INSIDE ILLMORE: Night Three aka The Denouement [SXSW 2016]
Photo Credit Paul Ramirez
This is the last day of SXSW and I'm spent. Drake is gonna play at FADER Fort tonight, he's gonna bring his friends, we know it's gonna be crazy. It's also Bun B's birthday, I wake up (at 2PM) to a text asking if I can make sure his relatives are taken care of at the Fort. Of course I can, it's the man's birthday.
I drive straight to the Fort, stopping only for a brisket sandwich at Sam's BBQ. Brisket sandwich two days in a row? Don't judge me.
A few minutes shy of 4PM, we're escorted into the Fort by a VP who's old friends with Bun. I give his relatives a tour of the grounds and introduce them to DJ Candlestick and DJ Hollygrove of the Chopstars — official DJs of the week's final FADER Fort. You might know Candlestick for he and OG Ron C's famed official chopped and screwed (read: chopped not slopped) mixes of your favorite albums, and also for their mix of Hannibal Buress' "Gibberish Rap." In the wake of DJ Screw's death, they are the torchbearers of chopped and screwed music.
Dpat tells me he's outside, so I leave to meet him. We see Drake's dad, in the passenger side of an old, gold Ford Explorer, drive in the back lot of the Fort. A crowd is now forming around the back gate and the GA line is impossibly long. The party's getting rough. Jamil Davis spots us and brings us two wristbands.
We analyze the scene: it's way too hectic! On the way back to our car, we bump into Little Simz and Bibi Bourelly. Bibi's trying to catch a lift to the airport, Simz is mulling whether or not to try her luck at the Fort. Our minds are made up, though. Friends text us that the Fort won't be allowing anyone else in the rest of the night. We, however, are going to Torchy's for some Obama-approved tacos (and coffee).
After we get our fix, it's off to the Illmore. We're getting there early; it's the last one, after all. Everyone is buzzing about a rumored OVO set, but I'm making a .gif of Dpat swinging one of Cheyenne and Trey's (of Giant Noise PR) portable lanterns. You can bet I'm throwing this on Instagram.
Bun, who has planted himself firmly on the anti-gif side of things this week, comments, "Bruh…"
Throwback to earlier this week when I sent him a .gif of Little Simz and Kehlani, one of his new favorite artists, talking at FADER Fort. He texted me back, "Why does everything have to be a gif, bro?"
Why won't he let me live is the real question!
Walking through the gates, Joe Budden is on the phone, gripping the fence and looking out into the abyss as the cold wind hits his face. From under a beanie, his eyes meet mine. As he squints, he looks like a detective from CSI. Also, that portion of the night happened in slow-motion and doesn't really connect with anything else that happens later in this story.
But it doesn't matter.
Dpat, Asante and some of our friends line up for a few rounds of arcade basketball. I lose. Again. And again. I don't know what happened to my shot. Maybe I'm getting old?
Hookah is the remedy. Paul Ramirez, OKP's shooter for this event, and I sit down for a few puffs before the stage lights come on. Hookah is not the remedy. My throat feels scratchy now. FML. This is the final night of the final Illmore and a game day injury isn't gonna help my squad flourish. Gotta power through.
I walk inside solo to bowl a few frames with my friend Kelly, who writes for Scoremore's website. She's on bowling alley duties tonight and later in the evening, she'll get to witness a Johnny Manziel and Lil' B face-off. The based blessing of Lil' B might be the only thing that can save Manziel's football career at this point.
The night's random Illmore pairing of Lil' Bibby and Skepta walk in the Blue Room together. Security is getting tighter. The winds seem to be changing — an OVO performance sounds like it won't be in the cards — so I move upstairs to explore the Red Room, but security is tight upstairs too.
Once I'm finally in, I see Illmore co-founder and early Cool Kids supporter, Claire Bogle talking to Chuck Inglish. In the far corner of the room, Sir Michael Rocks is chatting it up. The Cool Kids were original Illmore performers, and Dpat and I went to see them play at a frat party during our freshman year of college, so we can only hope for electric energy from Chuck and Mikey.
