808 Fest Spreads Bass around Atlanta
For yet another year, organizer Ricky Raw brought his now-famous 808 Fest to four separate venues around Atlanta. The festival, a celebration of all things bass, visits a new location each night, bringing a diverse lineup to diverse audiences, but maintaining the deep rumble of subs and Atlanta hip-hop throughout.
The first night of the festival was at The Music Room on Edgewood Avenue, and while things started off slowly, by the end of the night the room was packed. Things started off with back to back DJs, and ended with a swarm of rappers on stage. While everyone there displayed various levels of talent, my favorite performer of the night was the opening DJ, Nothing Actually, who played a smooth set of bassy music which included some popular hits sprinkled among deep cuts from the likes of Mr. Carmack and other trap gods. I was also eager to hear Cepeeton Mudfish's set, as he's been floating around in my iTunes library for years. He played a much faster clubby set, but was still very enjoyable and such a friendly guy.
Once the DJs were done and things shifted to rappers, I started to lose my grip on the vibe. Everyone else seemed to be having more fun than me, so I won't begrudge them their enjoyment, but the rappers who performed later in the evening left me wanting more. They handed out CDs and were very interactive with the crowd, but I can only handle so much "street rap" from a bunch of white guys. That's just my opinion, so I don't want to toss shade where shade isn't due. People really did have fun that night.
The next night moved the party to Opera Night Club, where a mix of Atlanta natives and visiting club walk-ups mingled together all evening. This was the first time I'd seen Opera completely open, including the back room and outdoor patio. Sofa King warmed up the room with a well-mixed set of top 100 hip hop, but the energy of the room was quickly lost when DJ Jelly came out and played a raucous mix that included dubstep, future bass, and the ill-fitting "Ocean Avenue" by Yellowcard. I've noticed a trend of DJs trying to pull back the old high school hits to get the crowd to sing along, but it just didn't land in this case. Kilo Ali brought R&B vibes to the stage which some people seemed to enjoy, but which missed me completely. The stripper pole in the middle of Opera was well used by the end of the evening as stoney-faced onlookers sipped drinks and a few adventurous exchange students groped the voluntary dancers.
I was most excited to see HXV perform, as I have never been let down by one of his sets, but this time, even his performance felt like it lacked energy. He played a medley of the top EDM hits of 2015 and 2016, and never gave us that bass techno sound he's been moving towards in recent years. I understand that he was there to play trap at 808 Fest, but some diversity would have been nice, and even the trap he did play was just a collection of the same hits everyone has been playing at every Opera event for the past year.
Night 3 was the most casual of the festival. It was a collection of local rappers and DJs playing out their singles and drinking a few beers in the courtyard of Alley Cat. This is what ATL trap is about. Gathering together with mutual respect, everyone got a chance to perform and display their skills, even if it was just for one song. CDs were handed out, daps given, and bottles raised in support of local talent all night. Drum and bass played inside in the air-conditioned bar while the rest of us sweated to hip hop outside. I was very pleased to hear some of the sticky pay bass and riddim I love at the end of the night, but for the most part it was typical ATL trap about drugs and street life. Even organizer Ricky got on the mic at one point, but the most iconic song of the evening was "I stay po'd up on that syrup." After midnight, the crowd dispersed and Jeff Myers began a soulful house set upstairs which I hung around for a bit to hear.
Admission was free all night long, and the crowd came and went as they pleased all night. More like a block party than a concert, this night held the magic for me, even though I felt some of the performances were lackluster. A city needs nights like this to allow experimentation and free performance. It needs an open mic and open decks to allow fresh talent to breathe and perform.
The final night moved to Aisle 5 for another night of variety and a happy crowd. Juju Beats opened things up as the crowd began to fill in early in the night. McBeezy, Ployd, and Clerks played a massive b2b2b set that ranged across trap, dubstep, riddim, and hip hop while the crowd bounced around and kept the bar busy. As far as pure talent and quality booking, this was the night to come out. Plastician flew in from London to give us an amazing set of grime and dub, the likes of which Atlanta rarely gets to hear. I got to talk to him out in the parking lot and we talked briefly about the cross-Atlantic influence that trap and grime are having on each other, perhaps best represented here in Atlanta by Mayhem, based on what he said when we interviewed him a couple months ago.
All in all, 808 Fest was a success and an enjoyable experience for me and everyone else I saw there. It maintained the casual atmosphere that dominates a lot of Atlanta events, while managing to feel professionally run and well organized. The crowds were all peaceful, drunk, and happy each night. The music was bassy, and the sound systems held up well at each venue. I hope we get more events like this around town, even if they aren't able to span four nights in a row. I was very encouraged to see the whole city well represented and to hear that 808 sound taken to a wide variety of neighborhoods and crowds.
Photos by Teddy Williams & Lacey Smith.