Are people at hip hop gigs actual fans or just there for the “banter”?
I don’t want to sound like a snob here – snobbery in hip hop never ends well – but I need to air this grievance and see if it’s just me or a problem for other people. This year, I’ve been to a number of gigs: J Dilla Changed My Life, Slaughterhouse, DOOM/Madlib and Flying Lotus, to name a few. In terms of my favourite crowd from those gigs, nothing topped the J Dilla crowd. They were like wolves out on a full moon and it was wild. That’s how I like them, people energised and ready to jam to the music. After all, it was J Dilla. But since then, I’ve been thoroughly disappointed by the quality of the “fans” who’ve come out to watch some of my favourite artists. My Slaughterhouse experience wasn’t the best. For a start, the sound quality at the venue was poor. Forgetting to bring earplugs, I had to endure the bass which was heavier than it should have been. Then, during the DJ sets before they came out, Dilla was dropped a few times. UK rapper Mystro was the host of the night and had to EXPLAIN to the crowd who he was. “Do you know who Jay Dee is?” Blank expressions. “I’m not talking about Jermaine Dupri.” How the hell are you coming to a Slaughterhouse concert when you don’t even know basic information like that? And Dilla has been more relevant after death than Jermaine Dupri has in a LONG time. I was amazed and a little pissed (being a big fan and all).
But this kind of foolishness continued. At the DOOM/Madlib gig in October, people were complaining about the length of Kutmah’s set. It was a pretty good set and while I wasn’t feeling everything he was playing, it was solid nonetheless. The guys in front of me were having a text conversation with one message particularly derogatory towards Kutmah. Hey guy, what planet are you from? When has the headliner for a hip hop gig ever started early or on time? When DOOM eventually came on, he blew the place away apart from one guy, aided with a tissue saying “Where is Viktor Vaughn?”. He never turned up but I was just grateful that DOOM bothered to show after the DOOMpostor debacle earlier this year. He left to roaring applause and now it was Madlib’s turn, with J.Rocc in tow. It was one of the last Medicine Show performances and I was stoked to see him. Now, there’s something you’ve got to know about Madlib and the Medicine Show albums he did last year: he goes by feeling and what he wants to do. He’s not a house DJ and he’s not an old school hip hop DJ. Anyone who had bothered to listen to the Medicine Show series would have known this because the mixes weren’t exactly “professional”, but that didn’t bother me. What it lacked in mixing technique, it more than made up for in track selection. Evidently, the crowd didn’t share this sentiment and there was a notable quiet amongst the audience when Madlib did his thing. He played his tracks, not mixing them in and out perfectly, with moments of silence during songs and twisting of knobs. I enjoyed the craftsmanship of it all and I found it inspiring. Others begged to differ. The next day, one person on Twitter called Madlib the worst DJ he’d ever seen. In Paris two nights later, there were more hecklers and both Madlib and J.Rocc both addressed them. When I spoke to my own Twitter followers about it, they couldn’t understand the animosity. They were on my side, knowing just what Madlib was like and they still loved him for it.
The Flying Lotus gig was a strange affair. I’m not one to typecast (much) but the crowd was filled with what you may call “hipsters”. Hipster with their girlfriends. Hipsters making out with their girlfriends while facing away from Flying Lotus performing. Now, if my girlfriend had been with me, I might have shared a kiss and a hug like anyone else. But full make out sessions at a gig you paid for? Get a room, you’re blocking my view! If that wasn’t enough, people were dancing furiously with their elbows and shoulders out. I got that the tunes were hyped up but even a small level of spacial awareness is required when you’re packed in tightly. Alas, this concept was unfamiliar to the guy next to me. Another thing I had noticed was how they seemed to move to some FlyLo tracks but not others, ie. the popular ones got more movement. I suppose that’s to be expected but in my cynical mind’s eye, that just seems like fakery. The “Dilla test” was a little better this time; SOME people danced but not many moved to Slum Village.
So, what’s my point? Well, I think a lot of people I see go to these gigs aren’t really “fans”. That sounds like a sweeping generalisation considering I’ve never spoken to any of these people but I have watched them and overheard their conversations while standing in queues. People have been in them purely to get tickets to sell on. Others seemed like using it as an excuse to get wasted. And when they’ve been inside, some of them have stood relatively still throughout whole concerts. The only thing that seems to stir them up is when a gig doesn’t go “their way”. I’ve never had a problem with a gig performance this year; I guess I’ve been lucky to enjoy all the artists I’ve seen but the crowds, in London at least, have been filled with people who would have been better off watching these live performances on YouTube or going to a nightclub. If I’m starting to sound like a snob, take a look at this video:
Yes, it’s Dilla again (hopefully this doesn’t sully the credibility of the post) but look at the crowd. If they were in a Dilla trance, fair play, but I don’t think they were. The white dude with the glasses looked like he was wiping sleep out of his eye at one point. These are amazing tunes coming from amazing artists and little or no emotion seems to be shown for it and yet if you go to Twitter or Facebook, they’re waxing lyrical about it and taking photos on Instagram. There’s also the question of knowing about the culture you’re immersing yourself in. As I said earlier, I had never been to a Slaughterhouse gig before so I was something of a virgin. I hadn’t even listened to a full project by them (wrist slap-worthy, I know) but I HAD listened to tracks from the individual members’ solo projects so I knew what to expect – hard knocking hip hop. Proper fans of Madlib would have known what to expect at his DJ set but apparently not. Maybe it’s different in other countries. I believe it to be much better in Europe and I hope to experience it out there one day so I can compare the atmospheres. Until then, I’m gonna stop going to these gigs alone so I can rant to someone else instead of the internet. Ah, who am I kidding? I’ll still rant on the internet. That’s what it’s there for, right?