Though Feels has grown into a mini-festival with thousands of attendees, high-profile musical performers, and intricate visual art exhibitions, the event still retains its homegrown, warehouse-party charm. It’s the kind of place you can go to and see well-known rappers such as IAMSU cruising around the fest on a “hoverboard” (also known as a self-balancing scooter) — which actually happened during Feels 3 — or rub shoulders with acclaimed producer Ryan Hemsworth, who was hanging out in the audience at Feels 4 before taking the stage. You can catch homegrown talent like punk band Meat Market and rapper Antwon (who’s based in LA, but got his start in the Oakland warehouse party scene) and Atlanta upstarts like R&B singer ABRA of Father’s Awful Records — all three of whom performed at the fourth edition, also.
Feels has come a long way since its debut as an underground West Oakland shindig, but, through their savvy curation and keen sense for the pulse of the local scene, creators Max Gibson and Will Bundy of the arts and culture blog Wine & Bowties have retained the event’s laidback and eclectic feel while managing to book some pretty formidable acts. So to help you navigate the fifth and biggest edition, which will take place on May 28 at American Steel Studios, we put together a guide to musical performances you shouldn’t miss.
Berkeley’s Lil B is notoriously a wildcard. He’s levied Twitter “curses” on NBA players — invoking the supernatural powers of his alter-ego, The Based God — to clear the path for the Warriors’ victories, and given lectures at universities nationwide. He’s made songs that champion civil rights, like “No Black Person is Ugly” and “I Was Born Poor,” but he has plenty of problematic pimp rap throughout his extensive repertoire.
Bundy and Gibson said in a recent phone interview that they’ve been Lil B fans since his “Vans” days as a member of the group The Pack, and that they’ve been in talks with him about performing at Feels for several years now. They explained that Feels has finally grown into a large enough event to pique The Based God’s interest — and he’s arguably the most highly-anticipated headliner in the history of the event.
“One thing we pride ourselves on is eclecticism,” said Bundy. “And B not only has a really eclectic musical catalogue, but as a human and figure is a ton of different things. For me, he shows me you don’t have to do one thing. You can be a conscious artist and make turn-up music. … And in terms of the peace and love stuff, he exemplifies our core values.”
Even if you haven’t heard of LA production duo DJDS, you’ve definitely heard their music. Kanye West tapped the relatively obscure beat makers to contribute to the production on his acclaimed latest album, The Life of Pablo, and DJDS helped with the production of some of its most soulful tracks: the ultra-inspirational “Ultralight Beam,” “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” “Low Lights,” “Freestyle 4,” and “Fade” — all songs with a euphoric, glowing sonic palettes and intricate layers of soaring harmonies and lush synths.
DJDS’ own music, such as the duo’s new album, Stand Up and Speak, can best be described as soulful house, with rich vocal samples layered over pulsing club beats. Bundy said he’s a longtime fan, and that he’s glad that the group is starting to get the recognition they deserve thanks to the Ye endorsement. Like the unexpected success story of Desiigner, DJDS is “another example of Kanye plucking someone out of relative obscurity and putting them on this crazy stage,” Bundy said.
Thanks to his broad knowledge of jazz and soul and keen ear for gorgeous, old-school samples, Bay Area legend DJ Fresh has been a key architect of the funky, gangster, mob music sound local street rappers hold dear. The producer has worked extensively with the prolific West Oakland rapper J. Stalin, as well as with Mistah F.A.B., a key hyphy movement purveyor who is also known as the Mayor of North Oakland. He’s also produced for the late, great rapper The Jacka, whose untimely passing in 2015 is still deeply felt across the Bay Area music community. DJ Fresh’s ongoing mixtape series, The Tonite Show, has featured the who’s who of Bay Area hip-hop and beyond, with recent contributions form rising Sacramento star Mozzy and Raekwon of Wu Tang Clan. Feels V will be a rare chance to witness this hometown hero in action.
“This is a song about when a boy doesn’t pull out, it’s called ‘Sugar in my Pocket,'” said Brontez Purnell, the bandleader of Young Lovers, on stage at Crate in Downtown Oakland during his band’s performance two weeks ago. Irreverently over-sharing is part of Purnell’s signature style across his various creative pursuits, and he’s made queer sex positivity part of his personal brand.
The singer and guitarist has a knack for writing infectiously catchy garage pop. But other than his role as the frontman of Younger Lovers — and, previously, Gravy Train!!!!, a legendary Oakland electro-punk band from the mid-Aughts — he’s also the founder of the contemporary dance troupe Brontez Purnell Dance Company, and the author of the sexcapade-chronicling graphic novel The Cruising Diaries, and the new novella Johnny Would You Love Me If…
“He’s one of those people who has his hands in a lot of projects and his personality comes through in a really strong way in everything he does,” said Bundy.
Georgia Anne Muldrow
Georgia Anne Muldrow, a rising vocalist and producer from Los Angeles, is one of the out-of-town artists Bundy and Gibson said they’re most excited to feature at Feels V because she has influenced some of the most important artists of our time. Muldrow remains somewhat underground despite her prodigious talent, and they said that they’re excited to give her the spotlight.
Muldrow’s rich, soulful track “Roses” — which Bundy said was his first introduction to the artist — was an inspiration for Mos Def’s album, True Magic. Indeed, Mos Def, who now goes by Yasiin Bey, has compared Muldrow to Amy Winehouse, Nina Simone, and J. Dilla — for her virtuosic vocal skills; empowering, political lyricism; and penchant for warm, jazzy production with a vintage feel. “She’s an artist’s artist. I know Erykah Badu is a huge fan,” added Bundy.
If there’s an Oakland DJ crew you need to know about in 2016, it’s Wav Bros. Comprised of Shruggs, Drew Banga, Mele$Wave, and Spencer Stevens, the new collective has reinvigorated the underground side of Oakland’s hip-hop party scene, throwing outdoor block parties and warehouse functions, and giving the people plenty of memorable Snapchat material and more than a few epic hangovers.
But apart from their knack for getting folks turnt up to Bay-centric slappers, the members of Wav Bros are talented musicians and producers. Drew Banga, for instance, has made beats for the likes of Kamaiyah and Caleborate. Spencer Stevens regularly works with some of The Town’s most off-kilter rappers, such as Duckwrth — who’s also performing at Feels V — but, interestingly enough, got his start in music as a jazz drummer and pianist.
“What they’re doing is awesome. They’re like our little brothers on the scene,” said Bundy. “We’ve been mostly working with Shruggs. I think the first time he DJed Feels, he stepped on [stage] unannounced. He played during Trill Team 6’s set and had it going crazy. So after that we were like, ‘We gotta get him on the lineup.'”