If one thing can be taken fully and completely from Loyle Carner’s personal and heart-warming performance at London’s legendary venue KOKO; it’s that he’s a genuinely lovely fellow. Pure and simple, with none of the overly-confident swag that rap music usually bursts with. Even before the 21-year-old rapper graced the stage at his sold out show, there was a glittering and friendly atmosphere making its way around the burlesque decoration of the old theatre venue. Carner’s music can be described, in essence, as a blend of poetry, jazz and raw hip hop beats, all produced by Rebel Kleff, who was present, and also guest raps on a number of his tracks. Talking Heads frontman David Byrne once said that when you “take poetry and add a beat; you’ve got rap…well, not quite, but you know what I mean!”. This truth to the poetry form is no more apparent than in Carner’s lyrics, which often focus around his family, including his late father whom his current tour and a number of his tracks are dedicated too.

For hip hop fans, there is nothing more tantalising or energising than the sound of boom-bap drums coupled with a hard hitting bass. Support act and Camden’s own rap-duo Otha Soul brought this east-coast flavour to the grateful crowd in spades. Their Soulection-esque neo-soul sound was an instant hit with an audience, who were more than willing to be moved greatly by their music. As independent acts, Louis VI and Dozer Carter are both worth looking into also. Louis VI’s track ‘Freeparking’ brings out all the smooth sounds and droopy drum breaks that the aforementioned fans of the Soulection sound will love. Like for Carner, playing at KOKO was a dream come true for the thankful pair: “We’ve been dreaming of playing here since we were little kids” they gushed as they bounced around on the stage.

Loyle Carner’s whole act, including his set design are deeply personal to him. On the backdrop of the stage there hung a giant Eric Cantona football shirt, and an old arm chair with a bottle of whiskey is brought on as OthaSoul leave the stage. The Cantona shirt, which also gives its name to the tour, relates to Carners’s late father, who is the main subject of his track ‘BFG’. The final lyrics of this track are some of the simplest and most heart-breaking you’re ever likely to hear: “Everybody says I’m, f****** sad; of course I’m f****** sad, I miss my f****** dad”.

Rap music, from its fledgling-post jazz roots is a music of swag and boastfulness. There is nothing wrong with this, nor is it a criticism; music must, after all always be a beacon of self-expression and context, no matter what it’s content is. However, the confidence that Loyle Carner’s lyrics have, is the confidence that a personal story, anyone’s story, should always be treated as special, poignant and worth sharing.

As the rapper bounded onto the stage, the air was thick with whistles, cheers and more love than a heart as big as Carner’s can take. He tried to hold back the tears saying “I promised that I wouldn’t cry tonight, guys!”. His set, containing mostly songs from his ‘A Little Late’ EP, which includes songs about the rapper’s mother, heart-breaking encounters with old exes and the little sister that he always wished he had.

The show bounced along with at an energetic and happy pace, with the crowd behaving like it was Friday night, instead of Wednesday evening. Until a commotion in the middle of the crowd cut Carner short. “What’s going on?” he shouted, concerned by the sudden change in mood and movement. It turned out that a member of the crowd was lying on the ground, after having a sudden and violent seizure, and a large circle of philanthropic audience members had created a large circle around the man. When Carner was informed, he bounded off the stage shouting for security and medics to come down immediately. “My Dad had a very sudden seizure and he passed away. I really hope the guy’s alright man”. Carner looked extremely concerned as the man in the crowd was carried off by two paramedics, looking limp and lifeless.

It was a truly harrowing experience to see a large group of people go from elation to grief and concern so quickly. The show moved on after this, with an obviously diminished mood for a time. At least, until the news was delivered that the man was alive, talking and no-worse for wear. Carner exploded with happiness, adding a new dimension of celebration, hope and thankfulness to his performance. ”Can you bring him backstage after the show please?” he shouted, with all the hyperactive joy that has won him so many fans. Carner continued to do somersaults with his syntax, ending his rollercoaster of a show with confetti canons, brandished by OthaSoul who invaded the stage.

Truly, Carner’s show was an unexpected experience, literally full of highs and lows, tears and cheers. Much like Carner’s music, which never shies away from everyday extremes

Loyle Carner and Otha Soul - KOKO, London (5th October 2016)

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