...live UK garage and bloodshed don't always go hand in hand...
8.15pm – The scenes outside the Hackney Ocean suggest
that east London has become the centrepoint of the complete
collapse of Western civilisation, rather than just the
third date of the MTV-sponsored Five Night Stand. There
are guards with pitbulls, bowtied Nation Of Islam members
selling ‘The Final Call’, police cars circling and crowds
of immaculately dressed women milling around a security
system that makes Pentonville Prison look positively slipshod.
Welcome to UK garage night.
8.20 – After passing through an airport-style metal
detector, emptying out our bags and enduring a frisk
so thorough we’re now probably carrying the bouncer’s
children, NME is through.
8.25 – Imagining that the evening would run on
classically tardy garage time, we’re an hour late.
Unfortunately, we didn’t bank on the TV crews
insistence that everything runs to a strict timetable.
This means that we’ve missed PAs from mucky So
Solid-aligned duo The Reelists, ex-con turned
crooner Felon and nu-junglists Shy FX and T Power.
But then again, so has most of the audience – the
hall is about a third full. Thanks also to the
cameras and general air of repression, the atmosphere
is subdued to say the least. Even the four blokes
jigging about on the balcony can’t get the party started.
8.30 – Pay As U Go take the stage, a 10-strong
collective from down the road in Leyton. They’re
determined to at least grab our attention – you can
feel the basslines in your throat, while their
attire comprises bright orange trackies and
pristine white flat caps, rendering them unlikely
to be run over on the way home.
8.45 – After an invigorating blast of Bubba
Sparxxx’s ‘Ugly’, JMC and Valiant Crew (replacing
the More Fire Crew – who were chucked out because
they had too many bodyguards!) step in to the
breach with a combination of old-school hip hop
and garage all too obviously cobbled together at
the last minute.
8.50 – The two good Sugababes are in the bar! Things are looking up.
9.00 – MJ Cole plays a reliable DJ set while Pay As U Go throw mad shapes.
9.15 – NME discovers that the bands have had to
pass through another metal detector [I]on their
way onto the stage[/I]. Great – no wonder things
have been so sulky. Are the Super Furries in for
the same treatment tomorrow night? Doubtful.
9.30 – Headliners Oxide & Neutrino come on and
finally we can get excited. The hall is now full,
the crowd is hyped, and O&N are looking fine in
burgundy leather overalls (Oxide) and a tasty
gold specs/black tank top combo (Neutrino). Unlike
everyone else, they have a band, film projections
and dancers. Oxide plonks an open bottle of Cristal
by the decks and cues up ‘Only Wanna Know U Cos Ur
Famous’. It’s automatically the most thrilling and
menacing thing that’s happened this side of the metal
9.40 – The dancers come back on in orange flak jackets and
wave sticks about like, well, Morris dancers. It’s a
black inner city urban recontextualisation of white
rural traditions, as they’d say on Newsnight Review.
9.50 – The massive security presence is automatically
explained by the emergence of the core members of So
Solid Crew. Kaish (AKA The One With The Scary Eyes) is
joined by Swiss, Megaman (waving a bottle of Tattinger
rather than Cristal – is he down on his luck or something?),
Romeo and Lisa Maffia. They crash into the Prodigy-sampling
‘No Good (Start The Dance)’.
9.55 – Er, that’s it. Everyone files backstage, probably for another strip search.
10.00 – There’s a solo Oxide DJ spot. He plays
drum ‘n’ bass, to the crowd’s rowdy appreciation.
10.10 – …and a costume change for Neutrino (into Mickey
Mouse t-shirt and different jeans). Speculation in the
audience about their relative sexual prowess is now rampant.
10.20 – Tune! It’s ‘Up Middle Finger’!
10.25 – Double tune! It’s ‘Rap Dis’, for which So Solid
make a reappearance. All is furrowed-brow menace on the
video screen behind, which luckily obscures the fact that
some of the lyrics are aimed at those notorious gangstas,
S Club 7.
10.29 – A very rockist drum roll… and that’s about the
size of things. A strange night: that South Central
LA-via-the number 73 bus atmos and level of security
that would’ve made Hannibal Lecter feel at home took the
edge off the audience’s fun, but at least it proved to
tabloid hacks and edgy promoters that live UK garage and
bloodshed don’t always go hand in hand.