Ok, so writing reviews of genres that I don’t hit very often is a bodgy proposition. But I love to do it, so bear with me.
On Saturday 25 July 2009, Foss and I headed down to Live on Light for the Hip Hop Live show run by Alcatrax. Foss had been asked by Hektic to shoot the show, and while I technically didn’t have to work, and while I really enjoyed the show, I couldn’t help but analyse parts of the performances. Call it years of doing this for every live show I ever go to, or call it obsession, or whatever you like – but I figured I may as well write the review and be bloody well done with it.
While there was a bit of a stuff-up with the starting times (the flyers said 8 pm, we were told 9 pm and the show actually started at 9.30 pm), it’s not like it was a drama. In fact, starting later was probably a good thing: there was hardly anybody on deck when we rocked up at 9 pm, but by 9.30 a few more had shown up.
First on stage was Nikolai, a self-confessed sci-fi geek: a dude who looks big on stage because he’s quite tall, but he also commands quite a lot of attention when he’s up doing his thing. Nikolai’s performance was good, though self-conscious. I think perhaps performing to one big empty room wouldn’t have helped at all, and I also think that this dude needs to leave his glasses on while he’s on stage. I think they suit his image as a sci-fi geek – they suit him, aesthetically, as well too – and it would enable him to interact more confidently with any of the punters in the venue. Being unable to see properly wouldn’t at all help his ability to move around the stage either – something which is inherent in a hip hop show: an energetic and into it emcee is far more likely to get a simliar response from the crowd. Self-consciousness tends to create unease in an audience.
Nikolai’s rhymes were good too. It was a really enjoyable set, actually – just the right length, some good beats, and Nikolai, when he loses his self-consciousness, finds his feet and spits far more smoothly than when he starts to think about where he is and what he’s doing. Of course, that last comment is assumption on my behalf, but it is exactly what it sounded like. Unfortunately for Nikolai’s set, the sound wasn’t ideal – I experienced a whole shitload of high-end irritation from where I was standing in the middle of the venue (which, let’s be honest, at Live on Light is the best place to stand for good sound). The other thing was that Nikolai’s voice needs to be brought out a lot more, with its bass tones emphasised, for it to really gel with his beats and to ‘become one’ with the music. At the show, his vocals seemed to ride atop the mix instead of being integral to it.
Second up was Mase & Mattic – a great duo, who really work off each other’s energies really well. The interaction these guys have on stage, and their energy, transforms to the crowd – which had actually swelled quite a bit since the beginning of the show – and creates a much more communal vibe. These guys also had a crew of their mates who rocked up just in time to watch them perform. While this sort of thing always strikes me as being a bit rent-a-crowd in appearance, it was good to see the interaction between the audience and the duo on stage. That interaction bounced, and it lifted the vibe considerably.
Unfortunately for this show the ‘crowd’ was one of those rock-up-to-see-one-act-and-go type crowds, so after Mase & Mattic had performed, a whole lot of people left the venue. After that a whole lot of new people didn’t exactly show up. It was pretty quiet in town, and it wasn’t warm, and the show had been shifted by the venue because of a screw-up, so there were a lot of factors against it. Still, it sucked that it happened given that the show was shaping up to be a good one.
Hektic himself was up next. This dude is a more natural performer – possibly because he does his thing a lot, or maybe because being on stage just isn’t a big deal to him. For whatever reason, up to this point in the show, Hektic was the most natural performer of the lot. He was also the most energetic, and worked hard to try and get some interaction, some groove, some something from the punters who were there. By the end of the set, he was getting applause and yells – no mean feat from a small, self-conscious crowd.
Second-to-last act was Social Change, followed by Dialect, with their DJ SpinDokta. What a lot of the people who witnessed this act stage didn’t see, was SpinDokta scratching metal during the soundcheck. It was far from perfect – the beats didn’t align, for example – but by hell it was good (of course, I would say that, being a metalhead!). Social Change were a whole level up from Mase & Mattic. Although M&M are good, and I’d definitely go see these guys again, there is a quality about Social Change that is hard to pin down. I suspect it comes down to professionalism. But I have to say that SpinDokta added immeasurably to the set of Social Change, as did these guys’ short burst of freestyling – a difficult thing to do, and a great thing to hear done well. The largely solo rhymes of Dialect at the end of this set were smooth, well spoken, timed well, and generally really enjoyable.
The more I write about this show, the more exhausting it sounds. To be fair, these acts all played quite literally back-to-back. Used to metal shows where you have a set, and then anywhere from fifteen minutes to half an hour between bands, depending on the organisation, it was really bam-bam-bam. And just that much better because of it. There was no time for anybody to get bored or wander off; and the back-to-back style of the show, combined with the running order, tended to set off each act’s peculiarities.
The final act for the night was, of course, Choose Mics. These guys came all the way from Brisbane to play to maybe ten people, but the lack of people didn’t dampen their performance. It may have dampened their enthusiasm perhaps, but not their ease of interaction with one or two overly enthusiastic punters who, by this stage of the night, had had a skinful. With a frontman hailing from Birmingham, Choose Mics have a pleasantly British sound that always sounds a notch above Aussie emcees. That’s my personal preference, so make of that what you will. Choose Mics also had an interesting take on the stylings of artists like Nas, for example, so if you blend a British end with Aussie hip hop and some of the stylings of Nas – if you can – then you’ll have a bit of an idea of what it was like. It was a great set, and I hope I get the opportunity to see these guys again sometime.
Overall, this show was a winner. Each act had their pros and cons, but overall it worked well, the show ran to time, there was no bullshit. There were hardy any people there, which was one noticeable element, but I don’t think there’s much you can do about that on a quiet night in Adelaide. My only gripe is that the front bar of Live on Light was cranking dance, which was almost totally anathema to the hip hop going on out the back. I also suggest that this could potentially have turned people off – especially given that the doors to the back room were usually closed during the sets. A face in the door – look around – a dance DJ but no hip hop – potentially the wrong venue. Easy to see how that would happen. If the show had been fed through the speakers in the front room, then quite possibly there may have been more interest from passers by.