HARD Summer Delivers As Festivals Make Their Triumphant Return [REVIEW]

This past weekend, HARD Summer made its triumphant return after having to cancel in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Shifting from the Fontana Speedway to Insomniac’s homebase, the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino, HARD gave fans an exuberant and satisfying return to massive festivals. Despite the oppressive afternoon heat, HARD Summer 2021 has to be qualified as a massive success. This year’s HARD truly embodied the festival ethos that all are welcome and there’s something for everyone’s unique taste.

From dance music stalwarts like Dillon Francis, Jauz and Kayzo, to top 40 rappers like Future and 2 Chainz, to genre-defying artists like A-Trak, Kaytranada and Elohim; HARD Summer always features one of the most diverse lineups on the festival circuit. This year, Insomniac managed to step up the scope and scale of the festival and make it feel as massive as Coachella. HARD Summer is a “massive,” and Pasqualle Rotella and his team did not hold back this year. Here’s a breakdown of the good and bad of HARD Summer 2021.

hard summer

hard summer

As to be expected, there were some kinks getting into and out of the festival on the first day. Although Insomniac has dedicated free parking lots, which are greatly appreciated, once it gets past a certain time of day, it’s just really difficult to get into the festival. Traffic was at a standstill coming off the Mill Street exit off the 215 Freeway. Despite trying to drive around the perimeter of the festival grounds, I still found myself parking far away along the border of the residential neighborhood/massive Amazon shipping center.

Once I got into the festival grounds, I was blown away by the scope and size of the festival. HARD Summer unlocked parts of the NOS Events Center grounds that had not yet been explored in previous festivals. While the festival grounds were easy to navigate and had clear directions and signage, it was just a lot of ground to cover. The heat was also a factor; while there were shaded and misted areas, but it almost wasn’t enough as the early afternoon heat was blistering.

Although the scale of the festival was massive, the payoff was there at all the stages. The HARD Stage took on the guise of the Coachella Stage, just a massive beacon of lights and steel. The HARDer Stage didn’t pull any punches this year. It was just another version of the HARD stage, beckoning the masses to come forward. Both the Purple and Green Stages deserve massive kudos for their unique production design. However, the Green Stage was the surprise of the weekend!

Usually, the Green Stage is absolutely packed to the brim; it’s essentially the dubstep stage, so having a packed crowd is ideal, but like the Sahara Tent at Coachella, the stage needed to evolve to fit the times. Enter this year’s Green Stage which was wide open and featured low-hanging misters which made it the place to be if you wanted to chill with friends. Unlike past years where you couldn’t breathe at Green Stage, this year’s stage was a breath of fresh air.

This year’s HARD was also a great festival if you had multiple friend groups going and you wanted to bounce around stages. Again, HARD is eclectic by nature, so you might have friends who will spend all day at Green Stage or Pink Tent. It’s fun taking a break from the main stage to check out something you might not have thought about. Case in point, I didn’t expect to leave HARD or HARDer stages, and I had great times at Green and Pink Stages. HARD is all about the homies, and for whatever reason, this year’s festival made it perfect for connecting with friends old and new.

hard summer

hard summer

As was mentioned, the lineup for HARD Summer was second to none. Despite thinking I wouldn’t spend much time at the Purple Stage, sure enough, that was my first destination on Day 1, as I saw Mr. Carmack throw down some vibey trap that perfectly set the mood for the weekend. From there, I made my way to the HARDer stage for some of Born Dirty’s filthy house beats. I headed over for my first glimpse of the HARD stage for Yultron’s set, and he did not disappoint. This was certainly the first time the crowd gained critical mass and Yultron delighted the audience with his blend of hardcore, hardstyle and dubstep.

After enjoying some of Yultron, I headed back over to HARDer stage for some of Wax Motif’s set. His unique bass house stylings and impeccable visuals were the perfect intro for the throng of headliners heading into the festival grounds. After that, Jauz at the HARD stage was the place to be. The Southern California sky transformed from day to night as Jauz dropped hit after hit, mashup after mashup. From “Gassed Up” to “Ghosts & Sharks” to “Rock the Party,” Jauz’s versatility was on display for all to see. If you were like me, this was the first great moment of the weekend.

Not to be outdone, the next set at the HARD stage was RL Grime b2b Baauer. At this point, we know their side project is HÆRNEY, and the HARD crowd was delighted by a mashup of some of the two DJs greatest hits, as well as some IDs and edits that put them in the Jack U / Dog Blood pantheon of HARD super groups. From there, rap superstar Future closed out the night dropping a bevy of hits including “Mask Off,” “Same Damn Time,” “Bugatti” and many more. The crowd was vibing hard with Mr. Hendrix. Shoutout to his intro, where he leaned into all the memes that he is now a part of.

Day Two was equally as hot, though I went much earlier, so traffic and parking were not an issue. Those who did arrive early found no respite from the heat though. The crowds were miniscule up until JOYRYDE’s set at the mainstage at 5:50 PM. I watched all of Nitti Gritti b2b Wuki, their set was upbeat and energetic, but the crowd was miniscule and the heat oppressive. While the entire festival seemed to converge on JOYRYDE, I found myself wishing for more during his set. I didn’t hear any new IDs or sounds that perked my ear up.

From there I headed over to the Green Stage for the first time of the weekend to catch Bad Boys Club (Cray X GG Magree). They came out in cute matching pink button Louis Vuitton shirts and matching bucket caps. The crowd was energetic and enraptured, and while their mix of bass house was dope, they played several JOYRYDE songs, right after JOYRYDE played! Regardless, I can see Bad Boys Club becoming a Green Stage staple.

It was the HARD stage from there on out as I made my way to 2 Chainz’s set. The legendary rapper did not disappoint, dropping an array of hits including “Big Bank,” “I’m Different,” “No Lie” and so much more. This was the vibe Future closed out with on Night 1, so you know that Night 2 is going to go off after this. Sure enough, Dillon Francis did not disappoint. One of HARD Summer’s absolute veterans, Dillon delivered an all-time set, recalling the scope and grandeur of some of his Coachella sets and delivering for all his fans in attendance. Dillon dropped incredible IDs with Eptic and TV Noise, some of his greatest hits including “Say Less,” “When We Were Young,” “Let it Go,” “Bomboclat,” and a moment that slayed the crowd, when he dropped My Chemical Romance’s classic, “The Black Parade.”

After that, DJ Snake and Malaa took over, as the HARD Stage sign turned to the French tri-color, blue, white and red; and Pardon My French dominated the night with some great house music. While the crowd was congregated there, the best set was actually going on at the Green Stage. At the behest of a knowledgeable friend, I head over to the Skream Old Skool Dubstep set. The bass and wubs were heavy as the comfortable and dispersed crowd delighted in the nostalgia of traveling back to 2007-2010 era dubstep.

hard summer

hard summer

HARD Summer 2021 was right on the mark, both meeting and exceeding expectations. The music and lineup was incredible. The vibes were pretty darn good too. For the first festival back after the Pandemic, HARD delivered on all levels. I can’t wait to see what Insomniac has in store for Beyond later this month.