On Saturday night Manchester belonged to one man, Skepta. Fresh from last month’s well deserved Mercury Prize, the Godfather of grime brought album Konnichiwa and a host of the Boy Better Know crew out for one hell of a night.
I thought our first visit to the Warehouse Project was a busy night, but this was on another level as a sell out crowd filled every nook and cranny of the venue. The energy of the expectant crowd was unbelievable, prompting DJ Plastician to remind them “guys, this is just the warm up!” which only spurred the revellers on.
After a storming set Plastician slowly slipped off stage to make way for CASisDEAD. Another MC to hail from Tottenham, CASisDead brought out the whole Dead Team crew to totally takeover the stage. As CAS spit some fierce lyrics, the rest of the team had the time of their lives bouncing round stage, filming one another and the crazy, sweat drenched crowd. It was just as hot on stage, with CAS halting proceedings to get a drink and a towel “cos I’m sweatin ma bollocks off up ‘ere!” The crowd was up there with the most energetic I’ve been immersed in, egged on by the Dead Team intermittently showering them in water and almost conducting the mosh pits.
Next up was another DJ set from BBK’s Maximum which continued to ramp up the excitement in the room for the later acts. It was 00:45 at this point but you could have mistaken it for two hours earlier. Maximum played many tracks from his mix for OVO Sound Radio on Apple Music following this year’s BRITs and remained on stage to DJ for the rest of the night; first for Frisco and then Giggs.
Pride of Peckham, MC Giggs has been dropping some of the best rap and grime in the UK since 2008 and his third album Landlord is by far his most polished, by his standards anyway, so far, earning him critical acclaim. Despite the build up to his set, Giggs seemed genuinely in awe of the crowd that roared as he stood and soaked it all up with a childish grin. While many in the crowd were familiar with his earlier work, Giggs was more than happy to show off his new album opening with The Blow Back and had the crowd in full participation with the chorus on Clipped Him.
While he didn’t throw himself around as much has the rest of BBK, Giggs let his energy out through his flows, taking a little respite on the chorus of Lock Doh, cupping his ear to listen intently to the crowd. Before leaving the stage, Giggs once again showed his love for the crowd and the rest of BBK, having proven why he is up there with best MCs in the UK.
At 2:45AM some of the crowd were showing signs of tiredness, but everyone was ready for the main man to finally take the stage. The room was plunged into darkness, but for a smattering iPhone flashes and his name in red LEDs, as opening track Konnichiwa welcomed Skepta. As he took in the applause from the crowd, it was clear Skepta remained as humble as ever, a man unchanged by the “mad pressures” of the last twelve months. Before launching back into the set proper with That’s Not Me, Skepta had a little heart-to-heart with the crowd, telling us we’d be hearing a lot from his “new album” Konnichiwa; prompting my mate David to turn to me sarcastically and say, “oh really, tell us more…” before he lost his mind.
After a trio of tracks from his latest album, Skepta asked for the lights to go up so he could “see where the energy crew, old school man” were at before rolling things back with Ace Hood Flow from EP Blacklisted. As he went in, the crowd shouting back every single lyric, he signalled to Maximum to restart as he acknowledged to passion of everyone in Store Street. Skepta quickly switched it back to this year’s album with Numbers before sending everyone crazy by bringing out Wiley (ahead of his own set on November 11th) for Corn on the Curb. At this point most of BBK were on and around the stage, what better time to take it back to 2009 with Too Many Man; I was immediately transported to countless post-A Level parties, albeit with far less bemused Catholic school girls in the crowd.
Before a blistering trio to close the set, and effectively end the night, Skepta took another opportunity to show his love and appreciation for where he is today and how much the night meant to him. This prompted many in the crowd to break character and politely applause the man from Tottenham, my mate expressing his love of how he “hasn’t changed one bit” in reference to Skepta’s choice of hat and aviator goggles. The penultimate song of the night was the one everyone had been waiting for, Shutdown. And it did just that, after Skepta wound it back after the appropriate lyrics “pick up the mic and it’s reload time.” The crowd finally met fever pitch (at 3:30AM) producing an all out mosh pit that I thankfully managed to escape having taken up a vantage point to the side.
Skepta finished the night with Man, inviting as many of BBK onto stage as possible to enjoy the close of what was a masterful performance and homage to possibly the biggest act in the UK at the moment. Skepta was the last man on stage and looked like a kid at Christmas has he was showered with praise, lights from countless cameras and shaking as many outstretched hands as possible in-between the overly aggressive security.
Before the show David and I were slightly bemused at the exclusion of Manchester’s grime hero Bubzy Malone. But the whole of Boy Better Know, led by man of the moment Skepta, showed Manchester where grime came from and exactly who is driving this genre forward. What a night, what a collective, what a crowd, what a man; Skepta we salute you.
Photos by Joe Smith
Words by HQ