POP D'Influence / Youngbloods Convention Shepherds Bush Empire, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Every year there's one dance record that breaks out of its accompanying underground and becomes the nation's summer soundtrack. Soul II Soul, Jamiroquai and Goldie have done it in the past and D'Influence, hot from supporting Michael Jackson and Prince, are aiming to wrestle the coveted mantle of the nation's groovsters from their illustrious predecessors with their impending album, London.

But D'Influence weren't at the Shepherds Bush Empire on Friday just to play music; The Youngbloods II tour is to raise awareness of blood diseases that effect black people almost exclusively and encourage new blood donors. D'Influence suffered the effects of one of these diseases at first hand when the backing singer, Viki St James, fell ill with Aplastic Anaemia.

D'Influence looked like an updated version of the classic R'n'B ensemble, harking back to the days when the groove was the thang and it was mandatory that all soul band members dressed the same. Clad uniformly in white, as opposed to the more traditional lounge suits, they exuded the unfortunate air of soul professors concocting new sounds and melodies to which to move your feet with trained scientific precision.

But although the songs are bolted together with breathtaking accuracy, the tight urban noise that reverberated on Friday night had, at heart, emotion and passion in the form of singer Sarah Ann Webb.

She took the modern soul blueprint, as with the latest single "Hypnotize", and shifted the song up a notch, transforming it into the perfect soundtrack for a carefree summer's evening. The music kicked up a swirling storm of insidiously infectious dance sound that only the most leaden-footed could ignore. The style is called new urban soul but it's not new in any way apart from the way it flows together, mixing influences from Stax, Motown and funk in a way that could see even America fall under D'Influence.

The band proved themselves adept, even when their attention was drawn to the most fragile of pop artefacts - the ballad. Touching and tender and packed with soul, D'Influence reminded us why this concert was taking place at all.

In contrast to D'Influence's mix of soul traditions, Attica Blues, who opened the night, were selfconsciously modern. It was all edgy, dirty, scratching, loops and funky drumming topped by a soul-belting voice courtesy of diva, Roba El Essawy. It was the soundtrack to the coolest urban road movie never made from a band who's debut album hasn't even been released. Kwesi, second on the bill, clearly felt he was the natural inheritor to Marvin Gaye circa What's Going On. And his voice certainly lent in that direction. But songs like "There's a Riot in Brixton" and its earnest attempt to produce contemporary soul snapshots of Britain were undermined by jazz arrangements and indulgent guitar solos that screamed session musicians rather than emotion.

For more information on the Youngbloods Tour contact the Sickle Cell Society, London NW10 (0181-961 7795)