In Modi We Trust: How Trillectro is Fostering a New Era in D.C. Music [Festival Review + Full Recap]
As the sun set on the DC Fairgrounds, a unique, interim venue in Southeast on the Capitol Riverfront boxed in by massive, brightly colored cargo containers, the city’s brightest star took center stage, his mere presence drawing a nearly deafening response. Olubowale Akintimehin, the man these days more commonly known to the public as Wale, addressed the moment as a homecoming, with Booz Allen Hamilton at his back and a skyline highlighted by the new National’s park in his direct line of sight. It was a fitting backdrop for the occasion, since the Maybach Music Group MC became a fixture in the rap game long before the stadium’s first opening day. In fact, he had presence in the metropolitan area before they even broke ground on the gargantuan structure. Now, here he stood, performing “Dig Dug (Shake It),” his Go-go infused first single, in the only city in the world where the majority of a capacity crowd knows all the lyrics—collectively chanting them mere yards away from the baseball Mecca’s front gates, as if to properly christen it.
This wasn’t the first annual Trillecto Music Festival, but it may as well have been. Last year, no one knew what to expect; no one could’ve anticipated that a vision this grand could be so succinct. Last year, a number of imports headlined the bill, and only a few locals peppered the music experiment’s lineup. This time around, it was about us. It was subtly done, but we knew it long before Wale graced the stage. We knew it when Fat Trel surprised attendees with a performance of “Respect with the Tech” and when A$AP Ferg brought out A$AP Rocky: Washington, D.C. matters in music again. This is our city, and for the first time in a long time we have something to be truly proud of.
Trillectro is that something. The District of Columbia has long been devoid of that special energy, the one that is present when people come together to enjoy a moment where time stands still and life is simple—a vortex that later induces nostalgia for participants and envy in those that were absent. We have been lacking this, probably because our music scene in recent years could be described as stale at best and nonexistent at worst. “I aint ever seen the city like this before,” Wale stated, triumphantly standing among a host of DC natives of varying status, pride permeating each syllable of each word. The artist, now the possessor of a #1 album, has never been the biggest name on a festival ticket before. He may never be again. But, I imagine, if he is, it won’t ever feel quite like this. The rapper’s presence was more symbolic than anything; in fact, he didn’t perform any songs in full (an unfortunate side effect of his co-headlining tour with J. Cole), but it felt essential. It’s hard to fathom any of this happening without him. You can’t build a festival on a scene built on DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat” that’s for sure. While it’s fun to ponder how quickly the festival would be defunct without the now growing stable of local artists led by the MMG poet, it’d be impossible to imagine where it’d be without Modele “Modi” Oyewole, the nearly mythical figure behind the curtain running the show.
“My nigga Modi got his own Made In America,” joked host LowKey of YouHeardThatNew.com, referencing Jay-Z’s equally infantile festival. It’s a joke because Jay-Z has quite a few more connections resulting in bigger acts and bigger turnouts, but there’s still truth to LowKey’s jest. No matter who took the stage, local act or import, obscure act or superstar, everyone mentioned Modi. The tagline on his twitter page reads simply, “I like to connect ppl,” and it’s clear he takes pride in his work. He’s also got the results to show for it. In a absurdly short time, Modi has put together a truly spectacular annual event—one worth every penny—and while there are still some kinks to work out, it’s only a matter of time until Trillectro becomes one of the hottest tickets in the country. Yet as it stands now, the production is pretty damn great.
Trillectro is a very young festival and this is only its second summer. It is still in the fledgling stages, and it has yet to reach its full potential. This year it faced even greater growing pains in the wake of a now growing profile and, well, a considerably larger number of attendees. But, despite not delivering a flawless product with faultless execution, there was absolutely no shortage of fun.
The atmosphere at the festival was a reflection of the performers booked. Trillectro as a festival draws a unique and diverse blend of EDM fans and hip-hop heads, and the Fairgrounds venue forces a lot of intermingling. There were folks in attendance dressed in their finest and folks dressed for the couch, all coming together for the sake of good music. There was a permanent weed fog directly in front of the main stage and refreshing libations were on hand at all times—the Svedka sponsored open bar peddled a plethora of mixed drinks right next to the stage and across the way literal hoards of twenty somethings stormed The Bullpen for $8 margaritas and $10 red bull and vodkas. The venue was nearly vacant when it started at noon, but by the time 1 pm rolled around, the festivities were in full swing.
