By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
Late last May, the first annual St. Louis Underground Music Festival (S.L.U.M. Fest) took place at Atomic Cowboy. The twelve-hour affair featured more than 75 performances by area emcees, DJs, B-boys and graffiti artists. S.L.U.M. Fest 2010 might have been a mess, what with so many artists doing so many different things at one venue, but the event went off without a hitch.
The success of last year's fest had much to do with the hard work put in by the event's various organizers and board members. We spoke with a few of the minds responsible for the fest, including John Harrington and So 'n' So (of the Midwest Avengers), Lyfestile and Nato Caliph (of Plan B), and Robert "Rob Boo" Ford, about their future plans for S.L.U.M. Fest and what to expect at this year's installment.
Calvin Cox: How did the idea for S.L.U.M. Fest come about?
Rob Boo: The idea actually came from a conversation me and a couple of the guys were having on Facebook one day. Myself, Lyfestile and Fresh Voice were talking about putting together a showcase. After we kicked the idea around for a couple of weeks, we decided to call a meeting. That's when we reached out to other people we knew, like John and [So 'n' So]. At the meeting, while we were shooting out names of who we'd like to see on the bill, the list started to get so long that we realized we could never fit all those people in one show. John had the idea that we could do it more like a festival — that was the start of S.L.U.M. Fest.
John Harrington: I've got a history with festivals like the Vans Warped Tour and OzzFest. We used to travel to Scribble Jam in Cincinnati all the time, but everybody knows that Scribble Jam's shut down now. I figured: "Why can't St. Louis be the new home for underground hip-hop?" We need to get a solid following in St. Louis first, and then start inviting in others in the future.
What makes S.L.U.M. Fest so unique?
JH: For me, it's all about unity. We're bringing in people in from all walks of life. We've got all the different styles, all the different genres of hip-hop.
So 'n' So: Hip-hop isn't just street, it's not just backpack, it's not just conscience — it's all of that. It's even weird. It's strange at times. We bring all those things together.
Lyfestile: And it's all the elements. There's a lot of rap, but we try to showcase the DJing and graffiti, the B-boys and B-girls, so it's not just a rap show. We're encouraging the culture as a whole.
S.L.U.M. Fest 2011 is billed as an all-ages event. What accommodations are being made for those who will be bringing their kids?
LS: The lineup on the Made Monarchs stage from 2 p.m. up until about 6 is all people who are giving positive messages. Dynasty Hip Hop and Teen Swag are organizations that deal directly with the youth in St. Louis. We've got Mirage, Ciej, Dharma Jean, JJ Trooth — so if you're bringing kids, there will be stuff there specifically for them. As a parent, I don't know that every artist on the bill is going to be appropriate for my children, but we have to respect the artists enough to allow them to do what they do.
What are some of the specific challenges in putting something like this together?
RB: The first one would be trying to narrow down the list of performers. We had about 500 people send in submissions this year, so we're talking about going from over 500 [down] to our goal of 60.
JH: Another part of it is trying to roll with the punches and adapt, because every day something changes. The logistics change, the lineup changes — we all just have to stay in constant contact so everybody knows what's going on.
Have your expectations changed at all from last year's event to this year's?
LS: Personally, I look at it more like a continuation of last year. We're just trying to learn from what happened last year so we can keep making it better.
Nato Caliph: With anything, you want it to be a little bit bigger and better than the year before. The biggest growth for us has been internally — [in terms of] organization, lining up ducks in a row, that kind of thing. As far as presentation and entertainment, we won't have anybody skydiving into the event or anything like that, but there have been improvements.
What would you like to see in terms of attendance this year?
JH: Realistically, I know we can do 1,000, because that's about what we did last year. But with the quality of the event, the promotion we're putting behind it, the vibe on the street — I'd like to see double or triple that amount this time.
As far as marketing, what steps are you taking to make sure the word gets out?