February. A welcome break from the festival season for some, a boring month for others. Lucky for those ready to boogie, Mark My Words, ILLevated Sounds, & PRIME brought the vibes to Central Texas. Originally scheduled for September 2021, COVID restrictions pushed the Illfest dates back to the weekend of February 18th and to an outdoor location. There is something truly special about outdoor festivals (an ancient human tradition). Those events are normally hard to come by in the winter. Austin's unique climate allows for such events to take place, as the winters are fairly mild. A cold front did push through, but there was enough energy and body heat at the stages to keep warm.
Illfest was a cashless/cardless event. Attendees' wristbands were linked to their credit cards upon entering Circuit of the Americas. This process made checking out at the bar much quicker, ensuring people wouldn't have to waste their time. After linking our cards, we decided to go check out Dirt Monkey first at the Main Stage. Patrick Megeath is known for his unique style of dubstep, but also blends house and drum & bass sounds into his set. An avid skateboarder, he usually hits up the local skate parks before his shows. Patrick still had plenty of energy left to deliver a memorable set, blending in some dnb and house bangers. His new bass/dnb song "CONKA" is a great example. The trippy monkey-themed visuals were spot on, per usual.
Next, we ventured over to the Mooncheese Stage for Mersiv's set. A WAKAAN artist since 2019, he has become a favorite for many bass music fans. His freeform bass style is very unique, and he definitely brings the headbanging energy on stage. There were definitely times he was banging harder than anyone in the crowd. You have to love someone who brings that type of energy. He will still bring the feels, as seen in the beautiful music video "Floating Underwater Above The Clouds".
From there on the scheduling conflicts began to arise. Peekaboo, Matroda, and Ravenscoon were all scheduled to play at the same time. I had just seen Ravenscoon a couple of months ago, so we decided to catch the end of Nitti Gritti's set and start with Peekaboo. I really like the style Nitti was playing, which was more of a mainstream main stage set (at least towards the end when we were there). The main stage needed that type of energy because Dirt Monkey and Peekaboo were before and after. It was a good change of pace for those who weren't looking to headbang.
Peekaboo erupted on to the scene in 2018 with his Imposters EP. It didn't take long for these songs to be played at every festival and it has been crazy to witness how fast his ascent has been. The visuals are an important part of his sets, and the beginning build-up featured a black screen with only a spinning skull. Slowly the lights came on, and the crowd was ready to get after it. We stayed for about the first 15 minutes before heading over to Matroda, who we had been waiting to see all night! So we began our cold walk back to the Mooncheese Stage, getting there as quickly as we could (and back to the body heat).
The first time I ever heard of Matroda was when I had just started DJing in 2018. My buddy and I have similar musical tastes so he referred me to some house playlists he created. I was blown away by every Matroda song he referred me to. His set at Illfest brought a ton of energy to the crowd. The Mooncheese Stage was a dance party. We did not want it to end.
With Malaa and Borgore playing the Mooncheese Stage after Matroda, we decided to stay there and not brave the cold again. The music and bodies were providing all the heat we needed. It was sad that meant we were missing Liquid Strangers set, but I've seen him enough times. I needed Borgore to blast me with some heavy bass.
He delivered in a big way and had the rail shaking most of his set. The crowd was erupting during his drops, and he knows how to work his MC skills to keep the crowd involved and loving it. Malaa brought the shuffle crowd out, which was great for those of us moving our bodies to stay warm. He has evolved his style over the years to be more housey than his original dark tech house feel. His song "Notorious" wasn't huge when it first came out in 2016, but the song became main stream a couple of years later and is by far his most popular song on Spotify.
We eventually left Borgore to head back to the Main Stage where RL Grime B2B Baauer had come on. The last 30 minutes of the festival, this B2B was the only attraction left playing. You could feel the energy of the whole festival coming together. The set was great, something that everyone attending could enjoy. It was a perfect way to end a great day spent with many of my friends here in ATX.
PhaseOne and Lucii were both on at 7pm Day 2, so I made sure to get there around that time. I had previously met Graeme Duffy, also known as PhaseOne, in Wichita. He is such a nice guy for someone who makes bass music with a heavy rock influence. That style has certainly been a key to his success. Enemy VIP is his latest release.
Lucii played a slower set than she normally does and gave the crowd a show with her vocals. The crowd did not mind the change of pace. It's always good to see artists do different things, and not just play the same style of set every time. Her 2021 release "Just A Dream" with Kaivon is a great example of the style she played.
From there it was back to the main stage for Valentino Khan, Ekali, and Kaskade. We passed on seeing Justin Jay and Phantoms, even though I really wanted to go see those artists. The cold had once again started to settle in, and the body heat was too good at the main stage to leave! Valentino had the main stage groovin', jumping up on top of the DJ decks to get the crowd amped up.
It has been quite some time since I've seen Ekali, and he was one of my favorites since the first time I heard him perform. A lot of my friends after the set were talking about how much they liked it, some of whom had never seen him play. We had a few minutes to chat before Kaskade came on and gave us the best set of the weekend.
People who were wanting a typical Kaskade set certainly did not get that. It was a techy, funky, Redux-like set that was one the best set I've ever seen him play and I've seen some killer Redux sets by him! The set wasn't a true Redux set I'd say, but very close. Hard to describe for sure.
Illfest will be returning this fall, and I couldn't be happier. As an ATX local, it is great to have a mixed genre outdoor festival in town. Especially one that provides entertainment for those looking after the festival is complete. I'm interested to see who they are going to bring in for the next one. The lineup gets better and better each year at Illfest, and we expect the trend to continue this fall.