Relentless Progression: The Story of Modele Oyewole and the Second Trillectro Festival

The idea was to get everybody in the same place because it’s hard to meet up with everyone. We thought, ‘Let’s just have them come here. All our friends; I invite my friends, you invite your friends.’

We had different groups of people we hung out with, but we made it happen. We put it up on Facebook with an address and a time, and we told people to come through…

…But the key to every event I ever had early on is that something stopped it at its peak, so there was always this mystique out there about what could have happened…

Modele “Modi” Oyewole said that to me from across a bar booth five days after the second annual Trillectro Music Festival took place at the Half Street Fairgrounds. But he wasn’t describing the massive event that he helped create and which was still very much one of the hottest topics of conversation around DC; he was talking about a party he threw at his parent’s house the summer after his freshman year of college — one that became so out of control it ended up on the local news.

As he told me the story in intricate detail, I followed along with an understanding grin, incredibly sure that Modi had always been able to throw one hell of a house party.

And make no mistake about it, that is what the Trillectro Festival in its sophomore year was. Writers I admire greatly like Rembert Browne of Grantland and Jeb Gavin of Brightest Young Things were in attendance and described it as a “block party” and a “great festival”, but what it really was, really, was a well-marketed, outdoor house party.

And while the venue may have been popping and the talent may have been celebrated, it was really Modi who was the star of the day. Less than 3 years after graduating college, Modele has evolved from a quick-minded hustler to a legitimate influential powerhouse capable of making magic happen. But the really amazing thing?

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He’s just getting started.

***

“No.”

That is Modi’s response to me around 4:30 in the afternoon of the festival when, as we try our best to move around a crowded VIP section that is eager to get some face-time with him, I ask if he is having any fun. But it isn’t a pity-seeking no; it isn’t dripping in exasperated anger. It isn’t even unconsciously tinged in desperation. Instead, it is just a direct, efficient way of stating his true feelings in the most matter-of-fact way possible so that he can move onto whatever else might need his attention.

If you ever threw a house party in high school, you know the feeling.

The minute word spread that your house was empty for a weekend, there was the inevitable social obligation brought on from coercive friends and teen comedies that a party must be thrown, and that it must be great.

From that point on, you weren’t able to breathe easily again until that party was done and over and the last drunken idiot had stumbled out your front door.

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For Modi, from the moment last year’s inaugural Trillectro ended, that same kind of social pressure had been levied upon on him, telling him that he has to do it again, only this time he has to make everything bigger and better. As he darts across the fairgrounds with an unwavering purpose, I can’t blame him for being too stressed to enjoy the madness around him, even if most of that madness is constructed by festival-goers having the time of their life at his event.

But he does have one major asset in his corner: a team that works fervently alongside him to put out fires and keep things running smoothly. They’re frantic but tireless as they all but break their backs to make sure the plates keep spinning. It’s downright inspiring to watch the well-oiled but untested team come together through sheer force of will and determination.

And you can’t buy that kind of loyalty, you have to earn it.

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***

A few days before the festival, I was backstage at the Howard Theater with Modi, who had put together an event with some local area bands for DC Beer Week, and I asked about his team and their importance. He immediately replied, “My team keeps me sane. We’re a family. All different people, all different mindsets.” It’s apparent after interacting with Modi for even five minutes how truly essential he feels that familial vibe for his team.

But while it makes sense that childhood stalwarts and college roommates like Quinn Coleman and Marcel Marshall, respectively, are treated like brothers, this feeling of family spreads to even their most recent of interns. Modi feels responsible for them and they, in turn, feel responsible to him. I prod him on how he fosters such allegiance and he simply states, “We try to give them opportunities.”

What he can’t give in monetary compensation, he gives in support and networks; and he understands specialization:

I always ask ‘What do you want to do? What’s your goal?’ If I know your goal, then I can place you where you’ll work best.

But what sets him apart from many others that tout the same motto is that Modele follows through. Constantly.

He references a few connections he’s made happen and withholds many more that I already knew he was a part of. Those connections became grateful fans and those fans became devotees. And Modi thrives off that support. It’s his life-force. It’s why he still looks so awestruck when he marvels, “We have a big ass team now. And it’s been crazy to see it grow from an idea.”

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That idea, and DCtoBC’s origins, begin during his time in Boston College with Quinn, Marcel, and Erick McNair. There, his DCtoBC hip-hop blog became a notable underground source for emerging artists (one of the first rumors I ever heard about Modi was that he was the first person to ever interview Kid Cudi).

Over time, that blog became a movement that saw major successes like the infamous Rock Creek Social Club parties and a sold out 9:30 Club show that the team put together featuring a then-unsigned Kendrick Lamar. From then on, Modi and his team realized they had to eat, sleep and breathe DCtoBC. That small team became a not-so-small team, and that not-so-small team became a full-on enterprise. At one point, early on during the festival, when he had the time to speak in full sentences, he solemnly admits, “I’ve given up so much to do what I’m doing, and we have so many people who have made that leap of faith to work with us.”

