Monday, 2 January 2017

On Song: Kanye West 'Real Friends'

'Who your real friends? We all came from the bottom / I'm always blaming you but what's sad, you're not the problem."

If 2016 really was, as Kylie Jenner put it, the year of realising stuff, then I'm basically Keeping Up With The Kardashians. A veritable shitshow of disastrous world events, racial tension, family illness and mental health struggles, it was at times hard to see the light for the dark, hard to see where I fit in this new, scary adult world. 

It is in these times that you're forced to look around you, forced to take stock of the people you choose to be your allies in this life. Whether this be the family you are given, colleagues, friends from childhood or casual acquaintances you pick up as you negotiate adulthood, who you surround yourself with often says more about your personality than you really give credit for. So often, we don't take charge of that fact - we struggle to admit when a friendship has gone stale for fear of confrontation, or we miss the opportunity to tell somebody special just how much they mean to you. We don't open ourselves up to new, real interactions - journeys on public transport are spent burying our heads in phones rather than engaging with the stranger opposite, or we walk heads down, refusing eye contact and assuming the thoughts of those who walk past. 'I guess I get what I deserved don't I?.'

Looking at myself and at others, I realise that a lack of honesty, a lack of 'realness' is often at fault here - it's near second-nature for me to put on a brave face when I'm struggling, to help others swim before admitting that I'm drowning myself. To assume the worst intentions of people when chances are, their only crime is being a little thoughtless, or worse. It's something I plan to and know I must work on, putting faith in those around me and letting them surprise me - the struggle you think is unique to you is so often shared by people you'd never even realise.

As icons around us died, Trump became leader of the 'free' world and we began steps to leave the EU, the mantra 'life is too short' has never been truer. We've all landed on this great mass as strangers, and we all leave as strangers unless we fight to forge true, positive connections. Not all of us will ever be a great star like Bowie or Prince, capable of changing social and political landscapes, but we can all make change in our immediate vicinity - change as small as getting in touch with that childhood friend, letting your partner feel loved, caring for a parent the way they cared for you before we all grew up and got proud. For all of these reasons and many more, one song resonated more with me in 2016 than any other.

A character more omnipresent and yet more alienated than Kanye West is hard to find. We see his image online near-daily, entertained by his exploits and outrageous behaviour without questioning why he might have become that way. We attribute the labels of egomaniac, genius, angry black man, never stopping for a moment to remember that he is just as fallable as the rest of us - more so even, with the scrutiny of the entire world place upon him, watching and mocking as he descends into breakdown after the anniversary of his mother's death and nearly losing his wife at gunpoint. Two vital people in his life, people that make him a son and a husband like so many of us.

'Real Friends' seems so fitting for 2016 - weak become heroes, heroes become 'weak' - letting that mask slip for long enough to let everybody know that pain knows no paycheck. It weaves a familiar tale - growing distance between families, getting too wrapped up in pride to extend that hand of reconciliation. But what would happen if we were all this honest? Would the distance grow at all? Or would we reveal the best in people by giving them a chance? Maybe in 2017, we need to take a look at the people we surround ourselves with - let that stranger in, let that acquaintance grow, let that family member become a friend. What else have we got?

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Beacons Metro 2016 Review

Whether we've just not known where to look or we've hit peak underground, but Beacons Metro feels like a serious moment for the genre that is grime. Making up a strong selection of the festival's line up (although sadly not Novelist, whose show was cancelled at the last minute), we're thrilled that is finally getting the live platform is deserves outside of London, which is what makes tonight's opener featuring some of the scene's best and brightest feel so special. 

Elf Kid, Ghetts, AJ Tracey, Frisco - Belgrave Music Hall, 28th October

Elf Kid shot by Kevin Lawson

 First up we have Lewisham's finest Elf Kid, shot to prominence with his breakneck Amerie-sampling mission statement 'Golden Boy' (which sounds utterly majestic live). Flanked by MC Blakie, the duo's energy is undeniable, hurling themselves into the crowd for 'Champions' and drawing a frenzy of smartphones that can't keep up with the pace of his flow. Consider the evening's bar set very, very high. 

