Review: DOOM at Village Underground (London)

Though London puts on enviable amounts of hip hop, it’s almost always in the standard rock-gig format – two or three support acts and then the headliner, all finishing by about midnight. For DOOM‘s latest appearance in London, Soundcrash decided to mix things up a little and treat us to a US style hip hop show, late night and with a large roster of artists and DJs.

Taking the first set were Lazy Habits, an eight piece band squeezed together on the tiny Village Underground stage. Consisting of two drummers, a turntablist, electric bass, a sax, a trumpet and two vocalists they pumped out a solid set of brass backed funk style hip hop. The two MCs really bounced off eachother well and the band were tight and together, but it all seemed a little overproduced and polished – not helped by their matching outfits and synchronised dance moves. Maybe in a different context this would work, but playing to a crowd who were largely in attendance to see one of hip hop’s grungier messengers means that, apart from four or five very hyped fans in the middle of the floor, much of the audience either took their set as opportunity for a cigarette break or leant against the wall looking slightly bewildered.

Kidkanevil came up next to build up the party atmosphere. Most people were wandering around and heading to the bar rather than sticking around watching him, but it worked really nicely to differentiate the feel of the night from a standard gig. He played a danceable yet complex set, and as ever impressed with his technical abilities whilst not making them the main focus of the show.

If graft translated directly into earnings then Rodney P would be one of the richest men on earth. The energy and dedication he puts into his shows hasn’t abated over the years and his stage presence is definitely something to aspire to. He rocked out a solid set that included a revisiting of some of his earlier London Posse tunes, which was a rare treat. By this point the venue was filling up and the crowd getting rowdier, and Rodney spitting over Pharoahe Monch’s Simon Says beat got the biggest reaction of the night so far.

Thunderbird Gerard came next, with a slightly surreal mix of a happy hardcore type beat with pretty straight spitting. The beats calmed down a little as the set went on, and generally settled on stadium style hip hop, and though he appeared to be giving it his all on stage the audience weren’t reacting very much and the set came and went without much audience reaction.

Mr. Thing is always a safe bet for keeping a crowd’s energy up, and didn’t fail to disappoint. He played a short solo set before being joined by Essa (formerly Yungun), and the two of them played a set that covered a lot of ground – certainly not just party music. Essa isn’t one to jump around to engage his audience, but has a steady and true stage presence that gave a welcome focus for the crowd.

Kutmah then took on the unenviable task of playing pre-DOOM, and played a tight party set that was largely ignored by a crowd who (like me) hadn’t realised that they’d be waiting until 2AM to see the main draw. The set was full of crowd pleasers but was often drowned out by a tidal shout of “DOOOOOOOOOM” as people got increasingly restless. Village Underground is a venue with not a single seat or area to chill in, so by this point the crowd had been on their feet waiting through six acts, and Kutmah very unfairly suffered for this. The ensuing half hour wait for the never-punctual DOOM didn’t help the crowd’s atmosphere, and the crowd were noticeably grumpy, with a few arguments breaking out in the room souring the atmosphere.

After a heavily branded 3-minute short film on the metal-faced villain and an attempt at rabble rousing by an unnamed hypeman in a mac, DOOM finally appeared. I don’t know whether it’s the sheer number of shows that he’s done over the past few years that have changed him somehow, but it’s the most energetic and willingly crowdpleasing performance that I’ve seen from the man. The set was a mixture of classics and JJ DOOM material that went down well, but the sound production left a little to be desired and everything appeared to have been turned down a little (perhaps to do with late licensing laws) and wasn’t the chaotic party set that the rest of the evening had been appearing to lead up to.

This combined with the fact that transport in London gets more difficult and unpleasant after about 1AM meant that a lot of the crowd decided to call it a night before or during his set which, judging by the Twitter and Facebook chatterings in the ensuing days, was a source of real disappointment and bitterness for many. DOOM evidently noticed the dwindling crowd and his energy and engagement dwindled too towards the end of the set.

The idea of running a hip hop gig in this format is great but set times weren’t published in advance and I don’t think that anybody anticipated waiting 5 hours to see the headliner. Soundcrash’s booking policy is as insanely good as ever but it was the structure of the acts, nothing to do with the acts themselves which let the night down. Though the crowd were well hyped and excited they were also tired, maybe a little too drunk, and tetchy by 2AM and this ultimately meant that the headlining set felt like a bit of a damp squib, a promise that ultimately failed to materialise.

It would be great to see more shows of this style put on, but things like publishing set times in advance, making sure that the venue was comfortable for this amount of time and placing the headliner around midnight would help to promote the party atmosphere that it felt like this gig was striving for and let both audience and performers leave on a high.

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