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Destructo works hard, plays harder: DJ Mag USA feature

Gary Richards, aka DJ Destructo, aka lynchpin for the massive party brand HARD Events and OG music cruise Holy Ship discusses life as the HARDfather…

Sometimes it’s not easy to remember that Gary Richards is not only Destructo, a DJ and producer with daily increasing popularity, but that he is also the mastermind behind the massively popular HARD Events. Wrapping up the day in his office at Live Nation’s Beverly Hills headquarters, Richards is dressed like a teenager obsessed with death metal in head-to-toe in black, but talks like an excited raver fanboy. There is not a lot of wall space left in this office which houses Richards and HARD under its corporate umbrella. All available vertical surfaces are covered with framed posters of every HARD party, with a giant schematic for the upcoming HARD Summer tacked in prominent position. 

On the one hand Richards is having meetings with his native Los Angeles police and fire departments over the logistics of HARD Summer. On the other hand, the first thing he blurts out when the door opens is, “I can’t believe I have a song with YG!” He is referring to ‘Party Up’, the aptly titled song with the maligned video that took the crude lyrics as its treatment. ‘Party Up’ led Richards’ 2014 ‘West Coast’ EP and its vocalist, YG, led the train of high profile and credible rappers that populate the EP: Ty Dolla $ign, Too $hort, Problem, plus OGs Kurupt and Warren G.  

This continues on the follow-up EP, ‘Renegade’, which sees many of the ‘West Coast’ EP features returning to be joined by the likes of the legendary Snoop Dogg, who heads up the smooth ‘Hard 4 The Nite’ with Kevin Gates, Yo Gotti, Denzel Curry, and Tink. Starrah teams up with Pusha T for the bouncy ‘Catching Plays’. iLoveMakonnen comes together with Ty Dolla $ign for the soulful ‘4 Real’ and Freddie Gibbs flows over the tough title track.

Like its predecessor, ‘Renegade’ is a well-rounded representation of Richards’ hybrid love for electronic dance music and for hip-hop, or g-house, if you will. His dancefloor-savvy tracks, co-created with ongoing collaborator Wax Motif, provide a backdrop that stays true to its origins while lending itself to each of the vocalist’s particular styles.

That sentiment sums up Richards’ approach to anything he’s ever done. Music is in his DNA with his father, to this day, being in urban radio promotion. The best picture of Richards—ever—is of him as a young boy with Michael Jackson. When he was a student at Cal State Northridge by day and a raver by night in the early ‘90s, he was (and continues to be) a disciple of one of Los Angeles’ original underground DJs, Mr. Kool-Aid. In order to continue the party that Mr. Kool-Aid started, Richards and his cronies started Sermon, an afterhours that kicked off at the 6am hour. He soon quit college motivated by the success of this venture so close to his heart. He moved the party to the witching hour, calling it Midnight Mass. It grew to the massive, Holy Water Adventure, which just by coincidence matches up with Holy Ship.

“Somehow the Jewish kid ended up with three Christian branded events,” he shakes his head. “They call me the HARDfather and they bring me Bibles. There was a wedding at the last Holy Ship and they said, ‘by the powers of the HARDfather…’ as part of the pronouncement.”

In between, Richards worked on the recording company sides of things. Rick Rubin brought him on as the person to bridge electronic dance music to the major label world long before it was anything anyone in the mainstream understood. Another classic image of him, this one taking up some wall space in his office, is with Rubin and Richard Russell of XL Recordings—currently the home of everyone from Kaytranada to Radiohead—all baby faces, holding guitars, way back when Richards signed XL to Def American.

Richards has never lost this connection to the past. He continues to pay respect to what he came up with in any way he can. He booked pioneering techno DJ/producer Joey Beltram at HARD and kissed Beltram’s hand when Beltram dropped his timeless number, ‘Energy Flash’ — even if Beltram had no idea who he was. Richards did a three-hour well received Sermon set of tracks that are 20 years old on the last Holy Ship, bringing with him Los Angeles’ original underground contenders, including his idol, Mr. Kool-Aid.

“The history is what makes our genres,” Richards says. “It’s important to me for people to know about Kraftwerk and Orbital. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be here.”

Yet for a long time, the only person that would book Richards as Destructo was himself. He started HARD both so he could host artists he would like to see all in one venue, but mostly so he could DJ. He likens his situation to “riding the pine” as in sitting on the bench during a game, begging the coach to put you in, but he never does. “I had to make my own game and put myself in it” he says, not joking, although it sounds funny. Even so, he gives himself the billing he ascertains he deserves at any given point in time, the same way he does with any of the artists on his line-ups. Early on, he didn’t even play onstage, instead DJing from the soundboard. And later, when he did go on stage, he only played in between acts to keep the music going. Now, he’s slowly climbing up his own flyers and getting booked by otherpromoters.

“A lot of times people don’t take me seriously as a DJ and they don’t take me seriously as a producer,” he says honestly. “My dad was always like, ‘You should be at the top of your line-up. Who’s Deadmau5?’ I’m not like that. I’m not going to take advantage of the situation. I didn’t move myself up the bill until I started releasing some music and Justice started playing my records, until Skrillex started playing my records. I feel I had to earn it for myself. When people actually wanted to see me and I get booked by other people and get paid way better than what I pay myself, that’s the proof.”

Richards always speaks this way. Not self-deprecating so much as honest, with himself and with everyone else. He may not come out looking perfect, but he does come out seeming like he’s human, passionate, dedicated, and sincere.

“I’m a full geeked out fan,” he says happily. “Everything I do comes from music. To me, running HARD and Holy Ship and going to the studio and making tracks and DJing, it’s one and the same. It just makes me better at both things. If I sit here all day making phone calls, it has nothing to do with being in the studio where people are actually creating this stuff. And if I’m in the studio and I forget about everything here, I need to refocus on what’s going on at the office. They balance each other out, otherwise I’d lose my mind.”