By August Brown

Originally published in LA Times on April 19, 2018

Gary Richards steps into the unknown with All My Friends concert

All My Friends founder Gary Richards. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

For Gary Richards, the former mastermind of the decade-old Hard Summer music festival, his All My Friends concert is a bit of a homecoming.

“I always wanted to be back in downtown,” he said, of the new event slated to take place in the late summer in the booming Arts District. Compared to past Hard Summer fests, which once parked itself at Los Angeles State Historic Park near Chinatown and has more recently been in Pomona and Fontana, All My Friends is pretty much right back where he started.

“This is a city festival, it feels urban. It’s set up for three stages so when you look at all the buildings, it makes for a cool cityscape feel,” he said.

After parting ways with mega-promoter Live Nation last year, All My Friends is his first L.A. concert under the aegis of new promoter LiveStyle (his first return was an All My Friends-themed music cruise).

It’s a chance to start anew after building one of the most formidable and pacesetting brands in electronic music, only to see it thrust into controversy in its later years.

All My Friends will debut at the Row, the leafy and upscale mixed-use office and entertainment complex on the southern end of the Arts District, on Aug. 18-19. It’s a much more modest venture than what Hard Summer had turned into by the end of its run: 15,000 to 20,000 people are expected over the weekend, compared with the 150,000 Hard Summer reached at its peak.

“There’s a lot less pressure and I can be more creative,” he said. “I went to Coachella last weekend and it’s insane how many people there are now. I didn’t want to make this too big and just be a sea of people.”

Jhené Aiko at a 2017 concert at Staples Center.

Jhené Aiko at a 2017 concert at Staples Center. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

The lineup is also notably more sophisticated than Richards’ EDM-heavy incarnations before. He’s always had eclectic taste and the generational loyalty of his fans, along with an especially prescient ear for how hip-hop intersects with dance music.

But with a bill led by R&B singer Jhené Aiko, rapper Gucci Mane, club-music royalty Jamie XX and a return visit from electro-rap provocateur M.I.A. (an early Hard Summer performer), All My Friends is aimed less as a teenage rite of raver passage than the next step in Hard Summer fans’ tastes.

“I had to try to figure out a new formula for the music. We’ve rinsed out a lot of the EDM and made it more into live music — 27-35, that’s our audience,” Richards said. “We want to skew to more mature tastes, people who have graduated from David Guetta.”

Starting anew did “feel like stepping into the unknown,” Richards said, but it’s also possibly a relief. Hard Summer, which is still a Live Nation property and will return to the Glen Helen Amphitheater in August, wrapped up largely without incident last year. But prior years had attracted intense scrutiny from public officials, after several young fans who attended the festival died from drug-related causes.

Richards’ departure from Live Nation came as he took a position as president of LiveStyle North America, a new firm founded in the ashes of former rave-promotion behemoth SFX, which declared bankruptcy in 2016 after a string of misfires in the dance-festival circuit.

Richards was able to hire his own new team and reimagine his marquee summer event outside the expectations of Live Nation (and competition from his old L.A. rave rival, Insomniac’s Pasquale Rotella, also under Live Nation). “I’m the president of the company, not just the head of a division,” Richards said. “There’s more people on the same mission.”

For now, he has no goals of scaling up to Hard Summer heights, though he admits to a little bit of melancholy at seeing it go on without him. “It is what it is. I’ve always been able to adapt and create something new,” he said. And after many years of roving, he believes he’s found a flexible long-term site in the Row.

“It feels amazing, thank God I’ve still got these fans,” he said. “I want to over-deliver for them, but also stretch them a bit with the music. It’s definitely time for a change.”

For breaking music news, follow @augustbrown on Twitter.

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