Holy Ship's Gary Richards: Kurt Cobain Might've Gone Electronic Today
Event producer and DJ Gary Richards is in the throes of a busy time. He was sought out by Trent Reznor to put on a string of events across the world to celebrate his latest film composition project, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and he his the mastermind behind the HARD electronic music festivals. The HARD series hits the high seas January 6-9 for the inaugural Holy Ship! festival.
The ship in question is the 2,550-passenger MSC Poesia and the event is a three-night electronic dance party taking place on the floating party vessel. The cruise departs from Fort Lauderdale and makes a stop at a private island in the Bahamas for a beach party. The whole event features artists such as Fatboy Slim, Diplo, Skrillex, Rusko, Steve Aoki and Laidback Luke among many others.
Clearly someone who has music in his blood, he speaks with the tangible vivre of someone who likes nothing more than booking the best artists
and getting a party started. In an illuminating discussion about the
behind the scenes spirit of the burgeoning live electronic scene in the
US, he speaks at length about how Holy Ship! began, what cruisers can
expect and electronic music being the new grunge.
New Times: Can you give an outline of the development of how Holy Ship! has come about, perhaps starting with an initial introduction of HARD -- which has been going since 2007, but primarily on the West Coast and in New York -- and how that has lead into promoting a huge electronic music cruise.
Gary Richards: Well, my story goes in the early '90s I was a DJ [Destructo] and promoter in LA. I used to do a lot of the warehouse parties, the underground stuff and then I moved into the record business with Rick Rubin, and he hired me to sign electronic techno bands in the '90s. We signed Prodigy, XL Recordings, all that stuff -- and nobody ever bought it, it didn't really work out and I just bounced around all these different record labels. Then in 2006, I just decided trying to sell CDs to people is trying to sell oxygen, y'know it's free, why would people buy this?
So I thought I'd go back to what I originally did which was DJing and producing events, so I started HARD in 2007 and the first show was Justice, Peaches, 2 Live Crew -- aren't they from Broward county? I know they always used to mention the local law enforcement down there [edit: they're actually from Miami]. So we did this show in 2007 and I really felt like I hit a nerve of what people weren't really getting in America. It hit a nerve with people that we were doing something different and it just seemed to grow and grow, and it has taken a life of its own.
All the shows I do in New York I work with a company called the Bowery and they do the Jam Cruise with these guys in Florida called Cloud Nine. So I told them that I've always wanted to do a cruise and they said, "it's funny you should mention that because there's this company we work with" and we all got on a call and formed a partnership between the three of us. Originally it was going to be the HARD Cruise or whatever, but finally we settled on Holy Ship! and it's really good to have partners that know how to run a boat and they know how the boat works and they know the Captain and the company, and I can come in and do my thing with booking the acts and making it feel like a HARD event. And on January 6th we'll see what happens.
Is the fact that the cruise is based around South Florida important to what you are trying to achieve -- not just from a logistical point of view, but the big electronic music scene in the area?
I think ideally it would probably be better for us to be based out of California, just because we're bigger in California than anywhere else. But we do a lot in New York, we've done a bunch in Miami and people can get there from London, they can get there from Paris, they can get there from Toronto. It's pretty centrally located, and the thing that sparked this idea was that in 1997 I went on a little cruise with a bunch of DJs -- it was called the Move. It was out of the Caribbean and I had one of the best times of my life.
So it just seemed good, plus I think the weather is supposed to be really good then and this is where they do the Jam Cruise out of, so it makes sense. We're using the exact same boat; we do ours, then they clean up the mess and then they jump back on and they do their thing. So it kind of seems to make sense -- the goal is if it works we'll do it in places, hopefully all over the world.
In many ways it seems logical to have an event in January, since there's no clash with other events. Was it a relatively straightforward process to assemble a strong list of artists?
I feel like we can get the artists depending whatever time of year it is, we do a pretty good job of that year round. It's more the weather and that is when the boat was available, but it seemed to work out pretty well and we started working on this thing a year ago. So my main thing is always having enough time to promote it and get it right. So, those guys suggested that was a good time and I checked with a lot of people. I'm kind of tired of doing New Years Eve: we always do a New Years Eve event and it's such a headache, it's my birthday -- so I'm like, you know what I'm going to chill on New Years Eve and get on the boat after and it will be perfect.
Did you have a strong idea of which artists you wanted to play?
I just wanted to make it the guys who would make for the best party and the guys that I know would be most into the party and contributing, not someone who would hide in their cabin and come out and play their set for an hour. Like when I mentioned it to A-trak and Diplo -- Diplo was so into it, we're having a Mad Decent scavenger hunt, he was like 'we should have three-on-three basketball tournaments, kissing booths' and A-trak is like, 'I want to do shuffle boards and we're going to have fucking DJ lessons' and they're into it, they're hyped into making it a whole adventure and not just playing a set and hiding out. So I tried to pick the DJs that I know are the most social and outgoing and like to party.
