Sound Academy, Toronto, March 15th
We’re standing in a furnace-hot lakefront venue packed with arm-waving hipsters. The occasion precedes the release of ‘The OF Tape Vol 2’ next Tuesday, a new LP amassing the collective’s considerable talents. Snappers are banned (though an exception is made for NME) after a photographer tried to sue the group when Left Brain allegedly assaulted her at the Voodoo Experience fest late last year. The enigmatic Earl Sweatshirt, meanwhile, appears to be back in the studio, but doesn’t show tonight – though he does appear onstage in New York a week later. Oh, and a student from Wisconsin high school Kettle Moraine was recently arrested for spray-painting ‘Radicals’’ “Kill people/Burn shit/Fuck school” lyric onto a wall, leading parents to withdraw their kids amid not unreasonable fears that the perpetrator intended to, y’know, kill people and burn shit.
It’s fair to say that Tyler Okonma and co have made a desperate scramble to escape mediocrity by any means whatsoever – a journey which has by turns been visceral and vomit-inducing. One thing is certain: Tyler is an aggravator. He’s not saying it’s right, he’s just saying it. And if Odd Future’s success can be measured in anticipatory buzz (or record sales, for that matter), it’s working a treat.
Post-performance, for example, sweat-browed teens will while away the subway ride home banging on about the recently leaked new LP, bickering over which is the group’s slickest wordsmith (the absent Earl, goes the consensus). Which is hardly surprising: in Toronto, a well-mannered indie utopia, you can’t escape the impression that hip-hop royalty Odd Future are in possession of a big red button that might spark something rather spectacular tonight.
And, whaddyaknow, that impression proves accurate from the get-go. Flailing about in a zip-up grey hoodie, Tyler – limber despite the pink cast on his right arm, a souvenir from a playful scrap with Left Brain – storms on with a wonky bravado that’s inhuman and infectious. He starts with a blaring ‘Sandwitches’, his beatsman Taco (filling in for Syd Tha Kid) standing atop a raised platform, grinding out a dirge to match the twisted tales of Tyler’s fatherless upbringing – Odd Future’s most coherent mission statement to date. “The Golf Wang hooligans/Fuckin’ up the school again/And showing you and yours that breaking rules is fucking cool again”, he deadpans, before a scatty, antsy Hodgy Beats pogos in and swans across the stage for a savage second verse.
Throughout this, the perennially fuckupable concept of a live hip-hop ensemble niggles, and yet, while the rappers’ hollers muddy into each other too easily, there’s action enough for sound issues to take a backseat. Ripping off his hoodie to reveal a white tank top, Tyler (whose ma is half-Canadian) takes a moment’s respite to unravel a Maple Leaf flag inscribed with the legend ‘Golf Wang’ and a black cross. And although Odd Future are considered a proactively troublesome lot, it’s when a mellow Left Brain asks “How many people here smoke WEED?” while shamelessly producing a joint, that the crowd ignite. “This is for you,” he assures, calmly placing his shades on and blazing into Domo Genesis’ anthemic ‘Rolling Papers’. Pockets of moshers and crowdsurfers erupt. One man stumbles out of the action clutching a bloodied nose. A single shoe hurtles directly towards NME’s feet.
Unlike on record, where fidgety, manic wordplay makes the whole ultraviolence thing bearable, what sparkles onstage is their psychotic euphoria: rarely is such demented glee rendered so vividly, at least not in music, and for those unfazed by the echoes of “bitch” littering every idle moment, that wormy pleasure is what makes the transgression elsewhere seem novel and attractive.
After a few minutes of potentially overwrought promotion for the new LP (“Pleeease buy it!” an anonymous voice cackles from onstage – a far cry from back in the day, when the Tumblr-bound miscreants prided themselves on their free music policy) it’s down to the crowd to belt out a roof-raising ‘Yonkers’. Tyler launches himself two metres into the audience, gurning like a rabid lizard struggling with a vigorous dependence on anabolic steroids. Left Brain and Hodgy Beats’ typically brilliant, sinister ‘The OF Tape Vol 2’ contribution as Mellowhype, ‘50’, meanwhile, draws high praise from the de facto mainman. “That song makes me want to fight every motherfucker,” Tyler pants gravely, sounding uncannily like Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black, before politely requesting our middle fingers for a charming rendition of ‘Goblin’ cut ‘Bitch Suck Dick’.
And it works: aside from the weirdly lame finale ‘Radicals’, whose refrain the whole room bellows back like lobotomised students enjoying a guest assembly from Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, there’s something striking here. Rather than bringing the cold, abject depravity home, the unshakeable reality of the live Odd Future experience – and make no mistake, it is an experience - actually amplifies the point that, heck, these people are unhinged performers, but better that than insane diarists, as they’re often mistaken.
As if to prove a point, Tyler concludes with a rare moment of lucidity, bowing and thanking us for our enduring support. And as we’re reminded, once more, that ‘The OF Tape Vol 2’ hits shops next Tuesday, the feeling is that, sure, the wealth of peculiar, puppyish enthusiasm
afforded these knee-jerk ironists is likely symptomatic of shaky times, rather than simply great music. But also, it takes an oddly noble strand of oddly artful music, such as Odd Future’s, to capitalise on these times so powerfully.
Of course, what really matters is that, to the immense disappointment of righteous OF-sceptics everywhere, the boy Tyler never did piss himself. In spite of appearances, deep down, you just know he’s far too dignified for that.
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