Dizraeli & Downlow – Quay Arts, 07/03/2014

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Dizraeli & His Small Gods have been carving an excellent niche for themselves in recent years, partly due to the tight musicianship of the band, but just as equally due to the ambitious lyrical stylings of it’s poetically eccentric frontman. This tour sees him step out on a far more hip-hop inspired live show, alongside Small Gods’ turntabalist DJ DownLow.

Hosted at the Quay Arts, the first act of the night is Emmy J Mac & Buddy Carson. The duo’s live hybrid of spoken word and R&B is always a winning combination, and the pair know exactly how to get the crowd in the palm of their hands. Tonight is no exception, it’s a driven and impassioned performance. Emmy’s come a long way since her stint on The Voice, and tonight is yet another example of why the most interesting talent on these sort of shows are the ones on the fringes. Her voice was maybe too unique for such a mass-market show, but it’s here in a live context that you understand what Emmy has to bring to the table, and why her career will have the trajectory and longevity to outshine the other contestants. Not only gifted with the voice of a songbird, her songs come from a real, and very honest place inside her. Pairing this off with Buddy’s verbal dexterity and insightful poetry and you really can’t ask for more. The outfit’s sound has morphed and evolved greatly over the last 12 months, and with the current backing (which coincidentally includes lead guitar by Chris Newnham of Headfunk favourite Plastic Mermaids) they seems to have struck gold with the formula. The duo have a slew of dates lined up over the summer, and I advise you check them out if you get the chance.

In a marked shift-change in gear, the next act are Kingz of Vocals. The KoV story has sort of intertwined with Headfunk’s own in recent years, and were always delighted to cross paths with the boys. This time rounds they sport an experimental new configuration, featuring Cooly Haste’s scratchmaster Wills of Steel replacing the currently indisposed of Matty Skatt. Their volatile live antics have been wowing south-coast crowds for years now, Jethro and the boys go in hard, and the KoV have become synonymous with a frantic live show that isn’t complete unless all 3 MC’s and DJ are drenched in sweat. They certainly don’t disappoint in this regard, it’s as energetic as ever, but over the 40 minutes we see an odd transition happening. Recent collaborations on their latest album with a variety of eclectic musicians (including The Weatherkings and The Ohmz) have brought a raft of new material with a more optimistic worldview. Previous anthems such as the politically-dystopic and utterly cathartic ‘Run Clear’ have been swapped out for the likes of ‘Up & Arise’. ‘Up & Arise’ proves to be the biggest singalong of the set, and having given their all, they exit stage right to the stylings of Wills. It’s an immaculate set from the boys given it’s the first outing with a new configuration. Though they don’t have many standalone gigs booked, the trio have a handful of festival dates looming, and are well worth making the time.

Loo break and a trip to the bar later, and The stage is now set for the nights Headliners, Dizraeli & DownLow. What follows is a 90 minute masterclass in how to work a crowd. Dizraeli is a captivating performer able to perfectly and eloquently translate DownLow’s vinyl trickery into motion. If either person were separated and paired off with another party it just wouldn’t work the same. It’s a mutual feedback loop that allows them to drop jaws just as hard as they drop rhymes. Diz throws his whole body into the show. In an age of ‘trendy…’ performers who don’t really give a fuck, Diz is the antithesis. If you haven’t left without a huge dumb grin on your face something’s gone wrong. The pair are undeniably satirically bent in their show, but it remains warm and funny. Not ‘Oh, we made a banter aren’t we witty?’, actually belly-ache inducingly, giggle-like-a-small-child funny. DownLow’s rewinds see Diz flail wildly like he’s being rewinded on a VHS, key changes that toy with the pentatonic scale see him hop-scotching along the stage back and forth to get a chant going. He picks out the individual names of people he recognises in the crowd and ambushes them for impromptu hype-man duty. Tales of love, loss, drunkenness and wading through life’s struggles that everyone relates too.

I could write another 10 paragraphs about the headline set, but at it’s core what you need to know is this. The duo may be the best live hip-hop act you see not just this year, but ever. If you take it back to its purest old-school form, it embodies the perfect connection between MC and DJ, and the pair have it down to an art.

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