The Masque, Seel Street
27th May 2010
In the dark, red-lit smoky atmosphere of The Masque, The Elementals are
currently tearing up the stage. Like an extended, hyperactive version
of the Beastie Boys, attired in suits and ties, replete with a horn section,
the group bound endlessly round the stage.
Initially looking like they’ve arrived at the wrong venue - they
could be suited, booted and booked to play at the Philharmonic Hall -
things get underway with the four man frontline scrambling about the stage,
their opening salvo a frantic paean to fast food and takeaways.
Similar to The Specials if they had been into hip-hop as opposed to ska
and reggae, the band mix straight ahead old school hip-hop with lounge
interludes and bellowed choruses. Throwing in myriad tempo changes and
plenty of call and response routines, the endless energy displayed by
the frontman is quickly reciprocated by the audience.
Describing themselves self deprecatingly as a ‘supergroup’
before third track, ‘Share Some Words’, the musicians and
vocalists blend seamlessly, a difficult task considering the group are
nine members strong. Asking if the audience are interested in doing some
skanking during ‘Do What You Do’, the floor quickly resembles
an edition of Top of the Pops circa 1979, as the audience engages in a
mass outbreak of it.
Pointing out the lineage hip-hop shares with dub, roots and reggae, the
group act as a perfect entrée to the Sugarhill Gang, playing the
music that was around immediately prior to the arrival of hip-hop in the
late 1970s. Parts of the set sound similar to the music recently heard
at The Picket for Africa Oye night, as hip-hop absorbed dub’s deep
basslines. The band draw their set to a close with a genre-straddling
medley which includes a horn-driven cover of ‘Smooth Criminal’.
Following The Elementals, beatboxer Petebox is similarly riotous, albeit
on his own. Beginning with a demonstration of what makes up a hip-hop
track with a series of scratching and sampling impressions, he summons
up a bass sound as powerful as any of the other acts on the bill tonight.
Sounding at points like four different sound sources played simultaneously,
his set acts as a perfect tutorial in how build a hip-hop track from the
Recording and looping his voice to add additional layers on top of one
another, he branches off into crowd pleasing renditions of Dizzee Rascal’s
‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’ and The White Stripes’ ‘Seven
Nation Army’. Concluding with a cover of Basement Jaxx’s ‘Where’s
Your Head At’ - built from its ominous bass rumble, through to hi-hats,
kick drum, and finally vocals - he sings the entire track, proving he
can easily handle vocals as well.
Taking to the stage following a James Brown-style announcer, headliners
the Sugarhill Gang waste no time in working the audience, starting with
call and response routines. Accurately describing themselves as the first
rap group - as there’s still some debate raging regarding this -
the group talk frequently between songs about what inspired them to craft
‘Rapper’s Delight’, the first hip-hop track to achieve
Mentioning their recent induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of
Fame, and paying tribute to The Beatles' hometown, the group set about
performing the material that inspired the track. Beginning with the old-school
format of three MCs and a DJ, the group switch to live instrumentation,
consisting of drums, percussion and bass, and work their way through a
myriad of styles. Throwing Cuban Salsa, hard rock and soul tracks into
the mix, the group play extracts from ‘Billie Jean’, The Chi-Lites
sample later used by Beyonce for ‘Crazy in Love’ and Grand
Master Flash’s seminal track ‘The Message’.
There can only be one track to finish with however, and we are treated
to the deluxe XL version of it. Building slowly from its sample of Chic’s
‘Good Times’ through to the arrival of the three MCs, ‘Rapper’s
Delight’s’ ‘hip-hop you don’t stop’ lyric
proves beyond doubt they were the first to take the genre overground in
1979, ushering in a whole new musical era, and what is now the world’s
biggest selling genre.