Sacramento's return to life has raised some questions. Where do we go? Are the places we used to go to open? Do the events we went to exist anymore? Even if there is stuff to do, do we want to risk putting ourselves in a room full of people while we're still, technically, knee-deep in a pandemic?
I don't have all the answers.
What I have observed, however, is the Sacramento creative scene slowly but surely coming back outside as the city is moving further and further away from the socially distanced lifestyle with which we've grown accustomed. The more it opens the more some of us realize we're willing to stay behind closed doors and pretend like the world doesn't exist.
That's where Ill Xool Flo comes in.
An artist collective run by four friends turned rappers, turned business partners is bringing interactive events to Sacramento. Ones that travel across different platforms and into your face with an aesthetically pleasing, neon-soaked bang. Each month the team chooses an artist they'd like to feature, and they build a full scope of events around that artist.
If you feel like staying in, you can catch their live video sessions. With visuals that look worthy of MTV (but are streamed on YouTube), the team curates an entire experience around the energy of each guest. Local art chosen to hang on walls, local make-up artists and stylists brought in to assist, and an all-local film crew capturing each moment. Alongside that comes an interview series where the team delves deeper into the story behind the music, giving viewers an extra glimpse into the making of the songs they are streaming.
Feeling brave and want to re-enter the nightlife? IXF has you covered. Maybe you're in the mood for a full-blown concert heard through an individual headset. Perhaps what you need is a networking event that pairs business owners and entrepreneurs with artists and creatives. Whether it's work or play-oriented, IXF is determined to ensure that everyone's welcome, whether you decide to come outside or stay home to Xool Flo and chill.
IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS A LOCKDOWN
No need to dive too deep into it, right? We all know what it was. Everything came to a grinding halt. Life as we knew it ceased to exist. It is the same premise of the same story we've been hearing repeated in a myriad of ways for the past 18 months. Including my own. Self-awareness is key.
Confinement had become the norm. Creatives were left without their typical avenues of expression. Galleries had shuttered their doors, live music no longer existed, theaters faced the curtain call. A once-bustling scene had turned into a ghost town. As each day passed, you weren't sure the next time you would see your loved ones again, let alone your favorite artists live and in the flesh.
Lockdown is where the idea for Ill Xool Flo was born.
"We wanted to be able to create these multi-faceted, fully curated experiences that you could enjoy from the comfort of your own home. Music. Art. Life. All rolled up into one package, wherever you happened to be," co-creator Tai'Cartier.
Circling the patio table in my back yard, partners Linton Borden, Flo, Tai'Cartier Merriweather, and Tyquan Thomas and I are spending a warm summer evening talking about their latest project. The four have known each other for years, having rapped together in varied iterations. The time spent working in music, and seeing what comes along with it, has acted as a motivational component of what drives them to create a different kind of experience for their community.
"Everyone throws shows. We wanted to be able to do more than that," Tai says, "we want to be able to create something that sets these artists apart. That elevates the experience in some way or the other. You won't be able to forget the artists who made you feel that way. Even if you were watching from your laptop at home."
Those memorable moments stem from the simple twists they put on events. Acting as producers for Sacramento artist Saevon's album release party for Universoul, they played the entire set through noise-canceling headphones. With conversations made impossible and outside noise filtered out, the listeners focus solely on the artist. A true rarity in most instances.
"When you're out at a venue or a bar, the musicians compete with conversations, and clinking glasses, and drunken laughter. It's harder to engage a distracted crowd unless you bring a top-notch live show," Borden says, "but then the other side of the coin is that the distracted crowd gives artists a security blanket. You can play over your tracks, or forget your lyrics, and no one would be the wiser."
The team pushes the artists to give 100 percent to the project, and in return, IXF does their best to give back as much as possible to the artists. On top of receiving payment for the project, the artists walk away with all video and photo content generated from the time spent with IXF. In the digital age where visuals reign supreme, having professionally shot and edited content to share with your audience is a benefit that most events do not provide. At least not without a cost.
Having spent a good part of their lives performing on stages and dealing with promoters, the team knows the story all too well.
REBUILDING THE FOUNDATIONS
"Most of the time, promoters want YOU to pay or sell tickets to get on stage. They bank on artists being hungry enough to pay for 'exposure' even though artists around here are already starving. That's how these promoters stay afloat. We wanted to be the opposite of that," co-creator Flo says.
"Exposure doesn't pay anyone's bills." Lin throws out.
"Which is why we make sure to pay our artists, our teams, our people. No need to starve around here," Tyquan adds, "we're trying to create a space where everyone is eating."
It's not just the pay-to-play model where the teams see an issue. They also believe there is a disconnect in Sacramento. Painters know painters, musicians know musicians. Each genre seems to come with its built-in network, but finding ways to connect those networks was difficult already. Add in nearly two years of almost nonexistent social interaction, and an "artist's mixer" sounds more frightening than fruitful for some of us.
The first event in their ongoing series entitled 'The Link-Up' also added a bit of a twist to the typical networking event. There was your standard fare; wines, cheeses, and crackers spread out on tables throughout the gallery where IXF held the event. Two different musical guests assist in breaking up any tension and provide much-needed energy. The twist came with the way they handled the networking.
"Networking events are so awkward," says Lin. "Trying to find a way to talk to dozens of people and tell each of them what you do over and over in different ways can be draining. So we decided to open the floor."
The four announce they want each creative to come up and talk about who they are and what they do. What creative passion they choose to contribute to the landscape of Sacramento. By breaking up the tension and giving each attendee the platform, the IXF team successfully morphs the first event in their Link-Up series from a run-of-the-mill networker to a Sacramento version of Ted Talks. Once the ice breaks, you can see the marked difference in people's demeanors. Now that they know what everyone does, it gives the attendees a better understanding of who they can build with and how.
IXF hopes this kind of format will encourage more connections and more collaborations born of the process.
"We're trying to build bridges," Flo muses as the sun goes down in the backyard, "from artist to artist. From artist to fans. From fans to friends. There's so much talent in Sacramento. We want to create the space where we can honor them and give them a platform.
Ill Xool Flo will be continuing their series The Link-Up, with the next event happening in early November. Until then, go back and take a look at what you may have already missed by following their YouTube channel or Instagram for updates.
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