All my friends were heading out, and suddenly one of them couldn’t go. They were like, “just take the ticket and fucking hurry up and arrive”. So, I hopped on a bus and headed to Hackney where you could hear the trumpet from the street as you walked up to the venue. Up the stairs, in a tiny little space with a dimly lit bar were a bunch of people in the corner watching an electrifying performance, and I was like, “Oh my god, this sounds incredible.”
Tanhai Collective had a uni spirit, mates who’d put up nights in their living room, which this felt like: a space to feel things. It’s just the mu- sic, like, no one could see each other. Everyone was very close, but like, moving about and I think it reignited my passion for why underground artists have such a place in the industry. They weren’t playing the ends of a song, they would just look at each other and wait for a cue to go into a break or transition into a new track. The audience could just watch all of this happen. I think it’s so cool to watch musicians interact with each other and decide, in the moment, what to do. That invisible energy among the band transpired into the crowd. Everyone was very free and very spirited in this moment with them.
Leaving the show, I immediately thought, “right, I want to find some more underground jazz musicians.” It was so refreshing. The band reminded me of how fresh and exciting underground artists could be. As it was the end of the year, it was the reset that I needed, that bubble of energy which was specific to that moment, to that energy in that space. Because the next time I might be able to go and see them, it will probably be at a different venue with a different vibe. I love singular concept shows like that because you can’t recreate any of that ever again.
The thing with Jah Shaka is that he created these pockets. Once you’re in one, you’re immersed there for hours. If you’re in the right space, you canget into these amazing sonics of frequencies and sounds. The way Shaka spoke about frequencies, it’s a sort of science of how deep he’s gone into sounds, and the depths he went to find the right frequencies which connect to the listener in that space. That’s a lot of things to consider, and feels more present than “alright, here’s another set, let’s just get on with it.”
Seeing Jah Shaka was almost like a pilgrimage. It was the first gig I went to this year and the best way to start the year. It’s been a big part of my musical journey. As a fashion designer, I’ve done collections and been inspired by sound system culture, referencing what they’re wearing and the spaces they’re in, even down to the musical scores, like having more dub and echo.
It was poignant and sad that he passed away a few months later, but it’s one of my favourite gigs this year because it gave me that one last heavy sonic bassline to purify my energies. After all, I do see it as sonic therapy. That’s what music is. It allows you to escape to another place, and I think that’s the reason why Shaka is what he is because he created a community with each set. He created his equipment, how it sounded, how it felt, and that is important in the moment – how it sounds that night, how it feels right then, who is listening to it, who is part of that moment.
What better way to get one last chance to experience and be a part of a Jah Shaka moment, than hearing him play his music all night long?
I remember the excitement was palpable that night at Alexandra Palace.
Many people hadn’t seen a reggae show at this historic venue as only a few artists, like Jimmy Cliff or Toots and the Maytals, had played there. Audiences were used to small venues of 1,000 to 2,500 people. Here, though, was Chronixx selling 10,000 tickets to a diverse crowd at Alexandra Palace. Lots was being said about Chronixx as well. He was being dubbed the new sensation of reggae by many people. Chris Blackwell, for example, had described him as the new Bob Marley.
As a radio presenter, concert promoter and record shop owner, just knowing the amount of people that came in to check out Chronixx’s material gave me excitement. It kind of gave me belief, you know? It made me realise that reggae can pull a big audience, a big crowd, and that these shows don’t have to be in the same venues. It gave me a perspective to say, “Look, more can be done. Broaden your horizons. Open up your mind.”
That night, a young artist named Koffee opened. This is before she made it internationally and won a Grammy. You could tell she had something special. She might have been the support act that night, but it added to how impressive the night was.
Watching Chronixx at Alexandra Palace was a reminder – a reminder that music is the fabric of society. Shows are so important. If you’re into music, in whatever capacity, there’s a difference between listening to the record in your house or in your car compared to when you’re at an event, and seeing your favourite artist on a stage. It’s a different vibe that you capture and ends up having a whole new meaning.
I first started listening to the Raincoats when I was exploring post-punk. I picked up their self-titled album, my first record of theirs, from a fleeting bagel × record shop on Exmouth Market. A raspberry red coloured vinyl, it was the first of its kind I had come across. Having purged the local record shops of their Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin albums, this incredibly awkward, 16-year-old school girl was engrossed by this red vinyl.
Reviews of the Raincoats always mention their significance to Kurt Cobain. Boring. Kim Gordon describes them best: “They had enough confidence to be vulnerable and to be themselves without having to take on the mantle of male rock/ punk rock aggression… or the typical female-as-sex-symbol avec irony or sensationalism.” At EartH Hackney, the Raincoats seemed to have nothing to prove.
