Gary Richards is one of the busiest men in electronic music. He has worn many hats throughout his long career, ranging from promoter to manager to DJ to producer to label head and more. This wealth of experience has provided Gary with a unique perspective that lends to his ability to conquer any arena he sets out to. He has been active since 1991 and continues to thrive to this day. As one of the earliest champions of electronic music, Gary maintains a credibility that is hard to come by. He founded the massively popular HARD music festival as well as Holy Ship!, and when he is not throwing some of the best parties the world has ever seen, he tours the country DJing under the name Destructo. Gary came through Denver the other week to perform a show at Beta Nightclub and was kind enough to spend some time speaking with me about his career, HARD, and much much more.
What is HARD about, what is Gary about, what is Destructo about?
It’s just having a good time through music. Giving people a good time. I was born on NYE, so somehow I feel like maybe I was born to throw parties or be the party guy. I just feel like over all these years I just want people to say, I had a good time with that guy. I listened to one of his songs, I went to one of his festivals, I went to a party at his house till 2am, a show a Red Rocks, ya know whatever. My main mission is to let people have a good time through music. I love music, being able to turn people onto new music, helping artists. I just live a really blessed life.
You’ve thrown many parties on your birthday. Were you just trying to have a birthday party or turn it into something more?
New Years is always a big night. I did NYE in 91. That whole year in 91 and 92 we did the EDC, we did the Holy Water Adventure, the Haunted Mansion, ya know that was a really special year for me, and at the end with Rave America, I feel like the scene was getting…it wasn’t cool anymore. It wasn’t like when I first started going to those events it was like Madonna and Robert Downey Jr, and Depeche Mode would show up, it was just the coolest people in Hollywood. Then it started becoming these 15 year old kids who want to fight and drink beer, cause they’re underage. And I was like this isn’t what I signed up for, I wanted to do music for people that people who appreciate it and aren’t trying to create problems. So I thought well, i’m gonna go work in the record business, i’ll just do one last blowout. So on my birthday in NYE 92 I did Rave America.
You did Hard NYE for a few years but they didn’t continue with it, why not?
Well I started the first hard on NYE in 2007 on my birthday and it just didn’t sell that many tickets. As I became more of a concert promoter, cause I never really was a concert promoter, I’m more like a DJ that’s organized events, but I learned pretty quickly that NYE is the hardest night to throw a concert, because everyone’s trying to throw a concert. They actually call it amateurs night, cause everyone comes out and thinks they’re gonna throw a party and make it huge. For me it’s just my birthday. Ya know but it’s really tough. It’s better to pick a date like August 5th, when there’s nothing else going on, it’s just you. I mean if you get it right on NYE, you get it right, but it’s really difficult. The talent prices are double and triple, everything is more expensive, it’s just crazy.
When you got into the record label side of things, you linked up with Rick Rubin. Are you still in touch? Have you worked with him recently?
I saw him recently and he invited me out to his house in Malibu. We were just sitting there like me and you are. I’ve introduced people to Rick to have Rick potentially work on music with them, but I haven’t gone to the studio or done stuff with Rick in years and years but we did a lot of stuff in 94 and 95. I used to go to his house at like 4am and play him shit, and he’d like rub his beard and rock out. He loves tech, he loves heavy rock music. He loves music like Slayer, and how Skrillex is like heavy, he always envisioned it like it was rock. But if you are gonna introduce someone to Rick, they better be fucking good, he’s pretty much top of the food chain.
How did your early experiences working at Rick’s label influence how you started your record label, bringing on employee’s, and your management style?
It’s weird, I never had that many people around me. I always kinda did my own thing. My style, i’m pretty laid back, so anyone that works with me, anyone can bring in a group, I dont judge someone’s taste because they are a high paid executive or if they work in the mail room. People have to like music, either you have taste or you don’t. So you never know where it’s gonna come from, always try to give someone a shot and just remember those days in the beginning when things weren’t so rosy and try to give back to people. When people give me a USB or ask for something, genuinely try to give them some good advice and help them. You never know what you’ll find, and it’s not that I don’t want to listen to them, it’s just overwhelming. I need some people to help me.
Is there anything special planned for the 10th year of Hard Summer?
