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. 

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