Previously, the post-punk gigs I attended were hit or miss: I was flattened and streaked with leather burns at the Strangers; Wire — I could only flag Three Girl Rhumba. Heading to these events, I would be gurning with dizzy self-importance from knowledge gained from the 33 1/3 series: small books which I stuffed in my pockets for school commutes. I believed I required proof to validate my presence in these male spaces.
The concert came about to commemorate the 40th-anniversary tour of their debut album. I watched the performance unveil, glassy eyed. The music, disjointed and dubby, communicates the vulnerable and undermined female experience. The audience sat on layered wooden blocks leaning towards the stage, scarves and coats sprawled across the seats acting as makeshift cushions. The set-up felt cinema-like. The atmosphere was not competitive but confident.
In this spirit, you can belt out their lyrics in a dizzy rage, most obviously to The Void. I had experienced the flashy punky male anguish, yet those bands lacked the embodiment of the Raincoats. There was such a strength in their delivery of intensely fragile and human lyrics. The audience was immersed in the band’s intuitive command of the stage. I left satiated.
I was someone that spent most of my childhood listening to music every day and making tapes. For seven or eight years before the show was announced, I was listening to Damian Marley’s music on my headphones. My girlfriend at the time bought me tickets as a birthday present. We were both equally big fans and loved the collaborative album, Distant Relatives that he and Nas had created.
I remember walking into Wembley Arena and thinking, “How am I going to feel the intimacy of the vibe? Everything is so massive.” At the time, at 18, I was used to more intimate shows. But there was quite a mix of heads. It wasn’t just one crowd. And then, Damian Marley’s flagbearer came on the stage, waving this massive flag for the whole duration of the show, which was about two hours. He was there swinging it around non-stop and then Damien came on stage with mad energy.
It felt, more than anything, like an empowering moment, like church. It felt like it was more than music, and then Erykah Badu was brought out as a special surprise guest. And I couldn’t believe that it was Damian Marley, Nas and Erykah Badu all on one stage, let alone in London. Witnessing that at such a young age was a profound experience: it was spiritual and made me feel stronger as a person, motivating me to live my life in a particular way.
There’s no other experience like live shows, for being connected to other human beings and resonating with the same frequencies, and feeling the physical effects of the music that somebody has created in a studio or a bedroom. And you’re feeling that in real time, in real life. It’s irreplaceable. Live shows are the lifeblood of music itself. It’s very, very important for the soul, and for making people think beyond their own circumstances, and we need that more than ever right now.
September, 2006. I took a year off between school and uni — not for an intentional gap year, but because I decided to change degrees at the last minute and needed to reapply.
I stayed in London working odd jobs. It was pretty lonely, and I spent all the spare time I had throwing myself into music — obsessively reading magazines, downloading the back catalogues of bands I’d never heard of, and listening to pirate radio until my ears bled.
I grew up in Hackney, so garage and grime were always a presence, but this was the year I fully immersed myself in it: taping radio shows from Roll Deep, Ruff Sqwad, Essentials et al. Despite living within walking distance from the record shop Rhythm Division, my relationship with grime was mostly online — I was too young to go clubbing at UK garage’s peak and most live grime in the early-2000s was at events in London’s outer fringes or even further (Watford, Bedford).
This changed with nights like Dirty Canvas and Straight Outta Bethnal emerging in the mid-2000s. Turning 18 in tandem with a year away from education and a new wave of live grime events in Zone One or Two on the London tube map was a game-changer.
Having a tangible, in-person relationship with this music became everything to me, and within months I was blogging about it, attending every FWD>> at Plastic People I could, and making mid-term pilgrimages from university to catch all-nighters at The End and warehouse raves by House Party. The pipeline from that to editing my own magazine and starting my own label is a fairly obvious one.
The night that stays with me was a Dirty Canvas show at the ICA in September 2006, headlined by Ruff Sqwad and supported by Plastician and Boy Better Know. Ruff Sqwad were my favourite group, a band of East London teenagers with a romantic edge and some of the most distinctive productions in the history of UK music. Boy Better Know, meanwhile, had recently formed and were on fire. Sunday nights on Rinse FM at the time were always the Roll Deep show followed by Ruff Sqwad, and seeing that brought to life in front of me — I was hooked.
When the London ticket lottery for the Jai Paul shows spat out those emails, my sister hit the jackpot and I cried because I was so happy, so excited and nervous.
While we were in the queue (a whole half hour early), I looked my little sister dead in the eye and said “I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, I SWEAR TO GOD, I HOPE YOU KNOW THAT.” She thought I was insane. But that’s how I felt! Genuinely insane! Crazed with love for something: Jai Paul’s entire discography, this slither of human culture. It’s like ASMR — the body reacts to phenomena outside or beyond logic. Not to be pretentious, but I think it is the sublime. Have you ever loved something this much? I hope you have.