Ya know the main thing is that we have Snoop performing Doggystyle. For me that was one of my seminal albums growing up, so for him to do that is gonna be special. I think the racetrack this year, for its second year, now we’re trying to understand how to make it run better. When it’s your first time, with that many people, it’s difficult like where the stages go, how far everything is away, parking, and mobility, just getting in and out and all that. It’s gonna be run better, just fine tuning everything. Having Dog Blood play is really cool, Sonny and Boys Noize, ya know I feel like those guys are the backbone of HARD. We’ve got Skepta, JME, Ghetts, AJ Tracey, really looking forward to the UK hip-hop. I’m really glad that I was able to get Skepta and JME.
Every year HARD puts out an epic trailer. This year there has been a little blow-back. What do you feel about what people are saying?
I think it’s ok. Look, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Agata (Alexander) has made all the videos for HARD, so Strawberry Gang, Vacuum Cleaner, the Dogs, the Haunted Mansion, the Mustache, she’s come up with all of these ideas and she just told me this one idea with the boobs, this is the one, the is like the holy grail, and i’m like ok I believe you, and she’s a woman. I was nervous for sure, but I just felt like she had it, and we put it out and yeah there was blow-back. I understand why, but I still stick by it. I give the people that I work with creative freedom. So like Agata, I let her do her thing. You have to respect me for that. I’m not gonna censor someone and tell them what to do. I like to take chances and this one seemed to get…some people didn’t think it was funny. I understand why but I think they didn’t understand too how…some people just watched it and didn’t understand how like all of these things happened to Agata. She tried to flip the script and have bros maybe trying to understand it by seeing it happen to the guys with boobs. Some people took offense to that, and I can see why. You are never gonna please everybody. I’m trying to do a good thing.
The whole goal for was that if i’m gonna do this, we gotta book a lot of female performers. If we just did the video and didn’t focus on trying to get all those females it would just be stupid. The whole goal was that she felt she could get this point across. But for me, like the first question you asked, what do you want people to know me for, just to have a good time. I try not to get too political. The world is just so fucked up right now, like literally I cannot watch my TV right now, I wanna have a good head for the show tonight. Really what I want people to remember me, and HARD, and what I do is a place where they can check all the other shit at the door and come and enjoy yourself and lose your mind to music. You could have 4 boobs, no boobs, you could be yellow, an alien, doesn’t matter come on down. I’m down with everybody, as long as you’re not trying to hurt anyone and you’re into music, let’s have a good time. So for me i’m kinda bummed that that conversation crept in and having it seem like we’re trying to offend someone. We’re never trying to offend someone with what we do.
I think it hit home for a lot of people too. Like my wife is a model and she’s on a lot of photo shoots, and I know about the photographers in Hollywood that are pervs. I know all these photographers that are like that, and it is fucked up. I am 1000% not trying to glorify that. I think by having that dude be so outrageous by pulling his pants down and making jokes sheds the light on that some of those dudes are like that, but some people took it the wrong way.
There is an awesome lineup of females. How did all of that come about?
When this whole idea came about, I’ve been trying to book more women, I did a couple shows all women in Miami, and trying to make a conscious effort, and I looked at the lineup last year and there was only like 4 or 5 females, so I was like I gotta step it up. So I called Anna Lunoe, and said i’m trying to do this, I hit up a few different people, and then some of the booking agents would call me and try to push me on people, and I’d say who do you have on your roster that female? And a lot of them had none, so I said you should get some, and they said yeah I should. I just started really digging. I told Barclay what I was doing, and he has the Dirtybird stage and he was like ah dude you should check out this girl and that girl. Me dude, I just walk the walk. A lot of people will try and do it as like a publicity stunt. I mean it. I wanna help women DJ’s for real. We just put out our mixtapes by Cray, GG Margree, and we’re gonna have one by Madame X. I’m just tired of talking about it, i’m just gonna put their music out. I’m really bummed when people gave me shit, I was trying to help.
I’ve been having so many many people in clubs, like women DJ’s and just patrons who gave me a hug and we’re like thank you for doing this. People gotta talk about something. People get really emotional about what they do. Every move we make people are paying attention. Sometime I don’t think about it. I just feel like i’m doing events and then I forget when I was 20 years old music was my whole life, everything I did was all about the music. Now people are so plugged in with the internet and Instagram. What’s Skrillex doing and what’s Deadmau5 saying. It’s got people paying attention. I never wanted attention for fame, just people who liked the music and come and party and be down with dope DJ’s and producers.
