The party school stigma that plagued ASU for years may have faded, but a ring of concert and event throwers who have established their names on Twitter are making sure students still have a place to rage on the weekends.
In 2002, ASU was the No. 1 party school in the nation, according to Playboy magazine. By 2014, it was no longer on the list. And 2015 marked the fourth year ASU had been left off The Princeton Review’s party school list.
Kevin Galvin, ASU vice president of media relations and strategic communications, said the school has significantly changed since it gained millions of dollars in funding from NASA, became a top producer of Fulbright scholars and earned a listing in the top 25 of the U.S. News and World Report for academic programs such as law, education and international business.
“It’s a truism that reputation lags reality,” he said. “The entire trajectory of this place (ASU), the character of this place, has been transformed over the last 10 years, and I think reputation might finally be catching up with it.”
However, there are still parties galore near the campus and many of them are run by a tight-knit group of young adults and students that are benefiting from their ability to give ASU partiers a memorable night out.
JT Holmes is at the top of this Twitter movement with nearly 100,000 followers. He throws parties at mansions with aquariums, sells out venues by bringing rappers — such as Chief Keef, Waka Flocka Flame and G-Eazy — to the state and has his own Snapchat filter that displays a cartoon version of his face for those using the app in specific places across the Valley during the weekend.
He's a junior at Scottsdale Community College and attended GCU before that, but he originally enrolled at ASU. However, as an out-of-state student from Minnesota, he said he didn’t have the funds to officially become a Sun Devil.
“During orientation, I showed my mom papers with a $30,000 cost on it,” he said. “My mom says, ‘You’re going to GCU.’ It broke my heart. I literally cried. I was so mad. I do plan on graduating at Arizona State.”
Still, his business partners and many of the people that attend his events are from ASU. He used his networking skills to increase this clientele of partygoers over the years.
“For the first month out here, I was coming from GCU to ASU parties,” he said. “I’d introduce myself to everyone at these parties and get everyone’s numbers. Now, I’ve built a database all from parties I’ve been to and that I’ve thrown.”
This database originally started as a smaller network of people that began when he attended high school and worked at the Mall of America in Minnesota. He knew a DJ named Kam Bennet, who now has close to 1 million followers on Twitter. Bennet helped him gain popularity, showing him the ropes on how to maximize success from a large online network.
Holmes said he books his events just like any other reputable promoter. First, he finds the money from investors to bring an established artist like Chief Keef to the city, and then he books a venue such as LiveWire in Scottsdale.
Now he is hosting mansion parties in luxury houses with armed security guards and ID check stations, but they're not cheap.
"It’s not like you’re going to a local party at The Hub," Holmes said. "It’s all about the experience. And if you're underage, you’re not drinking."
Political science sophomore Lucia Molina has attended many of the events that Holmes throws. She said these are safer and more inviting than other college parties.
"The other parties usually involve underage drinking with a high risk of getting shut down," she said. "JT's events are very different compared to the usual college parties. They're very posh. It's exclusive and upscale. You have a great time in a great environment with good vibes."
It’s safe to say that Holmes is making a great deal of money off of his parties and events, but he preferred not to share the exact number. Holmes said he’s happy to see where his work is headed.
“It’s paying for school and my living expenses,” he said. “I appreciate it a lot. It’s a good job. Even when I’m not doing events, I’m making money off social media.”
He manages Twitter accounts for a few retired and current athletes.
When Holmes first came to Arizona, he teamed up with another former ASU student Luis Basilio to throw parties and make money, while adding to their Twitter following in the meantime. They cornered the 18-and-over market by booking venues on Mill Avenue, such as BAC Lounge and School of Rock, to legally house their parties through checking IDs and serving alcohol only to people of age.
"(The venue) provides liquor and security," he said. "I’ve actually never had a fight or any drama at any of my events. I think it’s because the audience just wants to party. They’re not that crowd that wants to mess things up.”
Lt. Michael Pooley, spokesperson for Tempe Police Department, said Mill Avenue is always filled with police officers protecting the street.
"We have a downtown (Tempe) unit that's assigned specifically to that area," he said. "That’s all they deal with, whether it’s a store or restaurant or anything on Mill Avenue."
Instead of graduating from ASU, Basilio dropped out and now works in real estate in Palo Alto, California, but he said the school and its party-goers took notice when it was taken off the national party school listings.
