Bucket lists are popular things and it seems quite a lot of people have one. I’m no exception to that, I’m afraid. Among all the captivating adventures, breathtaking destinations, lofty career ambitions, wildly imaginative artistic projects, and curious culinary dishes that I have yet to tuck into are music festivals that I’m desperate to attend and legions of my all-time favourite artists that I want to see perform live before my earthly vessel pulls into Death’s port and drops anchor for the final time. So when the opportunity to see hip-hop’s living legends Public Enemy at Electric Brixton on Saturday gone (7 June) presented itself in a very unique package, I was primed and ready to cross another favourite artist off my screed.
Not since November 2012 have I set foot inside Electric Brixton (formerly known as Fridge, if your history is up to snuff) and not since Rock The Bells 2008 at Bicentennial Park in Miami have my younger brother and I shared the same space as the hip-hop icons we grew up listening to. Only this time, he’d be performing; bringing his patented brand of raw and ferocious energy to the masses and continuing to add prestigious names and top events to his CV as his career in the music industry burgeons. Such is life for MTA Records’ Knytro these days. We arrived during load-in and soundcheck, greeting Public Enemy’s band members and various members of technical and promotional staff in the process. Knytro and DJ Dansey hit the stage to sort their respective levels and equipment out and after a few runs, everyone was happy. Soon after, fellow support act Blue Daisy took to the stage to get his soundcheck done and while his grime-with-a-seriously-experimental-edge tunes flooded every crevice in the venue, I got to snapping a few photos and shot a couple Vines. Before I knew it, Electric was filling up and it was showtime.
If you’ve never seen Knytro in action, there is one word that adequately encapsulates his live performances: relentless. Once the house lights dim down and the DJ kicks off proceedings, Knytro goes hammer and tongs into his aggressive and adrenaline-pumping opener ‘Tower Champ.’ Already , people wandering about the house floors (lower and upper) are drawn straight into the tantalising performance like moths to a flame. After a resounding undertaking of the boom-bap banger ‘Brooklyn,’ Knytro decides it’s time to switch things up and give people a taste of what’s to come from his forthcoming EP The Griffin. Dansey tees him up and Knytro hits it for six; the track ‘Capone’ goes down a treat with the audience. By the time H.U.H. drops, I’m struggling to keep my focus behind the lens as I’m dancing and rapping along like no one’s watching. After another medley of tunes, Knytro wraps up with the tune that launched his career to levels previously unfathomed. ‘Still Standing’ gets loads of hands bouncing and plenty of people moving, so much so that Dansey decides to pull up the tune, wheel, and come again. It was a damn good performance, throughly acknowledged by the crowd’s whoops and cheers.
Once Knytro’s set concluded, the aurally courageous Blue Daisy got started. I’d never heard Blue Daisy before this evening but quickly noted his Busdriver-eqsue asymmetrical flow and his dark, menacing, and brooding beats both during soundcheck and the actual show. It certainly left a distinct influence on observers. I concurred with someone near me at the time, who remarked that he felt Blue Daisy was still exploring his sound and artistic direction. Nevertheless, to have bagged a support slot for Public Enemy and leave a reasonably engaging performance on the night is something that even those put off by Blue Daisy’s avant-garde sound cannot take away from him. I say fair play to the lad.
I made my way to the back again and found myself running into a certain Flava Flav, who was making his way to his dressing room. It was on his way back out having a cigarette that he greeted us all (“What’s goin’ on, my brothers?”) and obliged our request to have a photo with him under one condition: “Just let me do Flav and then y’all can get this picture,” he said while simultaneously exhaling smoke. We respected his wishes and soon the pleasantries then evolved into full-blown conversation, cracking a few jokes and sharing a few sentiments about what we were looking forward to doing. I recall Flav briefly speaking about his admiration for London, something that he’d talk about again during an interlude during P.E.’s set (he calls London “my second home”). Finishing up his cigarette, he called for us to snap a quick photo and went back to his dressing room. I discovered Chuck D was out in the front earlier, chatting with other P.E. fans. My immediate instinct was to head over there but in the end, I decided against it and it was a good thing that I didn’t. It was finally time to experience exactly what I’ve seen in residuals via the television and graphically imagined in my head whenever I listened to Fear Of A Black Planet back in the day on my CD player on my way to school. Public Enemy were about to rock this place straight off the foundation it was built on.
DJ Lord was already set up and ready to go and so were the P.E. soldiers, dressed in their familiar camouflaged combat fatigues and ready for action. The overture kicked through the house speakers and Electric Brixton became a cauldron of noise which swelled into a rapturous applause when Chuck D took the stage. Everyone – and I do mean everyone- had their right fist raised in the air. For a moment, I diverted my attention from the stage and stood in amazement as I marvelled upon the pagentry. I’d have snapped one of the most iconic photos of the night were it not for my being hypnotised by it all. Chuck D didn’t just hold it down, he controlled proceedings. His presence, flow, and cadence on the mic was at the top of his game; so much so, I had to remind myself that P.E. have been doing this a full four years before I was even born (1982). You’ll notice that I haven’t said Chuck D and Flava Flav controlled proceedings and that’s because each of them were brought out separately. When Flav did hit the stage, he came out to overjoyed adulation. Flav had a bit of a natter with the crowd and then decided it was time to get it in. “We gon’ start this shit off with the most sampled voice in music history… YEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAH BOOOOYYYYYYIEEEEEEEEEEEE!”
With that said and done, P.E. got back to business and business was booming. Following Chuck D’s blistering start, Flava Flav matched his counterpart’s intensity with gusto and his trademark bravado. From start to finish, Public Enemy’s vitality never looked like wavering through the entire set as they made heads ring and bodies collide to anthems like Public Enemy No. 1, Fight The Power, Don’t Believe The Hype, Harder Than You Think, Bring the Noise, and so much more. Flav kicked both a bass and a drum solo, the latter catching me off-guard as I had no idea Flav could rock a drum kit like he did. DJ Lord got a moment to show why he’s a force to be reckoned with (as if his championship credentials don’t speak for themselves), cutting up Rage Against The Machine’s Bulls On Parade on the wheels of steel like a Ginsu knife.
All good things coming to an end, I made my way to the back in the hopes I’d run into Chuck D before I had to head back to my humble abode but I had no such luck. I did however manage to have a quick chat with Khari Wynn and Davey D before they left the venue, congratulating them both on a great set. On the way back to my cousin’s car, I mentally drew a line through ‘Public Enemy’ on my bucket list as that legendary sample from Harder Than You Think played on loop in my head. Trust me, folks: the Cheshire Cat’s grin didn’t have shit on mine that night.