How did Holy Ship come about?
In 1997 I went on a cruise in the Bahamas, with like 400 German people, techno DJ’s and it was like a private island. One of the best times I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve always remember that in the back of my mind and thought if I could ever emulate something like that I would. I did a bunch of shows in NY with a company called The Bowery Presents and they do some cruise stuff in Miami with this company called Cloud 9. So when I was down there DJing they said we should link up. So I met them and told them my idea. They were like, we do cruises already, but with Jam Bands, so we can have this boat, you can program it if you think you can sell tickets. Let’s try it.
How long have you been trying to incorporate hip-hop into the records you were making?
On Higher I sampled Grandmaster Melle Mel, “Get higher baby.” I had that song, it started to get going, so I thought maybe I could put a verse on it. Then I got linked up with YG and then we did party up over Higher. And he said to me, “I just feel like it didn’t work over higher.” Then we created party up. That was the first song when I ever incorporated original rap in one of my songs. Then he introduced my to Ty Dolla $ign, and I just started going to lots of sessions with vocalists like that.
How do you go about putting together a track when you are working with them?
Normally we make the beat, then they come in, then they come in and we play the beat, loop it for like an hour, they just like write shit down. They ask you what the song is about, give them some color. Ya know it’s got dogs. Too $hort writes a song about a dog that jumps a fence and fucks all the other dogs…and cats. Then ya just help craft a melody and a structure. I’ve been so lucky to work with these guys that are fucking pros. They know what they’re doing.
Do you do the mixing and mastering as well?
I’m in the studio mostly with an engineer and a singer. I have people who help me record shit. I have people doing the mixing and mastering. There are people who are pros at it. People who do mixing and mastering spend their whole life in the studio. They’re just better than me at it. I could sit there for 4 years and try and master it, or I could just send it to my dude in the UK who sends it back the next night and it sounds fucking dope. I wish I could do that. My main skills are my ear man, like being in the studio and DJing, hearing bits that go over parts and piecing them all together. The way I do it is weird. I know exactly what I want, just have to go through lots of channels to get there. I can’t do it all myself.
How do you structure your sets? How do you organize your music visually and have it set up so that you can find the right tracks?
I have one set that’s probably got 100 songs in it that’s my main, like renegade, Destructo set that people wanna see and has all my songs in it, a bunch of new shit, but then I have like, tonight I feel like I’ve played beta so many times, I wanna play different. Tomorrow i’m playing a festival so I have a really banging set, so tonight if its not really groovin i’ll switch to that. I also have, when I do the sermon, the sermon is basically, I play from like 5 to 9 in the morning, lot of deep house and classics. So I have that set. I play at Drais, I have a residency there, so I play my own set there. I have a hip-hop set. I just have lots of different folders of shit a 140, shit at 80. I’m ready for every occasion. What happened to me was that I used to always just play 120 disco house. Then I played B2B with Skrillex and he was like “dude this shits boring we’re going to 100”. And I was like I don’t have any 100. So I was like fuck cause I couldn’t hang with Sonny. And then I went home and made a set in case it’s ever happened again, and it’s happened multiple times.
Two weeks I was with Zeds Dead guys and figure, and I played some dubstep, and I never play dubstep. It was fun. Played some Rage Against the Machine. I really dig on B2Bing people. I always feel like when somebody plays something, I get an idea for the next song and you play off each other. To me it’s more about, not mixing everything perfectly, it’s the choice, the selection. You’re selecting the right thing at the right moment to make the place go bonkers. You get inspired, like oh shit I got one. When I hear something, my whole brain works when the switch turns on. Someone will show my like a flyer, or like a Holy Ship poster. In my mind I won’t really know what I want anymore. I’ve had so many ideas over my life. But like my art guy will show me like 10 options and i’ll look at them and i’ll see one and i’ll say, ok make the boat bigger, put the whatever wherever. I’ll help him focus it in. Work off each other. I’m lucky that I am able to collab with people like that. I’m like a sparkplug. And a lot of the times the people I work with welcome it because they get stuck. When you’re in the studio all day long, sometimes you don’t know WTF is going on anymore. You got like 900 songs and you’re just lost. I can here a section and just be like, that’s the one.
Did you ever get into mixing with vinyl?