AJ Tracey shot by Kevin Lawson

AJ Tracey is a much more chilled affair - think less high kicks and more beats that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Drake's 'If You're Reading This'. 'I just want to make dough/leave me alone', he intones, his focus clear as he roots to the spot, delivering a whole verse before moving off again as if trying to puzzle out his own thoughts. Just two acts in, we're already reminded of the diversity of grime - from bravado to vulnerability, it's all on show tonight.

Frisco shot by Kevin Lawson

There's a near hour wait before Frisco and the crowd are flagging slightly, but they're quickly pepped up with a set littered with tracks from his Boy Better Know family - 'Shutdown', 'Man Don't Care' and of course, 'Too Many Man'. Each lyric is spat with precision, knowing exactly when to pause and to ramp the crowd up as he extend his set again and again, exclaiming 'Leeds, you guys have got me gasssssssed' 

Ghetts shot by Kevin Lawson

We finish with Ghetts, whosE megawatt smile and camera-wieling hypeman light up the venue. The crowd has dwindled slightly due to the lateness of the hour (around half past midnight, meaning door have been open for just over four hours) but those who remain are dedicated, swirling moshpits to 'Yadunknow already' and 'One Take'. His set is short but polished, bringing a showcase of an evening to a close.  We may have gotten in as press, but in terms of value for money, there's been no gig this year that's offered better value for it's £15 ticket price. 

Lady Leshurr - Belgrave Music Hall, 30th Oct 2016

If Ghetts was a definite case of too many man, lady leshurrs gig is an encouragingly diverse affair of parents, teenage girls with massive gold hoops and awkward looking white boys who quickly throw guns up to the drake that's pounding out of the stereo. 

Denmarc Creary shot by Kevin Lawson

Flanked by a DJ Manny Brown (straight out of 'People Just Do Nothing' with his endearingly old-skool approach to crowd hyping 'hey, ho', 'sing it' etc) we are reacquainted with Denmarc Creary, a lad we first met this time last year when he opening 1Xtra live at Leeds Arena. Pitching himself somewhere between George The Poet and Theophilus London, his 'Leeds' skit is fantastic, reminiscent of what good local pride can do when it comes to rap music.

When Harrison Mead strolls onstage and announces that is first song will be called 'Confessions part 1, we're not the only ones who get a little bit excited about a potential usher cover. What greets us instead is similarly smooth crooning over a skittery beat, completely current and pretty sincere as he sings 'all I have is the music' with the sort of honest earnestness that's made Drake his millions. 

Lady Leshurr shot by Kevin Lawson
Lady Leshurr shot by Kevin Lawson

Taking to the stage amongst a thick burst of dry ice, horror-masked dancers and highly-pitched screams, Lady Leshurr is immediately the shot of fun that makes for the perfect grime/mainstream crossover. A standout star in a sea of male voices, her gig carries the vibe of total, complete empowerment. From her chats between songs about valuing yourself in the face of haters to the three girls she pulls onstage and helps through their own versions of queens speech 4, watching her perform is like its own little motivational workshop or wardrobe try on session- you leave feeling just that little bit sassier, that little bit more like the self you wish you were if you didn't care what anybody else thought. Queen indeed.

Local Natives - Leeds University Stylus, 7th November 2016

Dreller shot by Kevin Lawson

After two nights in the dark, dimly lit surrounds of Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds Stylus feels positively cavernous and echoey, those who are early to the party choosing to cling to the bar area rather than coming forward as Dreller's set begins. His tightly-packed stage set-up mimics the sound he makes - itchy and skittish, there are a lot of tabs open at the same time, veering between Radiohead's '15 steps' percussion to Muse-worthy wailing via stilted stage banter. We're sure it's for us, but it's certainly intriguing, the sort of thing that would probably expose its brilliance after a few more listens.  

Local Natives shot by Kevin Lawson

Returning to Leeds after three years away, anticipation is high for Local Natives closing Beacons Metro set. Arriving promptly with 'Past Lives', they're a much perkier offering that when we encountered them last - free from the emotional burden of touring the harrowing Hummingbird, they seem much more free-spirited even ditching Taylor's guitar for a serious vocal disco session during 'Villainy'. 

