Odd Future/OFWGKTA, Brixton Academy, London
Leslie Feist, Apollo, Manchester
Their music may be the vile splurge of a disturbed brain, but in the wreckage of a chaotic show, there are signs of hip-hop greatness
Sunday 01 April 2012
The alluring mystique of the collective has always loomed large in hip hop. Perhaps it's the illicit thrill, in some listeners' minds, of the imagined connection with gang culture, or maybe it's just because it's easier for rock fans to get their heads around the idea of a "band". Nevertheless, no rap group has truly broken big and stamped their identity across the planet since the heyday of the Wu-Tang Clan nearly two decades ago. Until now.
Odd Future, aka OFWGKTA or, in longhand, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, are the unconventional, multi-tentacled entity from Los Angeles who have been bubbling away on the underground for about three years, but who have gone properly ballistic in the past 12 months. The similarities with Wu-Tang Clan are striking, right down to the "Wolf Gang! Wolf Gang!" chant (echoing "Wu-Tang! Wu-Tang!").
Their nominal leader is 21-year-old Tyler Okonma, aka Tyler, The Creator. The clown prince of the group but also their most intriguing character, it was he who appeared in a crown on the front of the NME last year, with the gormless expression of a slack-jawed simpleton.
The group also includes singer Frank Ocean, whose Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape recently emerged to much acclaim, and, perhaps most promisingly of all, prodigious rapper Earl Sweatshirt (who is still only 18). But it is Tyler who's the focus and it is he who performed "Sandwitches" (sic) on the American talk show Late Night With Jimmy Fallon wearing a green balaclava with an upside-down cross on the forehead. And he's the one screaming "Fuck! I don't wanna be myself!" on YouTube.
The OFWGKTA sound, often involving ominous chords and out-of-synch beats, has earned comparisons with Nineties horrorcore, but their insanely prolific discography is too diverse to pin on one subgenre. In any case, what has caused the most discussion is their lyrics. Tyler has been condemned for his constant use of the word "faggot" and the repeated depictions of rape, as in the oft-quoted line from "Tron Cat" that runs "rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome". Yet ultra-sick laughter is Tyler's only aim. Yes, this is the vile splurge of a disturbed brain. But if you censor it, you lose everything that's great too.
And great it often is. Take "Yonkers", a nihilistic howl from a fatherless childhood, in which Tyler tugs at the heartstrings with "Fuck the fame and all the hype, G/I just wanna know if my father will ever like me", then threatens to "stab Bruno Mars in his goddamn oesophagus".
The whiff of controversy has attracted the hipster crowd in their droves – mainly white Shoreditch students in pedal pushers and trucker caps. The shame isn't that white people are listening to OFWGKTA, but that, on their big arrival in the heart of Brixton, black people aren't. But what can you do?
Another shame is that the collective have yet to learn much in the way of stagecraft – for too much of the show they huddle around one central table. Not that the crowd mind. The smell of weed doubtless adds to the amiable atmosphere, and everyone chants every word of every track. Which is just as well, because the sound is atrocious.
What will emerge from all this chaos? The optimist in me gives them two or three truly great albums before it all falls apart. But we'll have to pay. Odd Future used to give their music away, but they are refusing to send advance copies of their latest effort to journalists, and tonight beg us to cough up for the pleasure of hearing it. "None of that download shit. We need the money!"
The mystique of the collective hasn't done Leslie Feist any harm, either. Part of Canada's loose Broken Social Scene set-up, Feist is a serial collaborator, having first flickered on to the radar as one of Peaches' backing group, licking motorbikes and dragging up as a male trucker for the queen of electro-punk's shows. Since then, the Nova Scotian folkie has emerged as a force in her own right, largely due to the Top 10 success of her song "1234" after it was featured in a 2007 iPod Nano ad.
But 2007 is a long time ago, and the Manchester Apollo is undersold. Surrounded by enough musicians to populate an entire Broken Social Scene, she's a diffident presence, and almost internalises every syllable, as if to emphasise their often-private nature, while the music engulfs her words.
For "River", Feist vanishes, leaving Appalachian-style female harmonists Mountain Man to do all the work. When she returns, they appear at a loose end, swaying like sea anemones.
Support act M Ward, of She & Him fame, joins her for an encore of The Jesus and Mary Chain's "Sometimes Always", and, before long, it's all over. With utmost perversity, Feist doesn't even perform "1234". Manchester, you don't know what you didn't miss.
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