IamSu! flitted around Feels 3 on a self-balancing, two-wheeled scooter-like thing with little blue lights. Everyone jockeyed to document the rapper and his gadget — which was reportedly a Soulja Board, from Soulja Boy’s own line — and then ribbed their friends, somewhat inaccurately, “Did you see IamSu! on that hover board?” This detail is important, because while Feels 3 dwarfed its predecessors in terms of ambition and attendance, it didn’t swell to such festival proportions that a rapper on a weird scooter could go unnoticed by seemingly every attendee.
Saturday night’s art and music soiree, presented by the cultural scribes and catalyzers at Wine & Bowties, occurred inside and around the American Steel warehouse off Mandela Parkway in West Oakland. Feels 2 was likewise a warehouse affair — without the 1 a.m. cutoff, cops fingering their belt loops, and the San Francisco Chronicle deigning to recognize — but where the November event devolved into bacchanalian delight, Feels 3 adhered to a schedule. And yet, the aspirant festival’s lineup and site was too positively scrappy and unvarnished to eclipse its party roots.
Sectioned by semi-permanent walls and lined with work lamps, the warehouse interior featured an art exhibit on one end and a small stage at the other. Minimal scaffolding cradled lights and modest speakers at the foremost corners of the stage.
For local rappers Tia Nomore and Ezale — the rather convincing We gon’ bring this Town shit back contingent — that was fine. Charred orange lighting suited Tia’s it’s-lit-centric banter between functional beats and voluble bars, while Funktown’s finest Ezale disregarded the fourth-wall in the interest of sharing spliffs and eventually stage-diving. Nef the Pharaoh’s “Big Tymin” bumped between their sets and appeared in DJ mixes outside, the homespun summer single proudly represented by a majority local lineup.
Corrugated aluminum warehouse siding formed a quad around the crowd outside. There was no newfangled fusion meals on wheels; food was provided by the quintessentially Oakland Tacos Sinaloa truck. Behind the stage, which was little more than a narrow platform in the dirt, hundred-foot-wide digital projections displayed the wavy Feels 3 logo, quivering textures, and abstract cityscapes. Teeming with people, it nevertheless felt like a yard, evoking the old underground parties in and around West Oakland’s derelict 16th Street Station.
Beyond the refined hyper-local appeal, Wine & Bowties’ choice in out-of-town headliners was especially savvy. And slotting The Internet before footwork DJs Earl and Taso proved to be plain prescient. Soon after Feels 3 was announced, Odd Future’s outlying neo-soul group dropped its third full-length, Ego Death, to widespread acclaim, including a careful parsing of its quietly radical gender politics in The New York Times. Live, technically deft segues bridged smoky instrumental passages and primed vocalist Syd tha Kyd to consummate what might be the most intimate Internet performance in the Bay Area for a long time. Snappy delivery of lines such as You fucked up inserted contemporary parlance into a genre that typically appeals to timeless tropes. On stage in the cavernous, unadorned warehouse, The Internet projected odd-family charm, donning mismatched sports gear, its own band tees, and some sort of ancient Southeast Asian warrior outfit.
Venerable Teklife DJs Earl and Taso, meanwhile, closed out the evening with a skittish thrill. Absent four-on-the-floor thuds or any other capitulations to dance convention, their frenetic samples and fickle beats nevertheless had a boiling-over effect on the crowd, which gesticulated in kind right up until Feels 3 complied with its pesky curfew. The set reinforced that Chicago-steeped footwork is one of the most distinct and rewarding hip-hop styles to emerge in recent years. Considering IamSu! and his lithe moves on that Soulja Board, however, the Bay knows all about it.