Wiley sprints on stage so fast you wonder where his run-up began, as if making up for a stop-start career restricted by his unpredictable temperament.
At least tonight the grime pioneer is bang on time, a pleasant surprise given previous run-ins with promoters and labels. Last autumn he pulled out of a gig claiming he had “other things to do” and earlier this month claimed he was leaving his label over its choice of a forthcoming single.
That could really sour a relationship that has so far delivered his most sustained period of commercial success to date with the previous summer’s number one hit "Heatwave" and recent top 30 album The Ascent. The rapper has since backtracked and this evening seems on best behaviour as he headlines a night promoting his current crew, Boy Better Know, that is more rave than pop concert. He may only perform for just over half an hour, but the genre’s veteran artist packs in enough hyperactive energy and stylistic shifts to fill a much larger set.
Usually with only a DJ to keep him company, Wiley succeeds in filling the remaining space sonically as well as spatially, constantly on the move. The rapper christened Richard Cowie has always had one eye on underground kudos while aiming for mainstream recognition, though his current album is all about the latter. Its house and drum and bass rhythms are sped up to excite further a young audience, allowing Wylie to show off his rapid-fire technique.
Tunes are filleted to leave basic hooks for him to rap over, allowing 15 or so to be jammed into under 35 minutes. Oddly, these retain his original vocals, though put through a robotising effect to provide Wiley with an arresting counterpoint rather than musical crutch. Raw ragga toasting spices up the generic EDM of "Heatwave" while Warner’s choice of single, "Lights On", is given due respect, Wiley leaping into the photo pit to glad hand fans while the disembodied voices of its guest vocalists continue to sound like another holiday hit.
A smattering of
collaborators do appear, led by Lethal Bizzle for the juddering, souped-up
grime of "First Class". The energy levels drop only as the main man sits for
the still intense "Rubicon" before Boy Better Know peers JME and Skepta join
the celebratory "Can You Hear Me? (Ayayaya)". Wiley disappears behind a
smoke-cannon fusillade, another battle won by the UK’s most combative talent.