A treat for fans of all eras, the setlist boasts a very even three-way split of records, old songs benefitting from this funkier approach. The strength has always been in their harmonies, but it really must not be underestimated how gorgeous they sound live - 'Ceilings' and 'Coins' make you momentarily forget you're in a chilly students union and not on a Californian road trip with no care in the world. 

It's not all fun and games though - 'Columbia' is just as devastating live as it is on record, if not more so - Kelsey's face contorting with emotion as he relives the soul-searching we all do in the wake of a loved one's death. We have defiance too - 'Fountain Of Youth' couldn't be more apt than it is played here tonight, the night before the US Presidential election.

Knowing what we know now, it feels all the more poignant - a spirited fuck-you to authority and a reminder of the power of good musicianship in dark times. It's a fitting sentiment to end beacons metro, a festival that covered a lot of musical and culturally diverse music, fostering a three week scene more encompassing than Leeds has been in a really long time. 

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Acts to look forward to at Beacons Metro 2016

The nights are getting shorter, the weather more temperamental than Donald Trump during an immigration debate and frankly, the carefree, sun-and-beer soaked few months that is festival season seems like a long, long time ago. The alternative? Let's go urban.

Founded as a classic bands-in-a-field sitch, Beacons Festival fast gained a name for itself as the ultimate hipster hangout, bringing the best in dance, alternative and inside to it's picturesque site in Skipton for some classic August merriment. That's not to say it didn't have it's fair share of issues - torrential rain, hurricane-level wind and the ever-increasing amount of musical competition certainly put the organisers to the test, to the extent that after just three years (four if you count 2011's cancellation), Beacons regrettably went the way that so many live events go these days.

Luckily, just down the road from Skipton is Leeds, which more than proved it's capacity for the more modern festival - a citywide takeover of venues with some street food and workshops thrown in, and you have yourself a robust, nearly weatherproof model that allows a festival line-up to flourish. Following in the footsteps of Live At Leeds and Slam Dunk,we have Beacons Metro, a full season of the best buzz and established acts the current musical landscape has to offer. Now in it's second year, you can buy a season pass or individual tickets just like you would for any regular gig - no camping, no dodgy catering and absolutely no portaloos.

So, press ticket in hand, what would we recommend you check out? We've booked ourselves into the five following must-not-miss gigs...

Ghetts/ AJ Tracey/ Elf Kid - Belgrave Music Hall, 28th October 2016
Headline eyes might be on ex-NASTY crew member Ghetts, but our first Beacons Metro stop is all about Elf Kid. A quick spin of 'Golden Boy' will explain why - that Amerie sample ain't messing around. This gig will be the perfect way to open up a season of events that has a pleasantly large representation of grime, hip-hop and rnb, something severely lacking in Leeds until this point.

Hookworms - Holy Trinity Church, 28th October 2016
This one will require a quick half-and-half dash from the Belgrave, but we can't imagine we'd want to miss one of Leed's favourite local bands in a seriously underrated venue. The acoustics of Holy Trinity should make for quite the sonic mix of a band who's pysch-rock is already highly layered. for all you logistics heads, it's also the closest venue to Leeds train station - perfect for the 200m sprint to catch the last train.

Lady Leshurr - Belgrave Music Hall, 30th October 2016
Queen of Birmingham, Lady Leshurr is your new favourite forward-thinking rap artist, and a glorious alternative to the guns and hoes stereotype - she recently told NME that she doesn't swear in her songs as she wants to set an example. Fresh off the back of a huge Wiley collaboration (Where Are You Now?), this'll be the last chance to see her in a venue this small for a while.

Novelist - Belgrave Music Hall, 3rd November 2016
Described by Resident Advisor as 'the new face of Grime', 19-year-old Novelist is just two EP's deep but has an enviable list of features that should see his set go off. Having quite XL to start his own label at the end of August, expect to be among the first to hear new tunes.

Local Natives - Leeds University Stylus, 7th November 2016 
An old favourite around these here parts, Local Natives have been missed since they last played in Leeds nearly 4 years ago. New record 'Sunlit Youth' has it's fair share of euphoric moments that we can't wait to see live...we'll be leading the chorus of 'Fountain Of Youth' with joyful abandon.

Still need to nab your ticket for Beacons metro?  For full details please see  and tickets:'