Looking at the way the line-up has been programmed and scheduled there seems to be an emphasis on the idea of a curated experience, ranging from the Mad Decent pre-party the Boys Noize Records Party and Fool's Gold Rap Party. I presume this was a very conscious move to bring a sense of unity to the lineup?
I always try to program whether it's a festival or a cruise so that each thing makes sense; sometimes people program just to sell tickets. I always try to program so like, we've got this boat -- four different areas that are going to be going for 12 hours at time, so you're looking at hundreds and hundreds of hours or programming. So if I have to sit there and program every hour myself, I think "why don't I give this night to the Paris Social Club?" They're the best and they're really excited because they get to bring over some of their guys who never get here. And now I've thrown Dita Von Teese [iconic burlesque dancer, formerly married to Mr Marilyn Manson] into the Paris Social Club to take her clothes off, and it's going to just be like mayhem, you know?
Do you hope planned activities such as the Steve Aoki poker tournament, Gina Turner Yoga class and A-Trak DJ lessons will contribute to the overall atmosphere in terms of breaking down any barriers between the cruisers and artists?
That's what we're hoping for and also we have a captive audience for three days, so we have to have something else besides dancing. I would just go for three days of dancing but my partners are like, "you've got to stop at some points so people can eat, and sleep -- we can't just pulverize them with music all the time." What sparked it was the guy from Cloud Nine and they have an activities director so they suggested the idea of being able to go parrot sailing or do they want to go scuba diving, and I was like, "who the hell wants to do that on this trip? These people want to party -- lets come up with our own activities." So we tailored them to our DJs and our crowd.
Other similar events, such as the Kiss Cruise, are often focused towards quite a niche crowd. A cruise on this scale is relatively unprecedented and the whole promotion feels very ambitious. Is that how it has felt throughout the planning process?
I haven't really done the mathematics of who goes cruising and who likes what, I just kind of know that if you put all those DJs together there has to be a bunch of people that want to check it out. I think it's a good mix of all kinds -- I mean we have Arthur Baker [iconic post-disco producer] on this trip, I don't know if anyone knows who he is? I mean he was DJing at Studio 54 in the '70s, he produced all the "Planet Rock," [1982 summer hit single from Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force] Afrika Bambaataa records, he's an old school disco guy, y'know, I'm just trying to mix it up. We have dubstep, we have disco, we have techno -- it's an experience where you can get a little bit of everything.
You mention the Kiss cruise, I mean I love Kiss but how many times can you see Kiss play? If they play once then you're good, you know? I mean I guess you can hang out for three days and get a picture with Gene Simmons, but I see Gene Simmons at the gym and he's really not that much to stand next to and get a picture with.
Do you feel that an event on the scale of Holy Ship! could only really be happening right now with the increase in popularity of electronic dance music in the US?
I've been working with this kind of music since 1990, so there were probably a couple of years between 1990 and 2012 when you could have done it. What happens is that it kind of gets big and then it kind of goes away, and then it gets big and then it goes away. This time it feels like it's a tsunamis - it's everywhere. My goal is just to try and make sure it doesn't go away again.
If an event like Holy Ship! is symptomatic of a genuine movement -- why do think it has happened, particularly considering many of these artists are very sonically different?
I just think people in America, I guess, they're just late to catch on -- but when they catch on, they latch on. So I'm just happy and I'm glad that everyone is into it, I thought this would happen years and years ago and it never really did to this level. And I think we've had a part in getting it there -- we've been doing something different and showing people there are a lot of different styles to electronic, it's not just one thing. I think more than anything it's a lot of kids, a lot of college kids -- you know if you want to be in a band now, you'd probably prefer to be a DJ or get a keyboard or something, not just in a garage playing speed-metal with your friends. Even though I like speed-metal too, but I just think that's what kids are into. I always thought that's what was going to happen and it's kind of like the future -- in what other way can music progress, but with electronics?
Back in the day, in the beginning, when I first started I think the music was pretty basic - I mean, there were still some pretty cool tracks here and there but it wasn't like it is now. I think now if Kurt Cobain was a teenager now or Scott from Stone Temple Pilots, if these guys were teenagers now then they might be into electronic instead of grunge or whatever they were doing. It just seems to be what's going on with the times.
Finally, what can people expect from Holy Ship! and any advice to anyone going or even thinking about going, in terms of getting the most out of the experience?
We have got about one hundred cabins left, so if you want to get on then there's still time to get in and just look for one hell of a party. I don't really know what else -- I'm really looking forward to it, I've been looking forward to it for the whole year.
Holy Ship! January 6-9, 2012. Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale, to Port Lucaya, Bahamas. Cabins cost $449 to $1499, plus fees. 21+. Click here.
Get the Music Newsletter
Find out about upcoming concerts and special offers happening in the South Florida music scene.