Insomniac, the primary producer of electronic experiences throughout North America along with their partner Live Nation have a massive portfolio of Electronic Dance Music events. Many of these events are well known beyond their audiences. This portfolio includes such events as Electric Dai
Hard Summer is a cornerstone of Southern California’s EDM festivals. This year it moved to a three day, Friday to Sunday format at its current location: the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino. Hard Summer is the pet project of Meagan Deschenes who has extensive responsibility within the Insomniac family of brands. Hard Summer took place this year from July 29th – July 31st.
Meagan’s oversight includes running the team which books talent at all Insomniac events, of which there are many. Simply booking one festival is a big task. Coordinating talent across the country and beyond for events across the entire year’s calendar, including the massive Electric Daisy Carnival events in Las Vegas and Mexico City is something almost incomprehensible. That requires a team of buyers and a deep understanding of the myriad styles of EDM music and the artists which are trending.
Meagan gave me a comprehensive tour of the Hard Summer festival an hour after the gates opened on Saturday. Because EDM music is enhanced by stage lighting, the crowd filters in slowly. The festival doesn’t really get into full party mode until the sun has set and the crowds are lit from the stages.
There is a color scheme which is emblematic of Hard Summer. It is Pink, Green, and Purple. Those colors are everywhere, from the names of the stages to the colors of the awnings. The Pink tent is lit pink, which facilitates way finding.
Meagan is quite proud of the comprehensive ways in which the layout of Hard Summer is themed with a specific color palette and photo ready activations. Her touch is all over the activations which were summer themed. These included a set piece of a garage with a Cadillac sticking out on which endless people posed for photos. There were similar large-scale photo-op installations of popsicles or melting ice cream cones and even a massive floating pink flamingo in the pond just beyond the entrance gate. All of this tied together a festival built upon a racetrack site which had been softened using artificial turf, the construction of a sandy “Corona Beach” and even an elevated deck complete with swimming pool constructed in the VIP section next to the main stage.
There is a lot of thought put into crowd control. This festival has five stages spread across the facility. Given the large crowds expected to arrive, managing traffic eases problems. The stages are spread out, with directional fencing helping to assure people enter each stage’s viewing area in a controlled fashion. The Pink stage is within a giant arched tent with extensive lighting effects to maximize the immersive feeling of being inside a dance club. The other stages are the more traditional stages built in front of a large area for standing or dancing. Throughout the grounds are stations where food and beverages are easily accessed.
Theming is much more pronounced in other Insomniac events such as Beyond Wonderland, Escape, Countdown, and the flagship Electric Daisy Carnival. In these festivals, the experiential elements are 10x
The core idea of Hard is you walk away with more than the memory of watching the artists. You also leave having built memories and moments which will last of what you did with your friends.
The standout element as far as theming had to be the merchandise tent at Hard. It was constructed almost as if we were in a theme park. The ambient outdoor temperature was near 100 degrees. As you entered the tent three things hit you simultaneously. First, the tent was well airconditioned, so the pain of the heat was immediately abated. Second the interior was almost a Mad Hatter riff with wild colors and vivid product displays. And third, each of the staff inside was fully costumed, bobbing and weaving to the loud heavy beat of their themed music. The products on display were well separated, so someone could see something they liked, and the sales staff would fetch it for them from the inventory supply in back. This process had two benefits: it minimized shoplifting as the inventory was delivered directly to the sales associate at the register, and it kept the minimalist look of the displays as they did not have to carry multiple iterations of each style and size.
The crowd assumed a Hard Summer identity. The dress style was all over the board from shorts and T-shirts to fairy wings or bathing suits. It’s dance wear for an outdoor summer festival during a heat wave.
Meagan has a broad portfolio. For Hard Summer she runs the whole brand handling everything from creative and marketing to the whole onsite experience. She runs the talent department for all the Insomniac shows. EDM has so many genres and subgenres, the Insomniac team tries differentiating what each brand wants to do. Curiously, unlike live bands, DJs historically will pull people to more than one event. This may be in part because people go to these shows to dance, and in part because it is easier for DJs to change up their set lists than it is for live bands. The Insomniac team books artists a year out. They start with their anchors, artists they are sure will be solid a year later. Next, they hold space for new emerging artists or people who get bigger in the time between the booking and the show.
Many of the Insomniac events go quite late. Hard went until 1 am on Friday and Saturday, whereas Electric Daisy Carnival goes all night until 6 am.
Coming up on September 17th and 18th is Nocturnal Wonderland, a camping festival held at the Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernardino and the first rave created by Pasqual Rotella, the founder, and CEO of Insomniac.
The infrastructure behind the show has a lot of moving pieces. Set times are typically adhered to so the show remains on time. To facilitate that, each stage has a stage manager and the team who break down the equipment of the just finished act and install that of the act coming next. Behind the team at each stage is the overall management team which is accessible by radio, text, and a variety of mechanisms to solve more complex problems. The last thing anyone want to have happen is a big act attempt to begin, with the sound or light not ready to go.
Meagan tries to get to every single set which is a Herculean effort. She’s watching the crowd to see if they’re liking the set. She also pays a visit to the VIP spaces where there are people who purchased upgraded access, or one hidden room for those who attend multiple events.
I love talking with Meagan. She really knows this space. Attached in audio and video podcast formats is my 100th podcast for Forbes:
For those who are newer to the space of Electronic Dance Music and see it as a cacophony of endlessly repeating loops, there is a path to understanding the attraction. Much like modern art, EDM has its own language. The time I spent with Meagan Deschenes helped further the education of how to differentiate and appreciate the artistry of EDM. Like art, EDM is shape, color and tone plus matching speeds and rhythms. The style of the music reflects the artistic choices of the DJ, much in the same way a painter uses color and canvas to represent life as he/she see it. That might be a perfect still life, accurate in every detail, or it could be the use of color to reflect emotion in a way that allows each viewer to impute intent.
The artist masters the craft of composing the piece, whether its with paint or sound. The person who internalizes the piece through sound, light or motion applies their own filter of like or dislike flavored by the experiences which life has proffered and their own willingness to expand their intellectual boundaries.
Like with any artistic undertaking, there is valid debate over what constitutes craft and what is beyond definition. However, as to Meagan Deschenes there can only be one descriptor: she is a Rock Star in an EDM world. In a world driven by beats, there’s no higher level of success than unbeatable. The entire Insomniac team puts on a portfolio of interesting events. There’s nothing Hard about being there. Just buy a ticket and go.