At 1AM, I feel exhaustion setting in. My body aches, my phone is on the fritz and I'm reaching for my first Red Bull in over a year. I even grab a bag of Cheetos. I don't know myself any more. I'm gonna go cry in the car.
I walk down into the Main Room and my friends tell me they've seen both Kehlani and Kanye West producer Tony Williams in the thick of the crowd dancing along to many a Metro Boomin track. This is the essence of the Illmore. The Illmore was never supposed to be a concert or a festival, it was supposed to be a house party. An escape from the week of madness we're all collectively enduring.
Just after 2AM, Trae tha Truth takes the stage for a quick medley of hits. The crowd is into his Houston anthem, "Swang," but soon after he steps off they begin to grow restless. A search for the #Illmore hashtag reveals a flurry of negative tweets. When the Cool Kids go up, the crowd begins booing. It's a shame. I understand that people paid good money to get in, but, just like the Illmores of old, a Drake set (or a Kendrick Lamar set) were never directly promised. The Kendrick set just kind of happened and the Skrillex set that same year developed on its own, naturally. These things were never forced. Expecting Drake to perform at a house party is kind of like expecting Desiigner to actually have been to Atlanta.
Okay, that might be a bad analogy, but still!
Back upstairs in the Red Room, quite unexpectedly, I run into Bronx-native, revolution-themed rap group Rebel Diaz. I met them through MC Ana Tijoux on my trip down to Chile last year. It's a pleasant surprise.
Just as I'm walking out of the room, I run into Little Simz again. I ask if her manager Eddie is here. He is! I'm introduced to two members of the Space Age crew, Chuck20 and Osiris the God. We're staying in the Red Room. These are good people who I rarely get to see and I wouldn't want to go back downstairs even if Drake was there. Kehlani is with the Space Age crew now, too. It's very pleasant to see them all together turning up to "Alright." I kind of wish Simz got to do one or two songs, her energy would have made the crowd proper turnt.
Osiris and Chuck20 are teaching me that "zoot" is London slang for a spliff, and that the Puff Puff Pass technique is not an accepted norm in England—at least not in North and East London. Apparently, Londoners are more relaxed in their enjoyment of cannabis. Several puffs are allowed before passing. It's just proper etiquette. I have asthma and the smoke-filled room, plus the hookah I partook in earlier, is making my throat feel miserable. But I don't get to see these folks as often as I'd like, so it's worth braving the smoke. Rembert makes a special guest cameo, because why not. Where is my damn inhaler?!
Now, I'm getting texts from friends in different rooms saying that Tory Lanez and GoldLink are in the building. That's what I loved about going to the early Illmores, that feeling. We never cared if these people hopped up on stage, or if anyone bigger was going to hop up after them, we were always excited simply to meet some of our favorite artists in a casual setting.
Tory Lanez closes out the night with all the energy he has left in him. The crowd snaps out of their funk, especially when he does his signature crowd walk. I've seen Method Man do it before, standing on the crowd's hands, but I haven't seen many other people walk across the crowd. Impressive.
Afterwards, people are roasting Illmore on Twitter. Someone tweets,
It's funny, but it's too much. They missed the point. You set your expectations too high, you end up disappointed.
Little Simz has a flight to Atlanta in the morning, so she asks, "Do you have a car here?"
"Yeah, why? Do you need a ride?" I respond.
"Slightly," she replies.
"Come on, I'm just around the corner. Let's go."
After running Simz home, I meet back up with the crew at Austin diner staple, Kerbey Lane, to trade stories and share laughs about all of our SXSW shenanigans: Asante getting stuck in the FADER Fort line; Dpat marveling at the number of wristbands it takes to stay in the Fort's VIP area; Paul's hilarious story about Joe Budden's high standards when it comes to Jenga; I'm still depressed about Bun not being a .gif person, but it's all good. I'm ending the long week with my friends, some scrambled eggs and a biscuit. Maybe a little jelly if I'm feeling lucky.
What we'll always love about the Illmore is that it gave us stories to tell for a long, long time. When we look back on this era of SXSW, we will always reminisce about the Illmore. How it brought us together, how we all grew with it, and how we continued to grow even after it was gone.
The end of an era. Thank you, Illmore.