The Enterprise, Camden - 30th April.
Well, what can I say? Last night, I nervously made my way to Camden Town for UK rapper, Context's, debut headline gig. Not quite knowing what to expect, and not having been to a rap gig before (to my recollection) the night completely blew me away. In that small, intimate venue, something very, very big was happening. What I witnessed was something so exciting, and real proof that live music is more important than ever!
Supporting Context was a man called Genesis Elijah; somewhat of an old hand on the scene - in his own words, he "may not look it" but he's "old" - he dealt with a small and difficult crowd with authority, confidence and wit. Hesitantly lining the walls of the small room like a school disco, it was a tough crowd for the guy. Noticing they were not his usual audience (white, middle class), "you look like you've come out of a Gap advert..", he did well to gauge and assess how far the crowd would react and participate, "Make some noise Camden!"
Genesis took control of what could have been an awkward situation and, after telling a few humorous anecdotes and warming the crowd up, he pressed play on his iPod (unfortunately he wasn't allowed to bring any other equipment with him) and launched into his set. In the three-songs he performed, I instantly realised this guy meant business. Pacing around the floor, not using the stage at all but integrating with the crowd, he spit his verses with finess, assertion and real integrity. There was a frankness to his vocals and lyrics and I was mesmerised by his energy. However, I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for Genesis; there's nothing worse than an unresponsive crowd, but hats off to the guy - he gave it everything he had, and in the end his magnetism and pure talent certainly shone through. He finished his set to screams and cheers and it was clear he'd won the crowd over.
Check out this track, Psalms:
Gradually becoming hotter and sweatier, there was a real buzz happening in the sold out venue - one of the things I love best about debut gigs. Set up on the tiny stage was a drum kit, keyboard/synth and guitar, the lights went off and on walked Context's live band, a trio of sharply dressed men, followed shortly after by the man himself. The crowd went crazy!
Straight away, they kicked off with one of the tracks that helped establish Context as an artist, Off With Their Heads; the video for which features some of the most influential people in the music and blogging scene including SB.TV's Jamal Edwards, Ed Sheeran, Genesis Elijah, journalist Keiran Yates and singer Well Red. But what the gig delivered was something I don't think anyone was quite expecting. Each track was brought to life by the live band and created an atmosphere that only live music can produce. What was even more exciting was the further development of Context's sound through the live instruments; electric guitar solos ignited the previous mellower tones of Context's work, the synth added a new dimension to each track, and some seriously infectious beats glued the whole thing together.
Context seemed very natural on stage and truly humbled by the whole experience; "I just want to thank everyone for coming, especially those that travelled all the way from Norwich...I'm just happy that you lot all want to listen to my weird style of music...". The transformation from record to stage is always a daunting move for any artist, particularly at such an early stage of a career, and with this style of music, but Context really made it work. As he confidently rattled through his exquisitely written verses, there were occasional points where a smile crept onto his face and a glimmer appeared in his eyes suggesting he couldn't quite believe what he was doing, a sudden wave of realisation mixed with extreme euphoria. It was something very special to see.
Context gave an absolutely brilliant performance, featuring some of his most recent tracks like Listening To Burial, which went down a storm, his current single, Drowning and his Fire In The Booth feature he did for SB.TV. His delivery was tight with meticulous attention to detail and a compelling energy and flow with the band. With similarities to the all-round musician, producer, singer and rapper that is Labrinth (well known for growing up in a church-going, ultra musical family), the band's embellishments and style reminded me of his live performances, particularly during the electric guitar parts, which is not a bad place to start!
Context showed his skill not only through his often dark and direct song-writing and rapping ability, but with his stage presence, too, vibing off the band, who for me, really made the show. It was an ambitious move to have a live set so far removed from the original records, but they definitely pulled it off. In fact, they blew the roof off last night, and I'm so excited to have been at the first show. Context is an insanely talented guy who has already seen huge success, even just in the last two years. He proved that he is a truly adaptable artist - something quite rare in today's music world - and saw the acceptance of his work from an eclectic mix of people last night, privileged and fired up to be part of something so inspiring. This is only the start for Context, so watch out!
"I'm the definition of driven, I'm in it till my heart stops" - Context.
Here's a clip of Drowning from the night.