Relentless Beats debuts its new hip-hop-focused IYKYK Festival in Phoenix | Phoenix New Times


With its debut IYKYK Festival, Relentless Beats enters its hip-hop era

The one-day event in Avondale on Saturday kicks off with appearances by Lil Uzi Vert, Metro Boomin and more.
A glimpse at the Goldrush festival from 2021.
A glimpse at the Goldrush festival from 2021. Luis D. Colato/Relentless Beats
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Relentless Beats has helped define club culture in Phoenix since the mid-'90s. The promotions company, founded by Thomas Turner in 1996, has grown from booking random club nights to putting on larger events like the annual Goldrush Music Festival.

But as the events scene continues to emerge from the challenges of the COVID-19 era, Relentless is looking to grow even further, and that means branching out into the realm of hip-hop.

"It's actually been years in the making," Turner of says of the company's latest outing.

The event in question is the first-annual IYKYK Music Festival, which is set to take place on Saturday at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale. In addition to a headlining spot from the aforementioned Uzi Vert, the one-day affair features performances from Metro Boomin, Rico Nasty, Denzel Curry and Jeleel, among others.

"It goes back all the way to where we're bringing Lil Uzi Vert to play Goldrush. We knew that we wanted to start to cross-pollinate our electronic music events with other entertainment [verticals] that would be appealing to the people who were attending our events. And at that time, we tried with Migos and Uzi Vert and a handful of other artists," Turner says

As much as it was thoughtfully planned out, at least part of Relentless' immersion into the realm of hip-hop came about by pure coincidence.

"Michael Horowitz has been working in the same office that Relentless Beats is in, and he's the founder of Universatile Music," Turner says. "He's been producing hip-hop in the Valley for some 20 years." (An interview request was made with Universatile but no message was ever returned.)

Turner added that he and Horowitz have had plenty of time over the years to discuss and plot out an event like IYKYK, with COVID-centric delays and some other "experimental booking" helping to foster the right path into this dynamic market. Part of said path has been recognizing the way the event promotions business has changed and the current demands of many popular music fans.

"What we've learned over time is that the artists have gotten bigger," Turner says, "and that we'd be better suited to build distinct properties for, say, hip-hop or dance music so that we can equitize it enough for a ticket buyer to feel like the event's more than just a headline play."
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Lil Uzi Vert is the headliner of the new IYKYK Music Festival.
Atlantic Records

To some extent, that means being rather deliberate in just what kinds of acts they ultimately book.

"We curate acts that might have been in the market before but haven't been presented alongside these acts exactly like this before," Turner says.

It's also resulted in perhaps an even grander accomplishment: building a massive stage and presence at the Phoenix Raceway that can help make this new venture all the more affordable and accessible.

"We built a site that, for one concert, we couldn't afford to build," Turner says. "But what we do is program six to 10 pieces of content across a period of time and amortize the cost of that. And that attracts artists and our fans love it."

Turner added that the amenities include a "VIP space that has numerous amenities that you would never find in any venue in the city: table service, viewing decks and a general admittance area that gets you so close to the stage, which is built underneath a mega-structure [that] we spend millions of dollars to put up. We're really able to focus on the art, creativity and culture of the music space in these events."

Even with all of the planning and work put into IYKYK and its related programming, Turner is the first to admit that the move into hip-hop and the structure itself both carry some potential hazards.

"So that's where a foray into this hip-hop space is risky," he says. "But we also feel that the entertainment economy here is in a space where, even if we miss it to begin with, we can build a special event culture in a short amount of time around it, if we curate correctly."

And curation is exactly what this entire project represents: trying to make something that feels like a proper experience.

"This is definitely a version of kicking down the door on trying something that's curating ... that has a significant investment attached to it," Turner says. "You've got to drive out to a raceway to go, and so you're committed. It's an event that I think is just one of many."
It's not that grand of a risk, however. There's still plenty of overlap between the world of electronic/dance music and hip-hop, and that only empowers organizers' efforts.

"We've learned that, in this pursuit to build the best place for our electronic music artists, we are building the best site for anyone to play," Turner says. "It's the same methodology with hip-hop that it is with dance music: something for everyone, but at the same time you're trying to be a real tastemaker with your lineup and create something that's exciting."

But creating a proper attraction, Turner notes, doesn't mean being needlessly risky with what and how they book events.

"I think the biggest thing is that, as a producer in general and wanting to provide better environment for the customers, the only way that you have to do that is by how much you can budget to afford and fill the site and still have enough money left over to keep your company solvent."

It helps, of course, that Phoenix has changed a lot over the years. Not only has Relentless moved on from booking mostly across smaller spaces, but this city has really come into its own in terms of our overall viability as a musical destination for acts of all sizes and genres.

"We're in a new era," Turner says. "The city has definitely grown up and is more of a desirable place to be."

He references the fact that Taylor Swift kicked off her record-smashing "The Eras Tour" in the Valley earlier this year. Of course, even without the bump from Ms. Swift, there's no denying the sheer cultural power of hip-hop right now.

"I was at the Metro Boomin set at Coachella on weekend two [this past April], and I couldn't get within 3,000 yards," Turner says. "So we're lucky or we paid too much."

The significance of hip-hop doesn't always mean, however, that it's a slam dunk for promoters. During our conversation, the topic of the Pot of Gold fest came up. Running for several years at a few locales in Phoenix, the event was a gathering of big-name hip-hop acts, with past years featuring Snoop Dogg, G-Eazy, Earl Sweatshirt and Lil Wayne. (Relentless had at least some connection to Pot of Gold, including partially signal-boosting some key events.) Yet as much of a hit as that event proved to be, it all but vanished following some legal issues arising after 2019's edition.

For his part, Turner was at least cognizant enough of Pot of Gold's various ups and downs when booking IYKYK.

"We look at a lot of events that have come to the market and then failed," he says. "Fortunately, we've continued to produce at all of our festivals. But I think part of that is growing at the right size, and growing with the market. The contract can only be as big as the participation of the audience."
While IYKYK isn't even in the bag yet, Turner and the rest of Relentless Beats are already looking forward to the future, and that includes even more forays into hip-hop

"We're going to build more hip-hop properties," he says. "We are going to continue to develop it."

He added that he's already had conversations about moving beyond the one-day format (even as he stresses that these plans are still rather tenuous).

"We were incubating this event and talking about it internally," he says. "I also had a whole conversation going on with the producers of [Illinois' highly-lauded hip-hop fest] Summer Smash. We were talking about working on something that was multi-day. It's not something that we finished up the details on, and it's not clear if we will put something together. But that ambition is still there. If it's not manifesting that partnership, it's going to be manifesting some other way."

Turner says they may even go beyond hip-hop, and when asked if we could eventually see a rock fest down the line, he explained, "Absolutely. We want to produce creative events that are always exciting."

But no matter how much of a place hip-hop has in subsequent Relentless-backed events, they still have that giant structure in place, and that means they'll do what they've always done best: book giant-sized parties.

"I think you're going to see all kinds of entertainment that take place at our megastructure build because a lot of artists are seeing the media and want to" perform there, he says. "So it's all bookended by large events like IYKYK and Goldrush. And then there's other content speckled in between there. So that's really what this is about."

IYKYK Music Festival. 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9, at Phoenix Raceway, 7602 Jimmie Johnson Drive, Avondale. At publication time, tickets are currently $75 for general admission, $105 for general admission plus and $169 for VIP; prices will increase closer to the event date. Get tickets and details on the Relentless Beats website.
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