Insomniac, the leading producer of electronic experiences across North America, together with their partner Live Nation, have a massive portfolio of Electronic Dance Music events. Many of these events are popular beyond their audience. This portfolio includes events such as Electric Dai
Hard Summer is a cornerstone of Southern California’s EDM festivals. This year it moved to a three-day format, from Friday to Sunday at its current location: the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino. Hard Summer is the pet project of Meagan Deschenes who has extensive responsibilities within the Insomniac family of brands. The hard summer took place this year from July 29th – July 31str.
Meagan’s oversight includes leading the team that books talent at all Insomniac events, of which there are many. Just booking a festival is a huge task. Coordinating talent across the country and beyond for events throughout the year-round calendar, including the massive Electric Daisy Carnival events in Las Vegas and Mexico City is almost incomprehensible. This requires a team of buyers and a deep understanding of the countless styles of EDM music and artists that are trending.
Meagan gave me a comprehensive tour of the Hard Wine festival an hour after the gates opened on Saturday. Because EDM music is enhanced by stage lighting, the crowd slowly filters out. The festival doesn’t go into full party mode until the sun has set and the crowds are lit up by the stages.
There is a color scheme which is emblematic of Hard Summer. It’s pink, green and purple. Those colors are everywhere, from stage names to tent colors. The pink umbrella is bright pink, which facilitates wayfinding.
Meagan is quite proud of the comprehensive ways in which Hard Summer’s layout is themed with a specific color palette and photo-ready activations. Her touch is in all the activations which were summer themed. These included a section of a garage with a Cadillac sticking out, where countless people posed for photos. There were similar large-scale photo installations of melted popcorn or ice cream cones and even a massive pink flamingo floating in the pond just beyond the front gate. All this tied together a festival built on a racetrack site that had been softened using artificial turf, the construction of a sandy ‘Corona Beach’ and even an elevated deck complete with pool built into the VIP section next to the stage. main.
There is a lot of thought put into crowd control. This festival has five stages spread throughout the facility. Given the large crowds expected to arrive, traffic management eases the problem. Stages are flat, with directional fencing that helps ensure people enter the viewing area of each stage in a controlled manner. The Pink Stage is inside a giant arched tent with extensive lighting effects to maximize the immersive feeling of being inside a dance club. Other stages are more traditional stages built in front of a large area for standing or dancing. Throughout the grounds there are stations where food and drinks are easily accessible.
The theme is much more pronounced at other Insomniac events such as Beyond Wonderland, Escape, Countdown and the flagship Electric Daisy carnival. At these festivals, the experimental elements are 10x
The main idea of Hard is to leave with more than the memory of seeing the artists. You also walk away creating memories and moments that will last from what you did with your friends.
The standout element in terms of thematics had to be the Merchandise Tent at Hard. It was built almost as if we were in a theme park. The temperature outside was close to 100 degrees. When you entered the tent, three things hit you simultaneously. First, the tent was well air-conditioned, so the pain of the heat was relieved immediately. Second, the interior was almost a Mad Hatter riff with wild colors and vibrant product displays. And thirdly, every one of the staff inside was fully costumed, dancing and swaying to the high heavy beat of their theme music. The products on display were well separated, so anyone could see something they liked, and the sales staff would pick it up from the back inventory supply. This process had two benefits: it minimized shoplifting since inventory was delivered directly to the sales associate at the register, and it maintained the minimalist look of the displays since they didn’t have to carry multiple iterations of each style and size.
The crowd took on a Hard Summer identity. Dress styles were 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 an extensive portfolio. For Summer Hard she runs the entire brand handling everything from creative and marketing to the entire on-site experience. She runs the talent department for all Insomniac shows. EDM has so many genres and subgenres, the Insomniac team tries to differentiate what each brand wants to do. Surprisingly, unlike live bands, DJs will historically draw people to more than one event. This may be partly because people go to these shows to dance, and partly because it’s easier for DJs to change their set lists than for live bands. The Insomniac team books artists every year. They start with their anchor, artists who are sure to be solid a year later. Then, they hold space for new emerging artists or people who get bigger in the time between booking and the show.
Many of the Insomniac events run quite late. Hard went until 1am on Friday and Saturday, while the Electric Daisy Carnival goes all night until 6am.
Coming on September 17thth and the 18th is Nocturnal Wonderland, a camping festival held at Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernardino and the first glory created by Pasqual Rotella, founder and CEO of Insomniac.
The infrastructure behind the show has a lot of moving parts. Schedules are usually adhered to, so the show stays on time. To facilitate this, each stage has a stage manager and crew who break down the equipment of the just completed act and install that of the next act. Behind the team at each stage is the general management team, which is accessible by radio, text and various mechanisms to solve more complex problems. The last thing anyone wants to happen is a huge effort to start, with the sound or light not ready to go.
Meagan tries to make it to every group which is a Herculean effort. She is looking at the crowd to see if they are enjoying the set. She also pays a visit to the VIP areas where there are people who have purchased enhanced access, or a hidden room for those who attend multiple events.
I love talking to Megan. She really knows this space. Attached in audio and video podcast formats is mine 100th podcast per Forbes:
For those who are newer to the Electronic Dance Music space and see it as a cacophony of endlessly repeating loops, there is a way to understand the appeal. Like modern art, EDM has its own language. The time I spent with Meagan Deschenes helped further educate how to recognize and appreciate the art of EDM. Like art, EDM is form, color and tone plus matching speeds and rhythms. The style of music reflects the artistic choices of the DJ, in the same way a painter uses color and canvas to represent life as he/she sees it. This can be a perfect still life, accurate in every detail, or it can be the use of color to reflect emotion in a way that allows any viewer to impose intent.
The artist masters the craft of composing the piece, whether in paint or sound. The person who appropriates the piece through sound, light or movement applies their own filter of like or dislike flavored by the experiences life has offered and their willingness to expand their intellectual boundaries.
As with any artistic endeavor, there is valid debate over what constitutes craft and what is beyond definition. However, when it comes to Meagan Deschenes, there can only be one descriptor: she’s a rock star in an EDM world. In a world driven by beats, there is no higher level of success than undefeated. The entire Insomniac team puts together a portfolio of interesting events. There is nothing difficult about being there. Just buy a ticket and go.