Has EDM Peaked? HARD Summer’s Attendance Suggests Dance Festivals Still Growing

HARD Events' Meagan DesChenes says the brand has tried to "always push things forward while still having respect for what came before."

Hard Summer
Courtesy of HARD

The electronic music industry has taken plenty of knocks for its male dominated festival lineups, but things may be changing behind the scenes. Insomniac Events has tapped Meagan DesChenes to manage venerable Southern California-based EDM brand, HARD events.

DesChenes, who worked under previous HARD honcho Gary Richards (Richards left Live Nation/Insomniac last year to head up LiveStyle, which has its own summer event in Los Angeles this month), now oversees HARD, which will have its annual summer weekend bash August 4th and 5th in Fontana, California (HARD also now has an annual event at Red Rocks, near Denver).

The 2017 edition of HARD Summer, held at Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino over two days, grossed $6.7 million on a sell-out of 78,450 and with tickets priced between $65 and $150, according to Pollstar.

The EDM veteran cut her teeth passing out flyers for Richards back in the early days of HARD a decade ago, and now she is managing several massive HARD-branded events, which includes more female DJs this year (including names such as Mija, Cray, Rico Nasty, Tokimonsta, and Elohim).

To be sure, EDM festivals like HARD still skew heavily towards male DJs, and have a long way to go towards gender parity. But having a woman managing a brand like HARD and working with Pasquale Rotella at Insomniac in order to infuse the brand with different voices may go a long way towards breaking the behind-the-scenes male-dominated booking bottleneck that has been a feature of large scale EDM events in America the past two decades.

Variety caught up with DesChenes recently to get her thoughts on the state of EDM festivals in general and HARD branded events.

How do you balance the number of dance and hip-hop acts on the lineup? Is the bill indicative of demand in SoCal currently or overall trends in music consumption?
HARD lineups always reflect what our fans are listening to and current trends in music, which these days is a unique mix of both dance and hip-hop. Since day one we have taken pride in really getting to know our fans and we think their taste acts as a true barometer for what’s next in music — right now all signs point to this unique fusion of urban and dance. We create dedicated stage environments for these genres like the ‘Purple Stage’ is dedicated to styles like hip-hop, R&B and trap.

With so many festivals happening concurrently all over the country, how do you keep fans excited about HARD?
We spend a lot of time curating special performances, unique B2B sets, and booking new acts who haven’t played festivals before. We’re always on the hunt to find what’s new and exciting for our fans from the massive acts of the moment to tomorrow’s stars.

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Courtesy of Meagan DesChenes

What new things will you offer devotees of the event at a time when EDM seems to be suffering from a mild mid-life crisis of enthusiasm?
This year will be the biggest HARD Summer to date, so I don’t see any suffering in the EDM world; I actually see it getting bigger. If there’s anything HARD fans have a lot of, it’s enthusiasm. I think when people think about this supposed ‘decline’ of electronic music events they are thinking about this explosion of poorly produced shows that were thrown together without the true history of the scene in mind. We have been here since the beginning and are excited about helping to always push things forward while still having respect for what came before.

How does HARD keep the “underground” feel of the festival’s roots, or are you now interested in expanding the appeal to a wider audience of fans?
If you look at our lineups from year to year, you can see that we’ve remained true to a certain kind of musical aesthetic. What was once considered “underground” is now very popular. I don’t think we’ve gone out of our way to appeal to a wider audience; I think the reach of electronic music and hip-hop — and the mixing of those two genres — has expanded.

What new stage configurations will HARD attendees see at the Fontana Speedway?
We’ve made our stages bigger, more creative, and repositioned them throughout the Speedway to make for a better and more comfortable fan experience. With Insomniac’s production team fully behind us, we’re really excited for what’s in store this year.