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It's A Music Festival, Not A Rave: A Look At The Differing Values Of HARD & Insomniac

Two of the biggest brands in EDM are HARD Presents and Insomniac, headed by Gary Richards and Pasquale Rotella respectively. In the late 1990s and most of the 2000s, Insomniac was the big name in the Los Angeles dance music scene, which is one of the most vibrant, lively, and popular regions for EDM in the nation. However, with Insomniac’s flagship festival—Electronic Daisy Carnival—four years into its new home in Las Vegas, Hard Summer has made a strong claim to become L.A.’s premier festival. 

Though EDC has settled in nicely to its new home in Las Vegas, Insomniac still lays its roots in sunny Southern California, hosting festivals like the Wonderland series—Nocturnal, Escape, and Beyond—as well as promoting smaller events in nightclubs like Create and Exchange LA. Nocturnal Wonderland was first held in 1995, and it is Insomniac’s longest running festival. Also, it is one of the longest running festivals in the United States. As of late, each Wonderland festival can draw up to 80,000 attendees a day, with certain festivals spanning two days.  In addition to putting on Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, Insomniac booked numerous satellite EDC events in 2014, spanning from EDC Orlando to international satellite events such as EDC London, which had the largest 360 degree stage ever created, and EDC Mexico, the first event of its kind in Mexico.  For many casual festival-goers—especially in the United States—Insomniac is the production company that first comes to mind when asked about EDM, and for good reason.  They are always on the front lines of the festival scene, bringing more innovative stages, production, and talent each and every year.

HARD Presents, headed by CEO Gary Richards, also known as producer/DJ Destructo, sets its hometown roots in Los Angeles. As a brand, it rivals the massive Insomniac. The question many people ask is, “How can a company like HARD, which doesn’t have the same size fanbase, revenue, and international reach as Insomniac, keep up with Rotella's brand?” The answer is simple and lies within the values that power HARD Presents. HARD’s events, such as HARD Summer and HARD Day of the Dead, are branded as music festivals, not raves.  

The difference between the values that drive these two production companies is like night and day.  You can see it in the stage design, in the talent that each festival brings, and the crowd that prefers one over the other. You can see it everywhere you look.


Take, for example, EDC 2014’s main stage this year (pictured above). Kinetic Field at EDC in 2014 was one of the most creative and most beautiful stage designs that I had ever seen in my life.  Rotella's passion for dance music is clear. He wants to create an environment for his attendees, or his “headliners,” to feel free, to express themselves however they want, and to be in a place where no judgment is passed. He encourages attendees to dress up in the wildest, craziest, and most creative costumes that they can come up with.  He addresses concerns over Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Rotella encourages attendees to get away from the main stage and check out the art. He wants you to explore the world that he’s created for us, discover new music and make new friends. He often chooses to not release the lineup until the event is less than a month away. Upon the highly anticipated release of his EDC lineup, he didn’t have a headliner listed, yet there were many familiar names. His headliners are you and me: the festival attendees.  The headline that he wants us to see is “It’s All About The Experience.”  

(photo credit: Arizona Foothills)

In comparison to the extravagant Kinetic Field, HARD's stages often seem lacking in the production department. However, that’s often intentional, and not without good reason. HARD emphasizes the importance of the music, and the brand prides itself on being considered a music festival. It is clearly not a rave, which alienates a lot of the crowd that is drawn to Insomniac festivals. HARD prohibits kandi because of the implication that kandi is “rave-y.” This immediately turns off a lot of ravers. HARD sticks to very basic stage designs, as you can see in the picture of HARD Summer's stage above. They prefer to spend more money bringing in the most diverse group of artists possible for its attendees.  This year’s HARD Summer lineup sports one of the most diverse and stacked lineups that I have ever seen of any music festival.  Gary Richards brings in massive talent like Jack U, A$AP Mob, 2 Chainz, Axwell, and Tiesto, and he still finds gems like Mr. Carmack, Trippy Turtle, Wave Racer (who used to be a Starbucks barista), the Dirtybird crew, and Dusky.


One similarity between these two production companies worth noting is their shared owner. Live Nation Entertainment has a 50% stake in Insomniac, while also owning the majority of HARD Presents.  In the May of 2013, Live Nation purchased 50% of Insomniac, after previously acquiring the majority of ownership of HARD in 2012.  At the time of this purchase, there was huge concern over the cultural blend that would happen between the two production companies.  Would HARD festivals start to morph into Insomniac satellite festivals? Would the Wonderland festivals draw a different crowd? Looking back at how these two production companies have changed, Live Nation has slowly influenced both of them for the better. Insomniac has been notoriously known for booking the same mainstage artists, like Hardwell, Dash Berlin, Tiesto, and Steve Angello. Yet with the emergence of the Cosmic Meadow stage at EDC, which is hosted by HARD, we’ve started to see more of a blend of musical talent at EDC.

Are the values of one of these production companies better than the other? Should festival-goers be more open about who's playing a show and enjoy the experience, or should the music be the focus? These questions underline the inherent differences in these two production companies. Insomniac values the experience, and HARD values music. Insomniac values production, and HARD values talent. Insomniac puts on raves, and HARD puts on music festivals.

Written by Tommy Tsao

Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of EDM.com.

Cover photo credit: Doug Van Sant

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