"I know you'll have fun this week, but to be totally honest, it's also hella stressful," Sascha Guttfreund, co-founder of a local promotions company called ScoreMore and host of the heavily veiled and highly desirable SXSW after-hours party Illmore, told me. When we spoke a few days ago, he was parked on the couch at his Austin home watching March Madness; I was at the Austin Convention Center, recharging electronic devices amidst the bustle of artists and music industry folks who have descended on Austin this week. There is undoubtedly a ton of fun to be had here—did you hear about Miley?—but most attendees are here with business-like agendas and a lot of hustle on display. Which is to say: Guttfeund's not wrong about the hella stressful thing.
The Illmore—which is put on by Guttfreund, ScoreMore partner Claire Bogle, IllRoots' Mike Waxx and Matt Ferrigno, and a team of producers and publicists—was conceived five years ago as an antidote to stress. As Guttfreund explains, SXSW draws his largely L.A./NYC-based network of hip hop artists to his hometown, so it's his big chance to play host. "There was no business idea or brand behind it," he insists. "It was just like, 'Let's get a keg and have a get-together.'"
Now, the Illmore is courting marquee acts (Lil Wayne, Skrillex, Wiz Khalifa) and deep-pocketed sponsors (last night I spotted Beats, D'Usse, RedBull, and a onesies company), and its legend has grown to such proportions that at least two people tattooed the party's logo on to their body in order to guarantee entrance this year. "I remember at walking around three or four years ago," Guttfreund recalls, "and Kendrick, Wiz, Cudi, Mac, ScHoolboy, and Bun B were all hanging around and having a beer by the pool. We were like, 'This is so sick.'"
This year, the party is being held in an expansive warehouse located on Austin's east side, just a short distance from the festival hub. It's been reconfigured to include an intimate performance space and an artist green room complete with a kitchenette and a calendar hung on the wall. Outside, there's a makeshift hookah lounge, as well as a barber's chair in case you need a trim while you're there.
The Illmore's also scaled down somewhat from years past. In response to the citywide emphasis on safety that resulted from last year's tragedy, the party possesses permits now and has been produced to meet the stringent codes of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the city's fire marshal. But Guttfreund, who also throws an official showcase at Austin Music Hall, is insistent that this doesn't take away from Illmore's DIY vibe. "To call us official, that definitely isn't the case," he says.
"A lot of us struggle with how do you gain volume without sacrificing cool," he added. "All of a sudden we go into a big-ass space with an LED wall and they're like, 'It's not the Illmore anymore.' But we're like, 'You just saw Lil Wayne for free at three o'clock in the morning but we're still wack?'"
Two nights ago, Funkmaster Flex warmed up the crowd before Chance the Rapper, Fetty Wap, Rome Fortune, and A Trak took the stage. iLoveMakonnen, Kehlani, G-Eazy, DeJ Loaf, Mick Jenkins, and A$AP Ferg milled about, and everybody—artists, label people, media, and everybody who showed up just for the fun of it—seemed to have loosened the grip on their smartphones, indulging in off-the-clock fun, and making friends but not networking. In short: getting together, hanging out.
Lead photo: Grant Waring