“I think it backfired,” he said. “People were mad. It got a little crazy. This fueled a lot of friends and students that went (to ASU) to say, ‘Let’s just party harder. Let’s do some crazy shit like light a garbage can on fire.’”
Basilio never set any trash ablaze, but he said he ended up throwing huge house parties “like the movies” during the summer of 2014, separately from Holmes, like one that happened when a Hungry Howie’s Pizza employee recognized him from Twitter and asked him to throw a party in his large house.
Basilio charged $5 at the door, but said this didn’t “include girls," who get in for free or with a "$1 donation." Hundreds of people attended, door handles were broken, the cops came later in the night, but he made out with $850 without a fine from police.
Pooley said house party calls are common in Tempe.
"They're just part of the job," he said. "There are noise complaints, too. If someone's listening to loud music, (police officers) will go and make contact with the residents and let them know there's a concern or if a warning is needed."
He also said these calls take place mostly in the beginning and the end of the school semesters.
"It’s always been a call we’re responding to," he said. "But we don’t keep track whether or not they're students or not."
Basilio said he made close to $15,000 each year for the three years he threw parties during Welcome Week at ASU. He added that it was through freshmen working for him that he was able to amass this large sum of money.
"People take this the wrong the way and say I hound on freshmen, but the freshmen want to work," he said. "They love to be part of the community.”
His reasoning behind seeking younger crowds of ASU students was that they had more money than the upperclassmen.
“I was reaching out to the 18-and-over crowd because they’re coming in, they have daddy’s money and they want to spend it more on parties than groceries,” Basilio said.
He said he was sued by ASU administration for copyright infringement in the summer 2015 when he promoted a party by making a website that had the ASU logo and Sparky on it.
Galvin said ASU doesn't stray away from protecting its copyrighted logos, but he did not directly address Basilio's incident.
Galvin also said these stories about partying aren't exclusive to ASU and hypothesized that maybe the sunny weather in Tempe is what helped develop the stigma.
"I wonder if these (stories) are different from any college town," he said. "One of the differences here is that we have spectacular climate and palm trees which make it stick into people’s minds in ways that make it seem a little more appealing."
Another event thrower and avid Twitter user Uche O’zuroha, short for Uchechukwu Onwuzuruoha, has a completely different mindset than Basilio when it comes to partying at ASU.
“When you look up the meaning of party in the dictionary, it’s just a gathering,” he said. “So when I met JT (Holmes), we started out throwing invite-only affairs where you met other people that you’d only want to associate yourself with. It was a circle of people that may be able to take you farther in your career."
However, the ASU Nigerian international student studying both political science and international relations took on the role of adviser when Holmes started throwing more concerts instead of parties.
“JT tweets about it, and then we just massively push," O'zuroha said. "I promote on my social media too.”
Aside from this, O’zuroha honed his fundraising skills through previous work with the ASU Foundation, and he is part of the nonprofit side of the project OneBelieve, a movement that believes in "one love and one humanity." It has the goal of giving back to the community by doing outreach work such as handing out shirts to the homeless on Mill Avenue.
He is also in the process of forming a nonprofit organization called Visionary Syndicate Society with Holmes that will host nonprofit fundraisers that raise money for charities of their choice.
“We’re trying to have people party for a cause,” O’zuroha said. “The reason why we’re partying is because we’re in good health and we have the financial will. There’s people that don’t have the health, the wealth or even the mental capacity, so let’s give to them.”
He talks about seeing economic struggle growing up in Nigeria before his parents accumulated wealth, which caused him to now take action with his party-throwing capabilities and use them for a more righteous cause.
“I remember my mom holding my hands (in Nigeria) to go on the next bus because of a riot here or a civil war there or conflict there,” O’zuroha said. “I don’t forget this. I’ve seen real poverty."
He disagrees with Basilio on ASU still being a party school and believes the campus would be a more wild place if this was still true.
“Prior to 2014, or whatever reflects it, (ASU) was a party school, it was crazy,” he said. “It was insane. There was a lot of filth. A lot of underage drinking. People with alcohol poisoning, fraternity houses — it was chaos. That’s all bad for the school. In regards to that, that doesn’t exist anymore.”
O'zuroha also said he is happy with the progress that Michael Crow has made with changing the landscape of partying at ASU.
