HALFWAY CROOKS' 10TH BIRTHDAY: A LOOK BACK AT SYDNEY'S RAMBUNCTIOUS RAP PARTY
Words by Christopher Kevin Au // More info on Halfway Crooks’ 10th birthday party here
The Halfway Crooks story begins in 2009 with three friends: Levins, Captain Franco & Elston; at a dingy Darlinghurst watering hole named Brighton Up Bar. With a shared love of rap music, the trio began a monthly party that initially centred around an intimate dancefloor, dominated by their close friends. "That club was the weirdest. It had a nautical theme but it was decorated like a primary school theatre. I remember being sweaty as hell, drinking VB and playing lots of Clipse songs," Levins says.
By the time I started attending Halfway Crooks a couple of years later, the party had moved across the road to Phoenix Bar, located at the tail end of Oxford Street. I have fond memories of catching the train to Museum Station, that brisk walk past Hyde Park, and heading down the stairs into Sydney's own rap dungeon. By then, the music policy of Halfway Crooks had shifted: Less boom bap and fitted cap anthems, and much more Waka Flocka Flame and newer sounds from the South and Midwest. At the time, producers like Lex Luger and Young Chop were churning out their ominous take on trap and drill music, and there were surefire anthems (or Crooks classics) that would set the dancefloor alight: 'Karma' and 'Love Sosa', and later, other rambunctious tunes like 'Pop That' and 'Used 2' joined the regular Crooks catalogue.
"When we moved to Phoenix, we started getting a lot of attendees who got over hearing the hybrid dance/R&B they were playing at the commerical clubs," Levins says. "Then Waka Flocka Flame's Flockaveli came out in October 2010, and that kind of defined what the music of Halfway Crooks would be for the next eight years. I used to play like, half of that album every single month we did a Crooks party. People would be asking when I was gonna start playing Waka within a minute of me getting behind the decks."
I must have lost my voice countless times down at Phoenix Bar, attempting to replicate Waka's ad-libs in the wee hours of the morning, back when lockouts didn't exist and drinks were a tad cheaper. Bow Bow Bow Bow! Like many other Sydney music lovers, Halfway Crooks quickly became part of my monthly ritual and a place where I made countless friends and memories, all set to a backdrop of obnoxiously loud rap music, much of which we were itching to hear in a club setting. "There was this amazing time around 2013 when blog culture was so strong, a record could drop on a Friday and we would play it 24 hours later and have the whole club singing the lyrics," Franco says. "It was crazy how in-tune our crowd was with the culture."
In 2014, Elston left the trio to pursue his passion for disco/house music, while Levins & Franco continued the Crooks mission as a duo. Each month, they brought in a guest DJ to complete the holy trinity, and it's there that I met many Sydney selectors that would soundtrack my favourite clubbing years: Joyride, Nes, DJ Leon Smith, Nacho Pop and Radge would become regulars. "That was never the plan, but it did help the night evolve and introduce our crowd to other local DJs we loved, and most ended up starting their own successful parties," Franco says. Nes and I would later start our own club night together at The Cliff Dive, while Joyride rapped about "reminiscing 'bout that Molly down at Halfway Crooks" on Horrorshow single 'Nice Guys Finish Last'.
Halfway Crooks also began spreading its wings beyond the confines of the club: There were opening slots for ASAP Ferg and Rae Sremmurd, collaborations with other Sydney parties like Dutty Dancing and One Day Sundays, and a Halfway Crooks live edition that featured early performances from now-renowned rappers like Manu Crooks and B Wise. There were even Halfway Crooks cruises, where the duo took over an old wooden boat and blasted Future songs while driving past the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
In 2015, Halfway Crooks made the move to Goodgod Small Club (aka Hudson Ballroom, aka Plan B) until the venue's sudden closure soon after, and with increasing pressure from Sydney's lockout laws, the night began to dissolve away from its monthly routine. "There were so few venues to choose from, to move to. We tried a few parties at The Lansdowne and they were okay, but it's hard to convince your crowd to come to a new venue over and over," Levins says. At the same time, both Halfway Crooks members were fathering young children and focusing on other projects. "With Levins and I having families, juggling really demanding jobs and just real-life shit, it just became too hard to focus on promoting a monthly party," Franco says.
Come 2019, it's easy to see how current Sydney parties like SETTINGS° and Sauti Systems have been influenced by Halfway Crooks and it's dedication to contemporary hip-hop sounds. Come 2019, it also feels like forever since we've attended a Halfway Crooks event, but that's all about to change: On the long weekend of October 6, Halfway Crooks will be throwing a party at The Cliff Dive, celebrating 10 years since its inception. If you were a Halfway Crooks regular, this will be a 808-heavy walk down memory lane; and if you've never been before, consider this your introduction to one of Sydney's most essential club experiences. "It'll be Levins and I back-to-back all night, dropping nothing but Crooks hits from the last 10 years," Franco says. "It'll be silly and sweaty, and hopefully there will be a lot of old faces on the dancefloor screaming the lyrics right back at us."
And how will people remember Halfway Crooks, another decade from now? Levins has a pretty good idea: "I still want it to be around then. I want our kids to come see their goofy dads play Waka medleys when they turn 18. That's a good 15 more years of Crooks parties. I'll stop when my kids die of embarrassment after watching me scream the entirety of the Ferrari Boyz mixtape in front of a crowd."