And as the second Trillectro progressed into the night, that faith had been well-rewarded. Last year they made national news with their inaugural Trillectro festival, and their sophomore effort was bigger and better in every conceivable way. They even had their first great festival moment: A$AP Rocky making a surprise appearance during A$AP Ferg’s set that launched an already explosive crowd into supernova. Modi, and his team, had done it.

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***

…But the key to every event I ever had early on is that something stopped it at its peak, so there was always this mystique out there about what could have happened…

Right as A$AP Ferg’s set wound down, I began to hear whispers that the fire marshal was very possibly shutting everything down and that there were people in line with tickets not being allowed in, some of whom had been there for hours. By the time the audience realized that Wale’s too-short “appearance” was over, it was impossible to not notice the air of disarray that had taken over the Fairgrounds. While many were more than pleased with a full day’s worth of celebration, wafts of confusion that bordered on frustration sifted their way around the exits and surrounding areas of the venue.

I would eventually learn that the fire marshal had the venue shut down admittance at 7pm, leaving many, many ticket holders holding a now-worthless piece of paper…

Almost a full week later, as we sat in our bar booth, a slight tinge of disappointment was still noticeable in Modi’s upbeat demeanor. He was quick to explain:

We’re not happy. We’re not happy with our successes. We had a meeting and everyone was sulking. Even though we got 95% positive chatter on the internet, that other 5% hurts. It stings.

Modi, while not a pessimist, is someone that lets the imperfection gnaw at him. It’s a little hard to watch, but it also is what makes his successes feel inevitable.

While I didn’t expect to get to the negative stuff so quickly into our conversation, since he brought it up, I prodded him about what exactly happened. He gave a sympathetic explanation of the miscommunications between the venue’s staff and his own* and the lack of control he had in terms of the decision to shut it down (*The Fairgrounds are usually only home to post-Washington Nationals tailgates when the rowdiest thing they have to deal with are tipsy baseball fans). He became visibly rattled, hands nervously fidgeting and constantly wetting his lips, when he recounted the details to me and told me stories like one about a group traveling from Ireland that were denied entrance. It was a little heartbreaking to hear his last words on the topic: “We should have been smarter.”

But while they could have been smarter, they also couldn’t have been luckier.

Those who noticed the cracks as the night wore on didn’t, for the most part, direct their frustrations at Modi and his team. Instead, DCtoBC was seen as getting oppressed by ‘The Man,’ and they were doing their best to fight him. Anger was directed at the venue and the city for not allowing Modi and his team to do something that, for a city on the verge of a renaissance, was magical. DCtoBC may have lost a bit of control, but they earned a reputation as a force to be reckoned with.

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And the day after the festival, that force, which even today feels like it didn’t completely succeed in their second attempt at Trillectro, immediately got back to work.

They already had future plans, bold ideas, and a legacy to shape.

***

That meant another show only a few days into the Fall and just a few months removed from the sophomore Trillectro, after which, it was hard to see them as anything but legends.

At 1:40 on a Friday afternoon, they released word that a free concert, dubbed Trillectro Lite, would be happening the following night at The Howard Theater from 11pm-3am in response to the recently-cancelled Rock The Bells; all you needed to do was RSVP (those that didn’t RSVP were charged $5). No performers were announced, just guaranteed “trill surprises”.

Within hours, they had over 1,000 RSVPs…

A first-come, first-serve entrance policy was clearly stated which led to lines forming outside of the Howard Theater hours before the show. Speculation and rumor flooded social media as everyone wondered what awaited them inside the theater. Finally, eventually, those dedicated first 1,100+ were let in, all of them clutching to faith that their efforts were well worth it and that this would live up to expectations.

It blew through them.

A continuously wild series of performances from local talents like Ras Nebyu to psychedelic hip hop stars Flatbush Zombies and an appearance from superstar 9th Wonder kept the place consistently electrified. It was a celebration, it was surreal, and, mostly importantly, it was being allowed to happen. And it was being allowed to keep happening and to keep reigniting itself until it was euphoria en masse.

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And when it all ended, it was because the catharsis was over and it was the right time to end.

***

I think after two years we’ve got a powerful property that has a lot of potential. Five people dedicated their last year to this because they had so much hope in it…

Modi leaves me with a sentiment that alludes to his continued dedication.

Today, that hope is stronger than ever — and it’s contagious. His team is growing, his legend is spreading, and he’s still, day in and day out, working harder than ever. I find myself wondering if the third Trillectro will be his masterpiece, and I believe there’s a good chance it could be.

Because Modi has always known how to throw one hell of a party.

 

 

Originally posted on The Hy.Gen.Ic, a member of the Vice Network