New Retro / Misun / RDGLDGRN
A host of talent, directly from the nation’s capital, was on full display in the city that would’ve been unfit to nurture them five years ago, and a few of the more unknown acts opened the show. The first act of the day wasn’t from D.C., but was a representative of the DMV (College Park, MD) called New Retro. The group featured rap with a live band, and the sound had traces of Reggae. The Fairgrounds were basically empty for the group’s set, but they still maintained their stage presence. It was a solid way to kick off the event. New Retro was followed by Misun, an aquawave/emo-pop band from Washington, D.C. that hands down stole the award for sleeper act of the festival. Named after the act’s lead singer, the group received the first full applause of the day. “Met You” was the early highlight until “Something Inside of Me” completely took my breath away. The band seemed ridiculously comfortable on stage, and it translated to the music. RDGLDGRN, another district product, followed Misun, and though the aquawave charisma was tough to follow, the group brought a Rage Against The Machine feel to the stage that was infectious. The music was Rock based with obvious Go-go influence (in fact, the group brought out Pep from the Go-go band, Mambo Sauce, to perform some songs) and there were some great baselines and breakdowns that really got the crowd going. The Pharrell produced “Doing the Most” forced me to check the band’s soundcloud for CDQs. RDGLDGRN was the last super obscure act of the festival, but the early local talent set the stage for the rest of the day.
After a considerable delay, the next act, rising D.C. star Shy Glizzy, showed up with his entire entourage. The rapper took the stage to decent fanfare and opened with the hubris filled “I Am D.C.” off his recently released Law 2 mixtape. Glizzy had great presence, but his dubbed vocals were so loud it was distracting. His set was capped off nicely when two young children joined him on stage with squirt guns to perform “Shooters.”
DMV rapper Phil Ade quickly followed his metropolitan area colleague, and put on one of the best performances of the entire festival. Ade proved to be one of the few rappers on the day that rapped without dubbed vocals, and he commanded the stage with the confidence of a 10-year veteran. The Maryland MC also brought out LA’s Shawn Chrystopher to perform “The Vapors (Bet U Know Me).” It was an overall fantastic performance. I highly recommend catching him on The ROSE tour if you can. I wasn’t a Phil Ade fan before, but I am now, and that’s the greatest compliment you can pay an artist.
The first act from outside of the DMV was Two-9, a rap group from Atlanta, GA featured last September in Complex magazine’s “10 Atlanta Rappers To Watch Out For.” The stage was so packed with people during the set that I couldn’t tell who was in the group, honestly. With that said, the music was almost good enough to make me overlook that. Almost. I felt distracted throughout the performance. Some members were captivating, some weren’t, but that’s simply a curse of rap groups. I was fortunate enough to catch one of the hard copies of the group’s mixtape that was flung from the stage and it has been in moderate rotation ever since.
I’m not too big on EDM personally, but D.C. natives, Nadastrom, shut it down with an incredible set. The only EDM act on the main stage other than the headlining Carnage, the electronic duo dropped some of the dopest bass records I’ve ever heard. Accompanied by scantily clad dancers that took the stage in pairs, the set served as high quality entertainment all around. The energy level dropped off towards the end of the set, but it didn’t take away from the overall excellence of the performance. There’s a reason why so many people at our roundtable were anticipating this set.
The artist formerly known as Chip tha Ripper was the first of the major acts to hit the stage, and his set was a bit of a letdown. As a longtime fan, I was expecting more. His delivery doesn’t particularly cater to live performances, but it came across even lazier than I anticipated. He performed with dubbed vocals and no hypeman, and if any artist needs a hypeman it’s King Chip. The Cleveland, OH rapper debuted a new record off, 44108, entitled “Black on Black” and it gave me high hopes for the project. Other songs performed included “Old English,” “25 Wives,” “Feel Good,” “Hyyerr,” and “Experimental,” three of which aren’t King Chip records.
