People started noticing the posters on Thursday afternoon. Loud advertisements climb the lightpoles of Austin, Texas in March—for rappers, labels, and parties, the latest pushing the old ones up and out of sight. They’re competing for the eyes of the hip, music industry-affiliated crowd attending SXSW—but the posters that had people pulling out smartphones to take a picture and frantically text to friends were simple: All black, with white text that simply read “The Illmore.”
It became a game. Suddenly, everyone was talking: “Do you think it’s real?” At the bottom of each poster was a web address, illmore.party, which took you to a similarly sparse site: again, all-black, with a simple prompt to enter an email address. When you did, a slyly winking emoji appeared—the one you send to someone you know you’re getting somewhere with. Not exactly the most helpful sign.
The reason this poster had Austin buzzing—and excitedly attempting to assess its veracity—was the name the Illmore. For the past 6 years, the Illmore had been synonymous with SXSW and hip-hop for a simple reason: it was the best party in town. Each year, when Austin developed into the musical center of the universe for a few days, the Illmore held the vaunted title of Place To Be. It’s where Chance The Rapper would show up, or 2 Chainz drop in for a surprise set. It’s where A-list rappers, unbilled, performed—but it was also where they hung out. For someone looking for the best night of your life, you can party-hop, sure, or you could focus all your efforts on getting into the place you know is going to be great (and whose blocks-long lines nearly always required some finessing to make it through the doors). The Illmore was unpredictable, but it was also consistent.
The problem? There was no Illmore in 2017. So when posters showed up, knowingly understated, people were excited at having seemingly stumbled upon a secret. The party never happened—the email address I left at the site remains uncontacted—but it’s a sign of the Illmore’s power that it took so little to get people riled up (the only rival it had for a it’s-probably-not-going-to-happen-but-I’m-going-to-get-excited-anyway party rumor was an extremely improbable secret Frank Ocean show). Instead, more than in years past, 2017 became a place for finding new parties—your night depended on it.
Two of the standouts last week at SXSW were thrown by streaming services. YouTube, which had a space on Trinity Street populated by excited crowds and six (6!) open bars. Lists and badges were required, but if you were lucky enough to get in, the video platform knew how to book its headliners. Solange Knowles, Rae Sremmurd, and Migos took the stage on consecutive nights and Solange in particular gave a stunning performance, leading a troupe of purple-clad musicians who danced, with synchronous throwback moves, behind her. It’s the kind of show that can only happen at SXSW—a true star in a smaller venue than you will ever see them again. Apple, too, threw a lavishly well-manicured party, featuring up-and-coming rappers Young M.A and 6lack one night, and morbid pop songstress Lana Del Rey the next.
Outside of the well-heeled Silicon Valley set, labels were still throwing parties this year, as always. And, with young artists seemingly getting snapped up earlier and earlier every year—take Maggie Rogers, for instance, who signed with Universal off of (well-deserved) internet buzz before she had as much as an EP to her name—the parties and showcases thrown by labels like UMG, Epic, and Atlantic Records became just as much a place to discover talent as catch their marquee acts.
Austin still had some surprises, even without The Illmore. Shows like Revolt’s Swishahouse reunion show, featuring Texas’ biggest mid-2000’s stars like Mike Jones, Paul Wall, and Slim Thug—still beloved for “Still Tippin’”—proved that SXSW, if nothing else, is a place to find something you may not have known was even on offer until you touch down in Austin.