Justice and Friends Go Hard
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Justice and Friends Go Hard

The Toronto edition of the Hard Festival left attendees sweaty and happy.

Hard Toronto
Featuring Justice, M83, Austra, Buraka Som Sistema, Charli XCX
Fort York Garrison Common (100 Garrison Road)
Saturday, August 4, 4 p.m.

The first Toronto edition of the Hard Festival—a worldwide concert series that started as a one-day party in Los Angeles in 2007—had a number of things going against it.

Not only was it competing with the Caribbean Carnival (formerly known as Caribana) for party people, it was also up against a Black Keys show at Molson Amphitheatre—and, in an inexplicable display of poor scheduling, it was scheduled opposite another electronic music festival: the Deadmau5-headlined Veld, taking place at Downsview Park. Add to that the weather, which was threatening not to cooperate (in fact, there was about an hour of rain) and Hard Toronto had the potential to be a disaster.

In the end, it was anything but, although the party was slow to start. The Fort York Garrison Commons was virtually empty for most of the festival, right up until co-headliners M83 took the stage. At that point, the venue was suddenly packed. Those masses of latecomers missed some good music.

Local darkwavers Austra were charming and vaguely self-effacing, making jokes about passing out in the late-afternoon heat. Katie Stelmanis’ voice did a great job of filling the massive space, and “The Beat and The Pulse” got the listless crowd moving.

Buraka Som Sistema was even more impressive. The Portuguese kuduro-breakbeat fusionists didn’t particularly care if the crowd was too hot to dance, too cool to care, or just not drunk enough to really let loose. Their set was high-energy, fist-pumping fun. If the audience wanted to get in on the party, that was just a bonus.

Co-headliners M83 proved that they are one of those bands that really shines live. Recorded, they’re enjoyable enough. (And pretty much everyone likes “Midnight City.)” Live, they’re a whole other animal. The massive PA built their sound into an all-encompassing warm hug that reverberated in every audience member’s gut. Every little textured nuance in the band’s sound took on a life of its own.

French house wizards Justice were the men of the hour, and they delivered in spades. The band has playing big spaces down to a science. They teased the crowd with snippets of hits until everyone was literally begging for the big jam.

The Justice stage show had an almost insane number of lights—it could easily have illuminated a baseball stadium—and it occasionally necessitated the Corey Hart-esque use of sunglasses at night. It was the sort of display that would have made a ‘70s rock band proud. The 90-minute set wasn’t a series of highs and lows so much as tsunami of sound that got progressively bigger until it was almost impossibly loud. The songs flowed together seamlessly. Tracks like “DVNO,” “D.A.N.C.E.,” and “Civilization” became massive sing-alongs. The crowd danced in the rain, hugged and high-fived each other, and just generally had fun with a distinctively un-Toronto-like abandon.

Hard may have had a lot of things to compete with on Saturday night, but anyone who opted to make Fort York their party destination certainly went home happy.