Events, Reviews

Live Review: adidas Originals Presents Unite Joburg with Danny Brown

adidas Originals have built up quite a name for themselves in the live music game over the past two years. Their collaboration with we-are-awesome, struck up at the beginning of 2012, has been incredibly fruitful. They launched the series at the beginning of 2012, bringing down turn-of-the-millenium DIY indie darlings Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. They followed this up with Swedish electro outfit Little Dragon in September, and then Brooklyn indie darlings The Drums. All three of those gigs were highly successful, with legs in both Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Their latest concert marked a comprehensive switch-up in the way things were done. Branded ‘Unite Joburg’ and thrown as a specifically Johannesburg-oriented event, it was incredibly successful at bringing together a very particular, but also very sizeable and exciting scene within the city. Tickets were free, with the catch being that in order to attain a ticket, you had to be invited by someone who had themselves been invited. That served to create an air of exclusivity about the whole thing, though of course when throwing an event meant to house over a thousand people at the same place and time, that can only be tempered.

Most important to the success of the event was and always would be, of course, the headline act, and in Danny Brown they’d struggle to have chosen a more relevant and appropriate performer in the world today. Of all the acts they’ve brought so far, none have had quite the level of hype surrounding them at the time of their visit, none are quite so renowned or electric. Hot off the back of his astounding third studio album, Old, he’s currently riding a wave of commercial and critical success that far surpasses anything he’s achieved thus far in his now-ten-year career.

The venue, Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown, Soweto, was near-perfect. It’s a beautiful three-story structure equipped with the size and acoustics for a show of this magnitude. The venue was never too packed on the night, though for those in attendance this just contributed to a relatively uncrowded environment and never having to wait too long at the bar.

The event was the perfect platform to launch a currently-bubbling-under-the-surface Joburg hip-hop scene to the forefront, and while the music all night was at a high quality, and there was quite a long line-up of supporting acts playing at two different set-ups, there was little by way of local hip-hop performance, with most of the acts sitting behind decks. Tha Cut was the highlight here, showcasing his talents by playing a wide variety of chopped-up hip-hop, and dropping small hints of his well-documented scratching talents. There was an a capella rap battle between two locals, Elite MC and Disciple, which was won impressively by the latter. That was a very small portion of the night, and had the potential to fall completely flat, but was ultimately quite exciting and had many in the audience wanting more of the same. Otherwise, the only thing by way of hip-hop performances in the lead-up to Danny Brown was a short set by Okmalumkoolkat who was incredible and really succeeded in getting the crowd sufficiently warmed up.

Danny Brown took to the stage with no announcement, taking some by surprise, though this style of introduction was probably to be expected. In keeping with his usual manner of performance, he was turned up to eleven from start to finish. This meant inevitably ignoring a considerable portion of his repertoire. Old was structured in two halves, the first side more contemplative and considered, the second a headfirst thrust into turned-up wonderland, and it was this second half that he mined for a large part of his set.

But every rush needs its build up, and this came in the form of ‘Wittit’ and his Araabmuzik collaboration ‘Molly Ringwald’. Photographers swarmed the pit to snap images of him clad in all black leather, commanding the stage with his antics and his trademark rolled-out tongue before they were kicked out when their allotted three-song slot was up. It was around this time that he moved into his more well-known territory (to the audience, at least), performing the cunnilingus-rap standout from 2011’s XXX, ‘I Will’. And things threatened to blow up when he broke into his most explicitly MDMA-inspired number, ‘Dip‘. By this stage, the crowd was jumping and moshing and rapping along, particularly in the front few rows. He didn’t address the crowd much, besides expressing the typical slightly-condescending but permissible-and-almost-mandatory awe at the fact that he’s known at all in this part of the world. Despite this, he still had a palpable connection with his audience, even with the sometimes-substandard sound quality that hampered lyrical audibility at times.

By far the standout was the back-to-back performance of XXX‘s ‘Blunt After Blunt’ and its sequel ‘Kush Coma’ off Old. The former had the entire crowd screaming the hook back while he accepted joints being passed up to him on stage, taking a few puffs of each and giving numerous fans the pleasure of having ‘SHARED WEED WITH DANNY BROWN’. It was one of the few true singalong moments of the concert and a definite highlight.

The event, while coming on the back of the three international concerts from last year, was still in many respects the first of its kind – particularly and directly targeted at a burgeoning Johannesburg scene that is well attuned to current international hip-hop trends. One need spend only a week there to know that it’s certainly the most savvy city in the country as far as constructing a self-conscious and progressive hip-hop-oriented scene is concerned. It’s a shame that there wasn’t more talent on show – whether this speaks to an organisational failure or a poverty of artists to put on display is unclear, though the slickness of the show as a whole points more toward the latter. Bringing in top international artists is pivotal, but its real value would lie in the creation and fostering of a creative and collaborative scene of MCs. If that scene already exists, then it would do well to get actively involved in future such happenings. If it doesn’t, then the time is ripe for it to begin. Either way, its conspicuous absence couldn’t detract from what was a great gig and stellar overall experience. Hopefully, unlike Danny Brown who ended his set as abruptly as he started it after only just under an hours, adidas Originals will respond to the crowd’s palpable desire for more.

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