Celebrating 15 years of their ‘urban’ radio station, 1XTRA, the BBC decided to bring their annual ‘1XTRA Live’ mini-fest to Manchester. The bill featured an ensemble cast from both sides of the big pond, aiming to please the young and the slightly younger.
With live performances from the likes of veteran Donae’o, new girl Stefflon Don and superstar Travis Scott for as little as £15 (+booking fee, obviously) the expectations of the BBC to orchestrate a memorable night were high.
The general crowd was split into two distinct groups. The older half had the generally dressed as if they’d all received invites to a VIP party hosted by Drake. Whilst the slightly younger all sported expensive sneakers and showcased a comfortable but fashionable vibe.
The opening of the night brought more sophisticated RnB and afrobeat music suited to the older half: Bryson Tiller’s autotuned heartbreak, Stefflon Don’s colourful carnival and Donae’o’s golden-age UK funky sent a wave around the 21,000-capacity arena.
Tiller had his day ones (everyone) to thank. Stefflon had her ever-present chart songs and lively, colourful dancers and Donae’o his well-aged showmanship and infectious hooks.
Throughout all the first segment, singular smoke clouds erupted out of nowhere in the crowd, signifying the mellow but encapsulating atmosphere. All around, it was clear that the collective wanted something bigger. The handover after Donae’o brought just that.
Charlie Sloth came out, recognisable from row Z with his black snapback, large coat and cackle of a laugh. An interjection of an all too familiar voice during his insert raised the roof. “Man’s Not Hot” hurled out of the sound system.
Crowds rose like the seas and a collective voice imitated ‘Big Shaq’ AKA comedian Michael Dapaah. It was incredible that a comedian’s creation can command more crowd energy than the previous four acts combined.
This seemingly tidal-shift was then to be followed by imprecise selections by the BBC. Big Shaq brought intensity that was hard to recreate with Ghetts and manc-native Bugzy Malone.
The former brought high powered lyricism with tracks like ‘One Take Freestyle’ and ‘Artillery’ but the crowd were generally displeased as a general conversation ensued. It wasn’t until bouncy vocalist Shakka came on to perform ‘Know My Ting’ that normal service resumed.
Similarly, 0161-rep Bugzy Malone worked up a sweat in his Nike thermal, to little avail with exception to the diehard locals (mainly youngsters) who joined him word for word. These two rappers showed that the night wasn’t for grime, but for its close cousins.
Following came another, less scripted, surprise. After a little nod from presenter A.dot for an “unforgettable night!” out bounced the dad-like figure, French Montana. There were instantaneous roars and it seemed like the crowd were starting to get what they were waiting for. French carried his chain of bangers with experience.
A few songs passed with pyrotechnics and a couple “haans,” and next up was J Hus giving his 15 minutes. The self-proclaimed Hussla brought his pseudo-afrobeats to the stage with energy and enough of a performance to get everyone on the same wavelength for the first time all night. Although, for the majority of it he looked half-awake but carried the show with a well-practised routine.
Finally, the centrepiece. An eagle screeched. A figure donned in skiwear came out: “I came here to rage and rage only!” he screamed. He was clearly the choice of the younger audience member and as he continued through his set, the eagle continued screeching acting as a signal for the crowd on the floor to get messier.
Then, during the mesmerising “Butterfly Effect” a young fan jumped onstage and chanted the chorus with Travis. Clearly used to this behaviour Travis, and his bodyguards allowed the intervention to continue for a good while. The track was finishing and another fan attempted to rush on but was apprehended.
Then, as the security came to grab the original intruder, he jumped back into the sea upon the floor and presumably got away with a once in a lifetime memory. multiple flames roared up onstage and Travis started to shout more than rap – sounding at times flawed as the autotune failed to register with his screaming. He still delivered a highlight performance.
All in all, the night was nuanced between a high velocity and a mellow, good feel. Which didn’t always match up as the time passed. Almost inevitably, it felt like the Travis Scott show, featuring a strong supporting cast. Peppered in the other performances were moments of excitement but the short sets and immense number of acts in one night didn’t allow each artist to give their best. For the price and range on scale, no complaints could be made.