Among the outdoor festivals that pop up in Southern California during the spring and summer, there is a conspicuous shortage of events devoted to urban music. Discounting those radio-sponsored packages that trot out stars of the moment in truncated sets, or behemoths such as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which will feature a goodly amount of hip-hop in its lineup this year, only Audiotistic foregrounds rap in a meaningful way.
Now in its fifth year, Audiotistic will feature an invigorating mix of A-list stars at the National Orange Show Event Center in San Bernardino on Saturday, including OutKast and the Roots. Along with leading alternative hip-hop artists such as Oakland’s Blackalicious and Black Star, and master turntablists including QBert and DJ Swamp, Audiotistic will also showcase techno and its numerous offshoots.
Roni Size and King Britt, two DJs who like to mix up vigorous beats with R&B; flavoring, will anchor an electronic music flank that will also include Ed Rush, DJ Craze and Jason Bentley. There will be separate stages devoted to house, techno, and drum-and-bass.
In addition to its music lineup, Audiotistic will try to plug into L.A. skateboard culture by erecting a makeshift skate park inside the Orange Center’s pavilion that will be free to use for anyone willing to lug their board along.
The park is designed by pro skater Chad Muska, whose company, Circa Footwear, is also hosting a $5,000 best trick contest at the event.
The festival, which began in 1998 as a mostly techno, strictly underground event, has grown to the point where founder Meelo Solis, a veteran promoter at age 24, expects roughly 37,000 to attend this year.
“It began at the [San Bernardino] Sports Arena, which had become a rave venue,” says Solis. “We spread the word strictly through flier marketing. There was no real advertising, and we got 2,500 people to attend that year.”
Audiotistic is being produced and promoted by an unlikely alliance: Solis, a self-described “club kid” who has been promoting events since age 18; his brother Ben, 27; and investment bankers Darin Feinstein, 29, and Bevan Cooney, 28, whose company, U.S. Concerts, provided the seed money for this year’s event, allowing Meelo to snag album-of-the-year Grammy nominee OutKast as the headliner.
“Darin really gives me the freedom to spend the kind of money I need to spend, where other investors might back off and worry,” says Solis.
It was Feinstein who suggested that the festival nudge its way toward a stronger hip-hop emphasis, thereby attracting a larger crowd and more sponsors as well. “We’ve morphed the [festival] to try to make it more mainstream,” says Feinstein, who is a co-owner with Meelo Solis of the El Dorado nightclub in Brentwood and a planned steakhouse in Las Vegas.
With the move toward hip-hop, Audiotistic began attracting high-profile sponsors to the event, companies eager to reach the 16-to-25 suburban demographic that the festival targets. This year, 30 vendors will be on-site. “We’ve got it covered: clothing lines, lots of skateboard companies, people selling food,” says Feinstein.
Solis and Feinstein’s objective is to put the best possible face on contemporary hip-hop by showcasing those acts that stress uplift in their music--what Solis calls “happy hip-hop.”
“We’re dealing with two demons in the general public’s view,” he says. “First, the perception of hip-hop being associated with guns and violence, and the perception of techno and raves being associated with the drug Ecstasy. But our track record speaks for itself. We’ve never had a single violent incident or drug overdose at Audiotistic.”
That vibe has appeal for positive-minded groups such as the Philadelphia-based Roots, which will be performing at its second Audiotistic on Saturday.
“California audiences are laid-back and into it at the same time,” says Amir, a rapper with the Roots. “I like the atmosphere out there. The weather’s nice, and Californians have an appreciation of good music. It’s just a situation where you’ve got to try and distill the show into a 45-minute set, and hit them with a punch. It’s a challenge, but we’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.”
Audiotistic, National Orange Show Events Center, 689 South E St., San Bernardino, Saturday, 2 p.m. $50 and $150 (VIP). (909) 888-6788.