One of the more highly anticipated acts was Travi$ Scott, and you could hear a hum of excitement amongst the crowd before he was set to go on. The artist opened with Jay-Z’s “Crown,” a song he co-produced, which successfully got the crowd riled up. After some brief technical difficulties, he unleashed the thumping “Quintana.” Crowd surfing ensued, and fans swarmed in an attempt to lift the rapper. Travi$ Scott is an intense dude, and he shouted at media and photographers on stage during his set, forcing them to leave. When Scott finished performing “Uptown,” a song he admitted was one of his personal favorites, he broke out into “Upper Echelon,” which had everyone in complete hysteria. Immediately following his set, Scott got into a brief altercation with the event’s security team after some comments he made about the staff rubbed them the wrong way. Inevitably—and unfortunately—his set was cut short.
Casey Veggies is the only Trillectro alumni, but he made no mention of that. His set (another case of dubbed vocals) was very chill, and the crowd didn’t particularly respond well to that. In fact, there was very little crowd response at all. There was a relatively decent head nod percentage throughout, though. In keeping with the overall vibe of his set, Veggies shocked the crowd and brought out D.C. R&B sensation Raheem Devaughn to perform “Guess Who Loves You More.” “I’m gonna take you to the go-go, Casey. Ima show you how we get down where I’m from,” Devaughn chimed before going into a cool Go-go breakdown of the song. Casey closed out strong performing “The Team” and “Everything Wavy” before doing “Up” with Travi$ Scott until staff cut the sound for exceeding the set’s time limit. “They aint gon’ let ‘em rock?” one fan yelled from the crowd. “Fuck that shit, man.” The sentiment was echoed among the rest of attendees.
The artist that commanded the most pre-festival buzz was without question A$AP Ferg, who had released his highly anticipated album, Trap Lord, for stream a few days prior to the show. There was a murmur of excitement, and fans wondered, which songs he’d perform. He opened with “Dump Dump,” and the crowd went bananas. Crowd surfing followed, and after a brief introduction, Ferg dropped Lords Never Worry favorite, “Persian Wine,” and did the second verse acapella, which was a blessing since most attendees—including yours truly—struggled to catch their breath. Then, it happened. The moment that festival patrons will be talking about for weeks: Ferg dropped “Work,” then stopped it abruptly to bring out A$AP Rocky for the “Work (Remix)”, then the two performed “Shabba.” It felt like everyone within a two-mile radius went into a complete frenzy—people flailed out of control, in what was almost a mosh pit type atmosphere, with complete disregard for the person next to them. A$AP Ferg turned in the best performance of Trillectro 2013, no debate, and in the process set an incredible bar for the acts next year.
The New Jersey based DJ brought an all out showcase that had the cramped, but packed Karmaloop stage continuously grooving. The records spun include the “Versace (Remix),” “Blood On The Leaves,” “U.O.E.N.O.,” “I Don’t Like (Remix),” “Pop, Lock, and Drop It”—a twerk team classic—“Pony,” and “I’m Different.” At one point, the DJ even invited girls from the audience to come up on stage and dance. What resulted was not wholesome family entertainment, but the guys certainly enjoyed it.
I’d never heard of Salva—who is not to be confused with DJ Salva apparently—before Trillectro, but he put on a very strong showing. His set was a stark contrast to DJ Slink’s, which preceded his. The set was very inventive and far more EDM based, but there was such a wide array of sounds and textures that it never got tiring. Salva proved to be a nice change of pace on the day, and he had probably the most diverse set of any act at Trillecto.
Overall, Trillectro was a massive success. Not only is in one of the more affordable festival tickets this days, it’s also a great value. The asking price for food and beverage was pretty ridiculous, but what are you going to do? At the end of the day, festivals are about having a great time with great music, and there was no shortage of entertainment. Trillectro continues to make waves, and now the only question that remains is: what will the festival do for a follow up?
Despite the setbacks and some logistical errors, this year’s Trillectro put on a far more captivating show than its inaugural outing. The acts seemed less randomly selected, and there were solid showings across the board. While there is plenty to work on, there is no doubt in my mind that, over the course of the next decade, Trillectro will be one of the biggest music festivals in the country. For now, though, it’ll have to settle for being the savior of a once all but dead music scene. Trillectro has started something here, and the possibilities now feel endless. What’s next? Go-go on Altanta’s Hot 107.9? Who knows? In Modi We Trust.