Review: Natty, Congo Natty, Mad Professor, Subajah & Trojan Soundsystem @ Electric Brixton (London, 4th November 2016)

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Tonight begins with a performance from Subajah, who, in and of himself, is an incredibly talented man. He displays his abilities as a rapper, singer and composer with real aplomb.

In an age of vapid consumerism, it’s pleasing to find artists willing to stand up and go against the grain, educating the masses instead of stupefying them. If ever this was made evident, the empowering lyrics, at times delivered in an intoxicating, continuous meditation-like manner, accompanying some heavy grooves, has the crowd rocking and swaying in appreciation. We are treated to a performance with a rich mixture of textures. All provided live, by an incredibly tight band, with guitars, bass, keyboard and drums incorporating flavours from a diverse selection of genres. Which really is in keeping with the ethos behind the collective and record label, Vibes and Pressure, created by Natty, to which Subajah is a member.

I just want to throw a quick shout out to the man at the mixing desk during this set. His live mixing, something deeply fundamental to dub reggae production, was first class! Even something as simple as adding reverb and panning the sound from side to side, making the vocals echo and ricochet around the room, really helped to add an extra dimension to the performance. The bass shakes your body, the drums propel you forward on a sea of guitar chops and wavy keys. Not to mention the odd spot of solo virtuosity, never too much, but the fact they can find space for in their sound is still impressive. Even when they slow things down, no one in the crowd has stopped moving.

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This is helped, no doubt, by the wonderful sound system of the Electric Brixton. It always manages to be tight, clear and powerful, a difficult balance to achieve at the best of times. It allows artists the freedom to express themselves and their music in a manner not matched by, ahem… more established venues in the area. It just so happens, that tonight is a dub party, with Subajah getting the crowd in the mood.

Next up, we have the legendary Mad Professor himself. He addresses the crowd, in traditional toasting fashion, before unleashing a barrage of pounding dub. I’m talking bass that can rattle your knee caps from over a hundred paces kind of dub, for a set to appease the bass junkies in attendance. Just about every variety of raver is in here tonight; old ones, young ones, classic ones, suave ones, raggedy and sparkled, dred or not, long hairs and beards or short clean and trendy! Everyone is on the same vibe; even I couldn’t maintain my composure and was skanking out with all the children of Ire.

We have the pleasure of a sonic experience provided by a DJ of immense talent. Watching him weave his magic on the decks left me breathless. At times you could hear conga drums, playing as if going a hundred miles an hour. In fact, it was just clever sleight of hand, adding effects to a simple sample, making it sound like it was playing super-fast. All of which was underpinned by the ridiculous floor of pure bass, acting as a perfect counter weight.

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There is a brief reprieve as audience members are asked on stage to trade their dance moves in exchange for special cut vinyls and CDs, which he brought as a gift for fans, before taking us back to the old school, with the crowd singing along to Max Romeo’s chase the devil. Once again the energy in the room is amped as, as the Professor touches on moments of some serious duty, break beat riddms. The remix of Bob Marley’s ‘Jammin’ is pretty good, as is the heavy break beat dub of Pharell’s ‘Happy’. The final stroke of genius comes in the form of a ludicrous remix of ‘Superstition’ by Stevie Wonder. The drums feel ten feet tall, the horns and effected vocals, mix, seethe and writhe into a heavenly saturation of micro rhythms and syncopation against the main funk groove.

The third act tonight are Natty and the Rebel Ship. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really feeling this from the start. I doubted the worth of an acoustic guitar and live conga drums, especially during the first song or two; it’s as if they weren’t even there. There’s a bit of a soca vibe, which could be cool, but all I could think of was how much it all sounded like the group Bare Naked Ladies and their song ‘One Week’. But, and this is a big but, once Natty and the Rebel Ship had warmed up, they were incredible. The musicianship was clear from the start, however everything has kicked into place, with plenty of space for the congas and acoustic guitar to become a part of what was rapidly becoming a beautiful mosaic of sounds.

They definitely have something different to offer, switching between grooves like a well-oiled machine. You can see the craftsmanship of some truly great song writing on display. In the moments when there is space in the mix, they fill it with interesting moments of melody and rhythm. When used appropriately, the grooves and melody sit in a somewhat perfect balance, however, there are other moments when that nuance is lost.

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Again, the more time you give to this band, the better they become. Like all the acts tonight, there is undoubted quality on display. There’s no resting on the laurels of what previous generations of artist have set to be the standard. At times, hitting Carlos Santana-type vibes when the pickup, before skipping through some ska. As if that was not enough, they really start to push the boundaries of their own envelope. At times taking the most interesting of sonic diversions, with something almost annoyingly catchy about their songs. Perhaps a bit of Talking Heads gets thrown in? Maybe they are remixing or covering songs that sound familiar? All I know for sure is that the crowd are loving it!

As a band, they work really well together, visibly feeding of the vibes and energy on stage before giving it back to the crowd tenfold. It feels like everyone is thoroughly in gratitude and this is turning out to be one hell of a homecoming show for the band. Then they throw me for a loop one last time with their rock/reggae ending, with the last song sounding like Radiohead, in a way that is flattering to both bands.

Before signing off, Natty leaves us with a stirring message, one echoed by all the acts tonight,

“Embrace the fear and vibrate at the frequency of love”.

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The anticipation for Congo Natty is palpable. We get a little bit of a dub warm up as a few musicians come out on stage. There’s a nice little sing along/jam between the audience and band, which is not something I’ve seen before, but it just goes to show how deep the connection between the artists and audience can truly be. A Bob Marley interlude starts raising the roof, before the main event.

A quick look around the room and you can see that some had peaked to soon, others were nervously waiting to come up, but when Congo Natty spits out the bangers, everyone gets down. Heavy, heavy tunes are played, with the benefit of being supported by a cornucopia of musicians, the stage is absolutely packed. Together they provide us with grooves that range from sax solos, to grime and trap beats. This is a set of floor-filling, jaw-clenching, head-bopping music. This is music to call out to all members of the bass nation.

One Love!

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