everything together the right way? Now [it’s], How can we just make it better? So we have more time to do the preparty as well.”
Richards, who also DJs and produces music under the name Destructo, has organized more than his fair share of parties over the years. As documented in music journalist Simon Reynolds' book Energy Flash, Richards helped to organize the historic rave at California’s Knott’s Berry Farm in 1992, which saw 17,000 people descend upon the theme park for what was one of the largest electronic music gatherings the United States had seen up to that point. The dance music veteran also helped to start the now-international Electric Daisy Carnival and played an instrumental role in popularizing dance music stateside during the late 2000s and 2010s. Following the rise of what would later be called blog house, Richards founded Hard Events and gave superstars of the scene, such as A-Trak, the Bloody Beetroots, and Justice, a platform to reach American audiences.
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The 2010s also saw Richards establish Holy Ship!, which transported the electronic music festival to the Atlantic Ocean and the Bahamas. At the height of EDM excess, Holy Ship! was one of the more visually appealing and provocative illustrations of the new musical craze captivating America’s youth.
After leaving HARD Events in 2017, Richards started a new music festival and brand, All My Friends. The AMF name has graced gatherings across the nation and inspired FriendShip, Richards’ appropriately titled successor to Holy Ship!
By all accounts, the inaugural edition of the cruise in December 2018 was a sweeping success. Innovations such as the Dial-a-DJ feature — which allowed attendees to call DJs of their choice to their cabins to perform a set — engendered equal parts camaraderie and madness among the artists and revelers. As footage from the set that saw Boys Noize, Busy P, and 2manydjs play back-to-back on FriendShip 2018 shows, things popped off at a degree that many recurring parties never reach in their lifespan, much less on the first try.
“You can always go see a big headliner at some big rave or EDM festival, but for this, [we try to bring artists] willing to go DJ in someone's cabin at 3 in the morning,” Richards says. “That's what's gonna separate us from everything else. And I think that's the vibe that we brought on FriendShip. I think a lot of people who went on [Holy Ship! previously], a lot of those artists called me afterwards and were like, ‘Man, if you ever do a cruise again, I want to be on yours because this vibe was different.’ I'm trying to create a fun party vibe for everybody: the artists, the fans, even people working the ship.”
Richards has brought back a number of returning players for FriendShip’s 2020 edition, including Boys Noize, Miami electro maestro Danny Daze and Golf Clap. New additions to the roster include Channel Tres, Ty Dolla $ign, and the Freak-A-Holic himself, Egyptian Lover.
“When people load in on day one, when you come into the promenade, he's going to be there with an 808, serenading people,” Richards divulges. “I'm looking forward to that.”
In addition to the music, FriendShip’s itinerary will also include an ice rink, live comedy, and even a burlesque performance from Dita Von Teese. Richards’ beloved tradition of DJ'ing at sunrise on his cruise events — an event known as the sunrise sermon — will receive an idyllic upgrade this time: It'll take place on CocoCay rather than the ship.
The 49-year-old Richards, whose birthday is today, has engendered intense loyalty from fans over the years. Members of the "Ship fam" — the term used for returning Holy Ship! and FriendShip passengers — have been known to playfully call him dad.
He says the response he has received from attendees is what has motivated him to have kept at it for so long.
“That's why it's called Friendship and All My Friends,” Richards says. “I've met so many people personally through music, but then so many people have met their friends through events that I've created or this music; that's the silver lining of the whole thing — to know that I had a big hand in creating all these friendships in these groups of people all around the world that are connected through music... To be honest with you, that's what really keeps me going with the whole thing.”
Looking back on a decade he helped to shape and on the eve of the 2020s, Richards says his pride for what came before is matched by his ambition for what’s coming next.
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“Someone told me once that dance music is like the flu: It goes away, but it always comes back stronger,” he says. “And I think that's happened multiple times over the years since I've been involved, and I think the next ten years will just [see it] keep getting bigger and stronger, and, hopefully, more people will be pushing the envelope and doing more creative things.
“I definitely want to produce more events that are not necessarily bigger in size, but just more creative in what they are. I want to do things that are more fun, that feed the soul, that aren't just [a matter of] how can we make more money, but how can we change the game again?”
FriendShip 2020 Official Pre-Party. With Destructo and others. 9 p.m. Sunday, January 5, at Basement Miami, 2901 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-257-4548; basementmiami.com. Tickets are sold out.
FriendShip. With Boys Noize, Danny Daze, Destructo, Egyptian Lover, and others. Monday, January 6, through Friday, January 10; thefriendship.com.