Words and Header Image by Francesca Ionescu
My friend and I get to the venue early, got our good places, over-priced beer in hand, already taking off sweaty layers in the anticipating crowd. We offer to take a picture of this bunch of Northern Irish boys, and the rubber duck they bring with them to gigs, whose name gets lost in the noisy hall. They’ve seen Slowthai three times, and they promise I will love it- in retrospect, they were right.
We agree that this is one of the most attractive crowds we’ve seen at a concert, all buzzcuts and nose rings, everyone wearing joggers and bucket hats, nothing branded Fila though, of course. As the opening act’s DJ comes on, the crowd huddles closer, pushing us enough to foreshadow how chaotic the main event will be.
I’ve never listened to Deb Never, but her music complements Slowthai’s soft voice to his grime sound and indie-American music to his intrinsically British lyrics, while not crossing the line of an opening act. Her intro was not energetic or popular enough to excite the crowd too much, but enough to make everyone more impatient for Slowthai to come on.
The break is for changes, for bright blue lights to turn red and angry, for people to compress then separate, run to the bar, do the day’s Wordle, prepare shin pads and whatnot. We make the mistake of going to get a drink, which as soon as Slowthai strolls on stage and the backing vocals tell us to send our thoughts to him, gets misted in the thick air. The crowd now moves as one, sweaty bodies moving against each other as gun fingers shoot up to the beat. We get pushed to the back, trying not to fall over the short girls that are themselves trying not to get trampled in a mosh pit. He follows with some of the natural transitions on his new album, TYRON: ‘WOT’ turns into ‘DEAD’, less aggressive tunes with the recorded chorus joined in by hundreds of voices. ‘DEAD’ flows into ‘NHS’, the repetition of ‘dead’ merging into the high pitched ‘I was in my head, feelin’ dead’, not requiring a pause in the setlist. Slowthai knows how to mix and match the mood, he lets us get in our feelings, feel the sadness in ‘i tried’, then pauses and asks everyone to stop, because someone seems to have fallen during ‘MAZZA’, one of the highest energy songs of the show.
His crowd engagement is equal parts appreciative and annoyed, never soppy even when he says how much he loves the people here to see him. A girl a few rows ahead of us wrote a big message on her phone to let him know she got a tattoo of him, but Slowthai is not the rapper to get off stage and ask to see it. He is blunt and says, “That’s cool but I don’t give one” and complains about people pointing to their phones while he’s performing. That’s where he is annoyed, and everyone awkwardly laughs, except the girl that has by now probably booked a tattoo cover-up.
There are some definite highlights: everybody cheering when he asks what sort of biscuits we like with our tea, the heartfelt moment about his child and house, followed by his complaints about unreliable drug dealers, someone throwing their wallet on stage? Brilliant. There’s someone blatantly smoking in the crowd, and his request that we all chant to his unreleased ‘fuck my ops’, to which someone next to me reacts by declaring it cringy, in the hugely Southern English and Welsh crowd.
Slowhtai is a charming performer, aggressively nonchalant, aware that everybody in the room will know the words, and every girl has a glimmer of a crush on his lisp and Northampton accent. He is unapologetically working class in his lyrics, yet he breaks away from the violent, crime-related tracks such as ‘T N Biscuits’ and ‘Doorman’ that made him a household name and caused goosebumps through ‘adhd’, with the same harsh sound but vulnerable words, making the Great Hall shrink, and the concert so much more intimate and personal.
As the show closes with the heartbeat synced ultrasound of a child in the background to accompany ‘feel away’, it feels cathartic but sad; it’s ending. Despite the borderline violent moshing, it was one of the best gigs I’ve gone to, a combination of my love for his music and the authentic feel of the show, moulded to his and his fan’s atmosphere rather than following a formula. While I was not as familiar with his latest album as I was with Nothing Great About Britain, I believe the night has made me and many others more excited, not only for the unreleased tracks teased, but to follow Slowthai’s career and see how his sound will evolve in the future.