HARD Summer and Insomniac Events made their triumphant return to the city of Los Angeles this past weekend. It was the first full scale electronic music festival to be held in the city in a decade; the first since HARD Summer last took place at LA State Historic Park in 2013.
The city has been warming up for this; Kaskade and deadumau5 played a full show at the Coliseum last December, and Insomniac has been hosting events at “The Torch”, the Coliseum’s northeast entrance. However, this was the first multi-day festival to be held on the Exposition Park grounds since EDC back in 2010. Overall, the weekend was a huge success and is hopefully the runway for more Los Angeles-based events. Since this was a completely new setup, there’s a lot to get into.
The Festival Layout
HARD Summer has been at the familiar NOS Events Center the past two years, and it occupied the Fontana Speedway, three of the four years prior to that. Insomniac went absolutely huge with the festival layout for the return to Los Angeles. The HARD stage occupied the entire area behind both the Coliseum and the BMO Stadium, with MLK Blvd running along the south end of the festival.
Headliners could walk into both of the aforementioned venues and not only easily access the floor, but just chill and sit in the bountiful grandstands that both stadiums provided. The HARD stage was the very first place headliners walked in and gaining access to the Green (Coliseum), Purple (BMO Stadium) and Pink stages was super easy. Getting from HARD to HARDer was a little bit of a walk, however, no one got lost here. VIP headliners also got access to an incredible air-conditioned area inside BMO. No bottlenecks, easy to move around, 9/10.
It’s tough to compare the HARD stage to stages at festivals like EDC or Tomorrowland which all have very unique themes. Over the years, what’s made HARD unique is that it really doesn’t have any type of aesthetic, other than backyard summer BBQ, however, that doesn’t mean that HARD doesn’t have impressive production. In fact, the HARDer, Green and Purple stages all had mind-blowing production. The HARDer stage kind of resembled the Ultra Europe stage. The stage was divided into two horizontal rows of video panels extending outwards and curving inwards behind the DJ booth. Rows of lights illuminated the columns in between the LED panels. Getting up close, you got absolutely lost in the stage design.
The Green stage inside the Coliseum had an absolutely massive scope. The stage featured a square video panel border extending out and getting bigger in three different rounds of panels. Lasers and pyro made the stage come alive at night, and being inside the massive Coliseum gave the Green stage a scope that the HARDer stage didn’t have.
Same for the Purple Stage inside the BMO, which is a brand new, world class stadium. The stage featured massive diamond shaped video boards protruding out into the crowd. The main video board behind the stage showcased all the madness that was going on. For Diplo b2b Blond:ish, they even had a basketball hoop set up for each DJ to shoot free throws on whilst the other one spun. Maybe one of the greatest setups I’ve ever seen.
While the HARD stage was massive, it lacked the grandness and creativity of the other stages. It was the same trapezoidal design that’s featured each of the past couple years at NOS. I love the red and the added lasers were much appreciated, but, at a stage where the average headliner was probably really far away from the stage, it felt small. The sound was not impeccable either.
Metro came in clutch
If you’re a veteran SoCal raver like me, you’re probably very familiar with that dreadful drive from LA to San Bernardino. It can approach two hours, if you’re like me, you’re staying at a Motel 6 or Comfort Inn somewhere in the Inland Empire, it’s a lot to get out there for a two or three day festival. This year it appears that local headliners overwhelmingly took advantage of public transportation and took the Metro to Downtown Los Angeles. For $3.50 a day you rode maybe 30-45 minutes worry free to and from the venue. No searching for parking, no expensive rideshares; if you didn’t take the Metro down to the festival…well, kudos to you for spending unnecessary money. And, although it was hot in DTLA, low 90’s, it was nothing like San Bernardino, which experienced triple digit heat both days of the weekend.
There’s never really been a bad HARD lineup, HARD has always been known for having some of the most eclectic and unique lineups across all festivals. There are always HARD stalwarts like Diplo, Skrillex, Dillon Francis, Flosstradamus, however, this year, the festival went in on unique b2bs and appealed to the older millennial in all of us. Kaskade b2b John Summit and Skrillex b2b Four Tet were the headliners this year. One difference between HARD and other Insomniac festivals, best believe there is a designated headliner.
Hip-hop was also well represented with 21 Savage and Kid Cudi each taking over the Purple Stage. Early 2000s favorites Fat Joe and Ludacris also performed. Ludacris’s performance was notable as he absolutely packed out the HARDer stage. Seemingly every millennial in Los Angeles was there. Disco was also strongly represented at the festival with Yung Bae at the HARD stage and Jungle at the Purple stage. You never know who will be headlining HARD, but you know it will always be good.
Areas the Could Use Some Improvement
Alright it’s come to that time where I have to call some things out. In this case, there were only two things that stood out to me, but they stood out big time. Obviously, there’s going to be growing pains with a new festival location, but these need to be addressed.
First, the bottleneck at the entrance. While there was nothing wrong with walking down Bill Robertson Ln from the Metro stop, or wherever you may have parked, there were basically 2 VIP entrances and 8 GA entrances to the entire festival. That’s a fraction of what is usually available at NOS Events Center or previously at the Fontana Speedway were there were multiple entrances. It was completely unorganized getting into the venue and I’m sure plenty of people just walked past the hearty staff who were wristbanding. Maybe open up more entrances on MLK Blvd? But, there needs to be more room for ingress and a more orderly way to get wristbanded.
Second, the VIP section at the HARDer stage. It’s tough to complain about any VIP area, after all, you’re there. But, if you paid for HARD VIP and spent any decent amount of time at the HARDer stage, you were vastly disappointed. The pool was small and crowded, and similarly to the entrances there were basically six bars serving the entire VIP area; needless to say the lines were not exactly moving smoothly. I understand that space was limited at the event, but the HARDer VIP section did not live up to expectations.
That’s pretty much that on HARD Summer Los Angeles 2023. Despite a couple of missteps, the festival was an overwhelming success. Fingers crossed that HARD maintains its home here in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future. Nothing has been announced yet, but stay tuned to Insomniac’s socials for future updates.