I felt alive, human, like I was capable of so much feeling and joy that I didn’t even understand, and I was so lucky to be here in this moment holding my little sister’s hand. I think that feeling of “WE’RE SO LUCKY” was palpable across the crowd. Just a bunch of people who love something, loving that thing in the same room as the person who made it. Isn’t that mad?
Sometimes putting my feelings in words can kill them, by turning an irrational internal world into distant, coherent language. But my love for Jai Paul’s music just endures, despite my attempts to wrangle it into human language. I cannot kill it.
Culture is great, so amazing and beautiful, and it’s so weird! Humans are so bizarre! Culture is so bizarre! Such a specific and ridiculous thing. We should find the things we love that much and experience them all the time, whenever we like. I think that’s so precious and rare, I think it’s a kind of magic. Jai Paul, I love you so much, I swear to god, I hope you know that.
I came to London three years ago from Egypt.
It made me think about how our music is presented in a place like Cairo and how it’s presented in a place like London. As Arabs living in London, Berlin, Prague, wherever, we have to be careful about this presentation. Some people pigeonhole us, and there are a lot of people who make Arab-heavy beats, but they’re more poppy, more club, not alternative. Sometimes, as a creative, you can get sucked into that because that’s what the Western listener expects from you. We have more to offer than that.
For years, ZULI was on the frontlines of the Cairo underground scene. Today, much of the vibrant experimental music coming out of the city can be attributed to the new wave he helped create. His trademark gritty, distorted take on UK breaks can be heard echoing throughout the new wave of underground artists re-imagining Cairo’s sound.
But, at this show, he played a more stripped-down, calmer, ambient set. Seeing a lot of people turn up, and not just Arabs, and be engrossed in the show, was great. People were there for the music and to see and respect him as an artist, and witness what he’s here to exhibit. Accompanying him was QOW, one of the most exciting Egyptian experimental artists for me right now, who also had a similarly striking set, and who is part of the label IRSH, co-founded by ZULI and Rama. Both sets were complimented by a live DJ set from multidisciplinary French-Egyptian artist Susu Laroche.
ZULI’s set was quite universal. We couldn’t pinpoint it and say, “This is all Middle Eastern or Egyptian music”. It’s almost as if the fact that they’re Egyptian doesn’t matter at all. I feel someone like ZULI has resisted this for their entire career.
I don’t believe he would’ve done this show at a festival or a big show. The fact that it was at Cafe Oto showed how important small, intimate gigs are to music. It allows artists to experiment and reveal different sides of themselves.
As soon as Bikini Kill announced they’d reformed and would be playing two dates in London, I knew I’d be there. I was obsessed with all things riot grrrl when I was a teenager, but never thought I’d get to see them in the flesh. I bought tickets to the show, along with my bandmates in Big Joanie. Like everyone else, we thought we’d see the show from the pit. Instead, we got an email a few weeks later asking us to open up both nights of their stint at Brixton Academy.
There was no hesitation, we accepted the offer probably five minutes after we got it, but it took a while for reality to sink in: What do you wear to meet your heroes? Would they be awful? Would we embarrass our selves? There was so much racing through my mind, but we didn’t have anything to fear.
On stage, after our first song, we introduced ourselves as a Black feminist punk band and the crowd let out a roaring cheer. It was a defining moment for our band to have so many people enthusiastically appreciating us and to know that the audience who loved Bikini Kill would understand our message, too.
The crowd were even more loving and enthusiastic when Bikini Kill came out on stage and opened with New Radio. They all sang along to the same lyrics and moved in unison to the beat. The crowd was made up of young teenagers, middle-aged punks who were there in the 90s, millennial fans, and curious newbies who’d heard the buzz but were maybe a bit confused about the politics. I’ve never felt so united with so many people before, experiencing the same moments together.
As a musician, I look at the path Bikini Kill carved and the journey they took to reach this stage, coming from a DIY punk scene similar to the one my band started in, knowing that anything is possible with time and a good riff.
I’d seen Grace Jones at the tail end of 2005’s TDK festival, that time she fell down the stairs onto the stage, cursed “those fucking stairs”, and ended up with her thighs clamped around a staunch fan in the crowd. This time I was there with pals on the arse end of another debauched weekend. Having dragged ourselves to the main stage, we were rewarded with a diva-enforced wait — 40 minutes, at least — staring at a huge curtain and wondering what kind of stairs they might reveal.
The curtain drops to expose the arresting silhouette of Grace in Philip Treacy headwear and a fitted bodice. The sheer spectacle of this sight, here in our local borough, brings us right back up as Nightclubbing booms out across the park, the damaged drums of Iggy’s Bowie-produced original given a modern funk twist.