"President Crow has done a great job of transforming ASU from a party school to being the number one school for innovation in the country," he said.
Because his events are themed and require a dress code, he said they cut back on the type of chaos found at the average house party.
“You have to be in a suit and tie,” he said. “And it’s difficult for you to want to cause chaos in a suit and tie. If the police do come, all they see is a social gathering of adults. There’s no underage drinking and there’s security."
ASU communications senior Kalin Tyler has also built a personal brand on Twitter, running the notorious ASU Confessions page to promote his own events and increase his status as a go-to DJ at parties in Arizona.
He started it as a Facebook page that posted raunchy revelations of student life on campus. It quickly took a life of its own as a copycat Twitter account popped up right after, becoming more popular than Tyler's original account. It was eventually shut down by the school due to copyright infringement for using the ASU logo.
"I saw that as an opportunity to take they what they had built and restart it," Tyler said. "I took their crowd and ran with it."
He's been able to keep the page alive by making sure to keep it unaffiliated with ASU as much as possible.
"As long it’s obvious to the viewers or whoever is seeing it that it’s not affiliated with what you’re making fun of and you’re very up front about that, then there’s not really much that can be done," he said.
The difference was that he mainly used the page to throw his own events and promote himself as a DJ, gaining gigs like opening for rapper YG in front of 1,300 people.
With the name ASU Confessions, it seemed like it would be tricky to maintain a non-ASU affiliation, but Tyler said the school is benefiting from his Twitter page.
"ASU would never say that they like the page, but in a way it’s bringing eyes to the school," he said. "They don’t approve of it, but they don’t hate it. I’ve had people tell me they literally came to ASU because they saw how fun it was because they saw the page."
Sophomore and party-goer Molina agreed with this statement, saying the Twitter account is fostering a sense of community at the school.
"It just lets you know about upcoming events and because of that brings people together," she said. "Through retweets and follows from the page, it creates new friendships so in a way it helps ASU."
Before Holmes and Tyler started working together a few months ago, there was some animosity. That changed when Green Bay Packers cornerback and former Arizona State football player Damarious Randall had Holmes throw him a party while Tyler performed as a DJ at the event.
"It forced us to work together even though we were never interested," Tyler said. "We had way too big of a crowd on our own to not combine and make double the money, have double the people and that’s double the fun for everybody."
Looking toward the future, Tyler said he wants to have the best of both worlds, being a promoter and DJ to grow his network to the fullest extent possible.
"If you go to a party, every person knows you, you feel welcome," Tyler said. "I’m trying to make one big family where we all have fun together."
The effect on ASU
Molina said before attending these events, she has had to deal with parties with atmospheres that made her feel uncomfortable and unsafe.
"It was very scary to go to other parties," she said. "It involved underage drinking, that’s very dangerous. There's girls being roofied and drugs involved. You can’t go by yourself to one of those parties. That’s the opposite of JT’s events."
Holmes said he believes that while ASU students are attending his events, it doesn't mean it's contributing to the school's party reputation.
"I’m not throwing any party at Arizona State," he said. "I’m throwing concerts. ASU brought Mac Miller here for Welcome Week. What’s the difference if I bring Mac Miller?"
There's not really a way for ASU to prevent off-campus partying, but there are certain methods that Galvin mentioned that can provide a solution.
"To prohibit people’s activities when people may not even live on campus, I’m not sure how you’d go about doing that," he said. "What ASU can do and does do a pretty aggressive job of, is the education side and setting expectations for what behavior will be on campus so that people can think of that in terms of how they’re behaving off campus, but also increasing awareness about responsible drinking."
Although Galvin said partying is not what defines ASU, Tyler said ASU still has a strong sense of partying within the campus — but there is more to it now than just that.
"It’s not the focus now," he said. "Michael Crow, as much as people like to talk down to him, I think he’s done an incredible job. You’re not going to stop every party. We can still have fun, but he’s actually bringing academics to the table. He’s actually getting the school respect nationally."
And yet Basilio said he firmly believes ASU will remain a party school forever, mentioning that it will take a much larger course of action to truly demolish this type of student behavior on or off campus.
"Partying is not something that you can just end," he said. "It’s something natural that just happens with people. You give them a red plastic cup with some vodka and Hawaiian Punch, and you have a party."
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @_jacobgoldstein on Twitter.