Camden Barfly, London, July 30
One of the many thrilling things about grime is its rapid evolution. These days you’re as likely to hear it while walking round a shopping centre or at and Olympic shindig as you are a festival or rave. Take tonight. Upstairs at indie-rock haven the Camden Barfly is the last place you’d expect to see the godfather of grime performing. Even less likely is that Wiley’s blaring out a song about sunshine while it rains outside.
But then, the guy’s eccentric. When he’s not dismissing interviews as he’s in the middle of them, he’s not turning up for them – as happened to us tonight. When he’s not doing that, he’s Ustreaming himself jogging, or refusing to appear in his own music videos, as he did for ‘Wearing My Rolex’ in 2008. The 33-year-old has the kind of unpredictable personality the pop world badly lacks. So it’s probably a good thing that the lynchpin of grime – he helped define the genre with the seminal single ‘Wot Do U Call It?’ back in 2004 – is having another go at the charts. Because, y’know, he’s Wiley.
Tonight we get a selection of his glossier hits, from ‘Wearing My Rolex’ to ‘Take That’, some of his legendary freestyles, and his current track, ‘Heatwave’. Later he’s joined onstage by his grime collective Roll Deep, who pass the mic around to the classic grime instrumental ‘Eskimo’ in the spirit of an authentic gathering. Throughout the show Wiley’s energy levels rise and fall, and towards the end he mumbles something to the crowd then hastily disappears.
The musical journey he’s on is as wayward as his onstage persona. With Wiley you suspect his real interests lie away from club tracks, like in reinstating his status as a grime legend by continuing to put on his reformed and resurgent Eskimo Dance nights at the 02. He shows up every time to those, and plays none of his hits. But hey, if everything goes to plan
and ‘Heatwave’ takes off, pop will have its very own eccentric to embrace. But one question remains about the music: wot do u call it? The answer seems to be: anything but grime.