Sjooshi are promoting a lot of parties this summer. Nu:Tone and colleagues on Cup Eve was a night of sweaty madness, and Mr Scruff’s five hour set at Revolver promises to be absolutely massive. But the biggest tour that Sjooshi are embarking on would have to be the Jazzbop vs Hiphop Festival, repeating itself over two nights and possessing a huge line-up of international and local stars. So, where to begin with a night like this? Let’s start with the name: What exactly is jazzbop these days? Something between chilled deep house and jazz fusion seems like the best summation. I’m not sure how it competes with Hiphop in an event like this, but there you have it.
I had high hopes for this event but I think that the event was held back by a lack of punters, which severely limited the vibe of the night; coupled with some sets that lacked structure and mediocre sound quality meant that the night, while well received wasn’t up the expectations that it had built up.
The structure of the event was odd, with many of the international acts teaming up which was the only way to see them all in one night. Also the jazzbop style acts all played at the start of the night and then the hiphop acts finished the evening off. It would have been interesting to have them alternate, highlighting the similarities and differences of the two genres.
When I entered the Prince of Wales at around ten, the cavalcade of internationals had already begun with Russ Dewsbury playing some laid back sounds while people milled around. The venue was quite empty at this point with no-one at all on the Prince’s sunken dancefloor, everyone preferring to socialise and chin-scratch in corners, or on the couches. The venue was looking very nice, with numerous large posters showcasing the Yok’s distinctive characters, and projections rolling on couple of walls.
The dancefloor filled instantly when the Quantic Soul Orchestra stepped onto the stage. Bringing in members of The Bamboos, the Orchestra consisted of seven musicians, all in very snappy suits, and the very talented vocalist Alice Russell. This team laid down some very jazzy offerings that got people shuffling around. Catchy guitar riffs and a nicely delivered brass section went down a treat and each of the musicians teased the crowd, backing away from full-blown jazz solos just when you thought it was about to set loose, choosing instead to keep the groove flowing. The sound quality was sadly lacking at this point in the night, with the midrange sounding muddy and diffused. Russell’s vocals suffered a little from this, though she still sounded strong and confident, moving through few numbers, both her own and others, including a particularly nice White Stripes cover.
The Orchestra’s set ended far too soon, though we finally got the drum solos that I’d been anticipating (certainly worth the wait) and then the musicians filed off the stage and were replaced with the Quantic DJs. This represented a complete departure from the posted set times, which suggested that the next act should be Steinski and DJ Signify. A fair proportion of the crowd started leaving as soon as the Quantic Soul Orchestra finished, possibly because it was a weeknight, and perhaps because they were just there for the jazzbop, which was scheduled to have finished at this point.
The Quantic DJs played a set that was initially characterised by funky hiphop sounds, but then moved into a more latin/jazzy house sound. Despite the sudden drop in numbers, the dancefloor kept moving, though the vibe was much reduced and the set, which had started strongly began to feel somewhat directionless as time went on.
After a little more than half an hour of the Quantic DJs, Steinski and DJ Signify took over on stage. Though Steinski has some serious old skool credentials, the equipment being used was anything but. Signify was scratching on a CDJ deck, while Steinski was pumping beats out of an Apple Powerbook. The sound these two produced was interesting; massive basslines being dropped over classic vocal samples and all kinds of scratching and cutting in between. Of particular note was classic sound of the theme from Shaft being augmented by a fresh bassline and some serious turntablism. Once again the set suffered a little from a lack of direction, the energy of crowd didn’t really seem to be behind the duo and they weren’t really sure how to get it.
This all changed when The Nextmen began their DJ set, with Dynamite MC talking them up on the mic. It was clear why these guys are considered by many to be the hottest hiphop producers to come out of England in a long time, with a full-blown mix of classic and modern hiphop being thrown around on four turntables and two CDJs. But hiphop wasn’t all that was in the mix, the Nextmen were more than happy to play with their genres with everything from Mr Scruff (who’ll be here very soon) to Cypress Hill getting thrown down, with the moment when AC/DC got mixed perfectly into Missy Elliot being particularly awe-inspiring. MC Dynamite cut his teeth on drum ‘n’ bass and seeing him in action it’s clear that his hiphop MC style still owes a lot to it. In an outfit that looked almost like a caricature of ghetto style (right down to the sideways cap) he spat lyrics thick and fast, sometimes augmenting the lyrics on records being played, sometimes freestyling off the top of his head. Trademark calls, such as the “Heeeeere we go!” that sounded so good on his teamup with Origin Unknown, Hotness, weren’t in short supply as he strutted around on stage, unashamedly flirting with the local ladies.
The night’s wind up began with the Nextmen putting on Dynamite’s most well-known recording, Roni Size/Reprazent’s Brown Paper Bag. “Are there any junglists inside the room?” enquired Dynamite, though since I was one of two people who responded I think it’s safe to assume that most of them were at Bryan G’s gig at the Lounge. This may have contributed to the unenthused rendition he gave of it, which lacked his usual limitless enthusiasm. A few more tracks got played, and then the Nextmen stopped and the houselights came up. It was only two-thirty but the most of the crowd, which never had the venue feeling comfortably full, had already left and one could hardly blame the Nextmen for finishing their very fine set an hour early.
On the whole the vibe throughout the night had been subdued and while the crowd did seem to know their stuff and were certainly interested in the music, they didn’t really get down to it as much as I would have liked. Everyone did seem to have a good time; it just wasn’t the party atmosphere I had been expecting from the night. I don’t think that the two genres complimented each other overly well, and this meant that while most of the music was very good, it left the night feeling somewhat disjointed. I would be interested to have seen how a larger, more up-for-it crowd would have handled it on the following performance on Friday night; I feel sure the artists would have stepped up to the occasion and made it a night to remember. As it was, the Thursday night event was a nice attempt yet ultimately forgettable.
PS. Don’t forget to check out the individual shows that the Jazzbop vs Hiphop artists are playing at First Floor over the next week.