I had Grace Jones on my wall as a teenager — she was an icon to me then, and remains a queer icon to the world now. You might guess where I got the inspiration for my name change! I’ve Seen That Face Before asks questions of us, and those we’ve met over the long weekend. Eight blazing outfit changes and the flaming torch of La Vie en Rose later, we remain fired-up by her performance, as the mixed crowd roar on the Ivor Guest-produced Williams Blood, a fresh take on her Sly ‘n’ Robbie juiced sound.
Roxy Music had played the festival the day before and as Miss Jones sings Love is the Drug, her face tells us she’s weathered the years better than Bryan Ferry. Haha! She dons a hula hoop and shows us just how she’s kept trim, before finishing with that paean to 80s studio excess, Slave to the Rhythm.
Fya up sister!
I saw the poster on my cycle home. The night was framed, out of focus, his deep eyes looking at me.
I had only known Coby through his collaboration with Tirzah. Naturally, I was intrigued.
That day, I was rehearsing and preparing for our first gig in a year for Gal Go Grey. All those broken cables! I remember it took us ages to set up and when we were finally sounding good we had a 30-minute jam and then it was time to go to this gig.
— Shall we go?
— Ya, we can rehearse later.
So we cycled to Albany in the rain. It wasn’t just rain, it was more like buckets of water forcefully spilling onto us. We missed the support act Tyson but arrived with enough time to get a beer. Queues were kind oflong on what was an unexpectedly busy Thursday evening for the venue.
The room got dark, the night was about to speak.
No expectations, no disappointment.
Coby and his band got on stage and from the start put a spell on me and the rest of the crowd. I find it hard to name things in music, as music speaks its own language, however, I can tell you that those sounds and rhythms would change and flirt with genres seamlessly, tenderness would suddenly get heavy, and delicate intimacy would get extroverted. Instruments would change hands swiftly among all the musicians; saxophones, samplers, keys, electric guitar, drums, electric bass, a vibraphone. The set felt fluid and spontaneous, taking you from dainty soundscapes into hard electronic jams, everything deeply vibrating in a dim visual atmosphere.
As the minutes went by I had to get closer to the stage and was pretty much in the first row when Coby held his bass alone to finish his spell with a version of Kiss from a Rose that enticed the crowd into a sing along. We left in a new state and had to go back into the heavy rain, washed anew by the power of live music.
Oh my gosh, Prince…
I was quite late to his music. I had watched a documentary, and I know it sounds cheesy, but it blew me away. His story, where he came from, what he did, his music, his lyrics, and his songwriting, all spoke to me. It moved me on such a deep level, even to tears and goosebumps, and that, for me, made me fall in love with him so deeply. When he says “Maybe you’re just like my mother/ She’s never satisfied” in When Doves Cry, that resonated with me so much.
Then, off the back of that, seeing him in such proximity at KOKO, in Camden, was such a visceral experience. I watched that show with my mouth open, staring up at this guy whose music I would sit listening to at home, on the floor, on my own at 8am, and would either cry or laugh or dance. Then, to be in front of him and to feel those same emotions, was mind-blowing. He was so captivating.
That show inspired me to delve deeper into how I was positioning my acts across live venues. Prince was one of those artists that proved you do not have to follow the law; he tore up the rulebook repeatedly. He makes you come out of your shell and do things that you’re not supposed to, and I took that into my creative practice, and into how I work with artists.
That show was a reminder of how a live show is a space where people can go to be around other people and be healed by the music they love. Everybody is hurting. By immersing yourself in something live, it allows you to emotionally process a lot of things, and to heal
Dave and I grew up in the same area. We are the same age. We’ve known each other since we were in year seven. He was making music. I was making films.
When I saw him live, it was a few weeks before a storm blew the roof of the O2 Arena. Metaphorically, he had already done that. Before the show, I put myself in his shoes, and I’m introverted as hell. Going in front of however many people, how he managed to captivate an audience the entire night was through a specific way of storytelling — but in a live format.
He elevated himself. That night was a story, an extension of everything he has done, which has been narrative-led. He was performing songs I could point to listening to as a teenager. He’s been learning to play the guitar — on top of his skills as a pianist — and seeing him showing that off was one of the highlights of the show, because it proves what people can do when they’re dedicated and invested in their craft. That is something that I try to transfer into my practice as well.
That show inspired me. I can see my natural progression in relation to his, going from small to mid-size venues to then selling out the O2 Arena. When I saw him live, I was still making music videos. Right now, I’m moving to larger-scale narratives. After that show, I worked on an episode of a TV show, directed a second unit on another TV show, and then developed an original show. That’s always been my dream, to go from music videos to commercials to films. Watching Dave live felt like a full-circle moment.
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