Yeah man. I started on vinyl. I played a vinyl set on Holy Ship. I played a vinyl set with Medi and Kahn. It’s fucking nerve racking. If I could just hit a button on the vinyl and have the record just loop while the other one is going that would be incredible, cause the shits gonna run out. Gotta be quick. You gotta keep adjusting the time. You can just put it to a number
I think it makes it better in your mind on how you mix, because I learned on vinyl so to me it’s really getting from this record to this record without people really knowing. Putting it together. So now with CDJ’s and all the shit we have there is so much you can do, but still at the core of it it’s just layering those records together and going back and forth, juggling it and just trying to make sure they don’t know. What’s cool is on the CDJ’s you’d have the master tempo button so when you’re changing the pitch, it keeps the key. You can mix in another record where the bassline is in key. You could do a different baseline and take one out, shit like that. I could do that on vinyl, but it’s way different because when you slow it down, the pitch moves with it, and you’re fucked. All of a sudden one of the moon’s went out of orbit. People stop dancing and don’t even know why. They walk off and are like “ohh let me get a drink.” And you’re just like FUCK. It’s not good.
What’s your musical process like?
I like to start with a bassline and a melody. Or i’ll start with some drums. Basically, it always gets to the drop, and then we’re like fuck. The intro is easy to build and then there’s like 900 different drops. That’s the part when it always gets harder and harder to make something unique in that section that sounds legit. With catching plays, that song had like 900 drops. I’m so glad that we spent that much time on it because now every time I play it, it goes off. It will stand the test of time. I know that drop was worth every second. Me and Wax went through that song like 9,000 times. That song changed so much to the point where I was like I don’t even know anymore.
When was it that you felt you had finally become successful?
I always feel like there is more to accomplish. I would be going to lunch with my brother and he would be meeting with like Pearl Jam’s manager or Elton John’s manager and I would just be that quiet little brother in the corner, and at the very end I’d be like “Hey I have this song”, and they’d be like “Shut up kid”. Everyone knew me, but I always that guy who never had a hit, never had anything blow up. I was always like Steve’s little brother. That guy does that weird techno music shit. Then in like 2008, 2009, 2010, all that shit became huge. People trust me now. I’m not that little kid. I couldn’t get someone on the phone or do something. Now I can get that done. That’s all I wanted. I just wanted people to work with me. People weren’t into it. I think they always liked me and thought I was a cool dude and shit, but I didn’t have groups that they wanted to work with. My buddy Ian, Jack White’s manager, everyone wanted to meet him, he’s got Jack White. Gary just has David Holmes. We actually ended up going on this tour for Oceans 11, 12 13. This guy David Holmes, I signed him, he was a DJ from Ireland and I never sold any records with him but he ended up scoring all those movies for Steven Soderbergh.
I like all kinds of music. I just heard, I was in this guy’s office in England and we were just hanging out and he was playing me stuff, and I was like oh what was that? His stuff is instrumental. He recreates old 50’s and 60’s records. He’s an interesting character. He has an album called let’s get killed. I released the album. I just put it out. I didn’t think anything would happen with the record. Then both Rolling Stone and Spin both voted it top 10 album of the year in 1997. It didn’t sell, but they loved it. He went to NY and recorded people of the street, like homeless people. He recorded this whole record of him tripping, taking LSD and tripping out NYC then making songs. His whole journey, this Irish kid NY. I ran into him year later, he was like “Mate you helped me get the house in the hills, mate. Thank you ”. To me that so dope. I helped out this dude who fucking deserved it. When I put it out. It didn’t sell. What it is with music, it’s like art. If it doesn’t make money, it’s ok. Everyone thinks you have to make money all the time, then you have to make more. For me, I just wanna do cool shit.
How many times have you played at Red Rocks? What are your thoughts on Red Rocks?
I love red rocks. I think I skipped it last year, so this will be my 4th time. I used to listen to U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky. That EP was recorded live at Red Rocks. I remember watching Bono with the white flag, ya know Sunday, Bloody Sunday, and like its just so iconic. So when I came out to red Red Rocks, I came out on stage with the white Hard flag. I just felt like it was a tribute. My brother, who passed away, we used to listen to that all the time together. We would go play tennis in the morning at the school, and we would listen to that record every morning. Not only to get to DJ there, but to sell the place out with HARD multiple years, it’s an honor. It’s a legendary place. I’m thankful to be a part of that. I’m bummed I didn’t play last year.
Written & interviewed by Hunter Saillen