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Live Review: slowthai at Manchester Academy

Earlier this year, Northampton rapper slowthai released his debut studio album, Nothing Great About Britain, pondering over Britain’s current atmosphere to critical acclaim.

Straight off the “Coming to America” tour in the States, slowthai embarked on the “Bet Ya A £5er” tour across 5 of the UK’s biggest cities. Selling out Manchester Academy, he enlisted the support of P-rallel and Hak Baker to treat Manchester’s residents to a brilliant show.

Doors opened at 7pm with fans flowing in, buying merchandise, and crowding around the stage as early as possible, eager to be in the thick of things. Tour DJ P-rallel provided an engaging introductory set, warming the crowd up with a variety of the biggest hits from UK grime and American trap — mainly from Travis Scott.

Hak Baker, an indie-folk singer-songwriter from East London, followed up with a mediocre set mainly due to the poor sound mix. The backing band featured an awfully out of place trumpeter but a noteworthy performance from the drummer. He played his biggest hits ‘Conundrums’ and ‘Thirsty Thursday’ and previewed an upcoming song. Clashing with the crowd’s restlessness, the performance was nothing special and could easily be provided by any street busker outside the Arndale centre.

Academy was nearly full at this point and P-rallel returned to raise the crowd’s energy levels. Highlights included Octavian’s ‘Bet’, a remix of ‘That’s Not Me’, and a trio of Playboi Carti songs which had the crowd bumping elbows already.

Finally, at 9pm, the time came for slowthai to grace the stage. Middle finger raised, he encouraged the crowd to shout “Fuck Boris” at the top of their lungs. The chants continued as he began his set with heavy album opener ‘Nothing Great About Britain’, painting a vivid contrast between royalty and poverty in the UK. Hypeman Kwes Darkom was joined by an amusing crack rabbit in energizing the crowd as slowthai performed ‘Drug Dealer’. At this stage, the crowd was brimming with energy and slowthai took off his shirt. Drenched in sweat already.

Nothing Great About Britain varies between hard-hitting, gritty bangers, and more relaxed, emotional cuts and slowthai’s set managed to balance the two sides to his music. The terrifying strings from his latest Denzel Curry collaboration ‘Psycho’ rang abruptly and the crowd began knocking into each other before calming down in time to sing along to ‘Gorgeous’ and ‘Crack’. T-shirts were often thrown out and, more humorously, members of his entourage frequently blasted sweaty audience members with a water pistol in between tracks. Song transitions were typically marked throughout by blasts from the smoke machine and a change of colour in the set lighting.

It’s no doubt that 2019 has been a big year for slowthai, as he earned collaborations with bigger artists like Flume and Tyler, The Creator. On BROCKHAMPTON’s Ginger, he was permitted a whole interlude of ‘Heaven Belongs to You’, which the crowd sang every word to. He also performed backing vocals on IGOR’s ‘What’s Good’ and played the track live with the crowd roaring ‘I see the light’. Sandwiched between these two collaborations was another tune for the pit, but more importantly for his oldest fans as he performed ‘IDGAF’ from his debut EP released in 2017.

Being in Manchester prompted slowthai to perform a rendition of Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’ between tracks. Other highlights included the live performance of ‘Ladies’, an ode to women inspired by his mother. ‘Inglorious’ is slowthai’s biggest hit on the UK charts and, after much contemplation, he picked out a lucky audience member who did a brilliant job in performing Skepta’s verse. Chants of ‘inglorious bastards’ continued as the crowd demanded an encore, but he was onto the next song, aiming to get through his whole discography.

‘Northampton’s Child’, a brief autobiographical account of his upbringing, held the crowd captivated as slowthai closed his eyes and gave, probably, his most passionate performance of the night. Before the last song, which the crowd had been anticipating for a while, slowthai instructed the crowd to form the biggest circle of the night and issued a warning to the audience, telling them to pick up anyone who would be trampled in the upcoming track. By now, plenty of the crowd were shirtless too and when the punk-influenced Mura Masa beat for ‘Doorman’ began playing, it spurred the most violent, energetic moshpit of the night.

slowthai thanked Manchester and left the stage but almost the entire crowd stayed for an encore of ‘Doorman’ before spilling out into the cold streets. It was a brilliant show but it could be argued that the crowd was much more eager for slowthai’s high-energy bangers compared to his slower tracks. As he returns to America to support BROCKHAMPTON on their tour, one can only expect bigger things from slowthai in the future.

9/10

Tags: hip hop, Live review, rap, slowthai

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