Making History in the City of Austin: The Celebration of the First Hip Hop Festival

“If you love your city, make some fucking noise!” said Austin Martin at the stage of Red7, surrounded by a crew of 7 local MCs during the performance of Lil Sicc at the Pushermania showcase. Like him, many other artists expressed their love for the place where the Weird City Fest was happening. The urban setting was continuously mentioned in public addresses and casual conversations through the three days of the first hip hop music festival in the so called “live music capital of the world.” As hip hop emcees, djs, graffiti writers, dancers, and fans came together last weekend to celebrate the hip hop movement, the urban form was also put in the foreground and equally glorified. The links between the movement and urban realms have a long history that goes back to the origins of hip hop in NYC, and for the case of Austin, the city environment has been equally important for the development of the culture and the thriving of a diverse local scene. As a matter of fact, a city specialized in festivals and with a rich geography of amenities and stages, provided important resources for allowing the Weird City Festival to happen. Not only hip hop practitioners made history the past weekend but also the city of Austin itself, since it expanded its repertoire of music genres and allowed the rich cultural expressions of hip hop to be more visible in an environment of “unity, love, peace, and fun.”

The Weird City Festival revealed power of the creative energy and innovation traditions of hip hop, as well as the diversity of the local scene which was unified, at least during the weekend, as an eclectic mixture of races and genders. Perhaps one of the most important things of the festival is that it allowed us to experience, in a single place, the convergence of the old and new hip hop generations in a positive and safe atmosphere, and to learn about the history of the movement in Austin by attending to the different performances of local artists with all kinds of trajectories. The scale of the movement turned out way bigger than what I imagined. Although during the 10 months I have followed and participated in the AMX local hip hop scene I have been able to meet new artists and to learn about the diversity of styles and scenes, I was not totally aware of how big the movement was in Austin and how many different local scenes exist. At the festival, I had the opportunity to experience other local hip hop scenes from all corners of the city, and from older generations, and to get a sense of the rich diversity of sounds and lyrics that is thriving in Austin. Old school and new school indeed matter, and what I had become used to at AMX weekly open mic events and especial showcases was definitely the sound of the new generation. It was great to experience how the Austin old generation sounds as well as the kind of performances and practices they have developed. And if that kind of richness was not enough, the festival also gave us the opportunity to listen to major figures from major U.S. creative hubs and hip hop underground mecas such as NYC, LA, and Detroit.

Diversity at the Weird City Festival was not limited to music. The hip hop celebration embraced all the creative expressions that have been part of the movement such as graffiti writing, dancing, and fashion. Stages, dance floors, bars, and patios were full of practitioners that displayed and dropped their hip hop knowledge and showing up their styles and interacting with each other. AMX, as the main organizer of the Weird City Festival, did a great job mobilizing resources both during the campaign and during the actual celebration. Aligned with the democratic, open, and positive approach that AMX has sustained during the two years of its weekly open mic, the Weird City Festival welcomed all kinds of creative expressions and attracted several sponsors from the local community, that find themselves, re-connected to a broader and powerful cultural movement. That was the case, for instance, of SPRATX, a new collective of 38 graffiti and street art practitioners that was not connected to the local hip hop scene, but that naturally became part of the festival as an sponsor, seller, and performer. The first day, a live graffiti act was performed by CASK ONE at the outdoor patio of Empire (see image above), and during the second day, some members of SPRATX ran a writing activity at the North Door as part of the Kids Rap Camp. At the two venues, graffiti artists could also showcase a variety of artifacts such as t-shirts, stickers, and posters, they have been producing and selling.

The festival and the campaign did also attract the local media, which supported the AMX initiative very soon after it was announced in June. Recognized local media players such as the Statesmen,Chronicle, and Culture Map Austin, and more niche ones such as ovrld, arts+labor magazine, covered the WCF campaign (what was dubbed as the #roadtoWeirdCity) and supported publicly the making of the festival inviting their readers to donate, buy tickets, and go to the event. By getting public recognition, AMX and the hip hop movement was able to connect not only to music fans but also firms and organizations that became festival sponsors. Austin360, Juice Land, Proper Entertainment, Texas Music Water, Cogdut, Exploded Drawing, and the Dub Academy, as well as all the amenities that hosted the event, became crucial for making the festival happen. Thanks to the organizers, sponsors, artists, and fans, Austin, the live music capital of the world, can be proud of having a fresh hip hop festival. The first one was certainly a blast and we are looking forward to its second iteration.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *