There’s a curious sound blaring out from The Other Stage: Thin Lizzy’s 1976 rock’n’roll anthem ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ mashed up with Rebound X’s haunting ‘Rhythm and Gash’, which JME and Skepta sampled on ‘Spaceship Freestyle’ an entire decade ago. Grime took over Glastonbury last year and now the genre’s biggest stars, London’s Boy Better Know, are back to do it again.
Skepta dominates this historic show, which boasts vital performances from fellow members Frisco, Jammer, DJ Maximum, Shorty, Wiley and JME. The Tottenham MC channels Liam Gallagher, entering the stage in a long jacket and bucket hat; dances around the Other Stage with a red umbrella to the sounds of recent non-album track ‘No Security’; and variously calls the crowd his “energy crew” and “you fucking legends”. Well, even he – surely – can’t have foreseen grime going head-to-head with Ed Sheeran to close Glastonbury in 2017.
BBK are fiercely DIY and distinctly no-frills, yet the collective are almost on equal footing with a man who’s sold more records than God himself. That would be achievement enough, even if this performance wasn’t an epochal, relentlessly energetic set that affords every member a fair crack of the whip. Skepta bounces through ‘Shutdown’ (“Man’s never seen The Other Stage when it’s shutdown!”) and ‘It Ain’t Safe’, while Jammer’s ‘Merkleman’ and ‘Dagenham Dave’ get airing; and JME stalks the stage through the likes of ’96 Fuckries’, ‘Don’t @ Me’ and ‘Work’.
The latter track, championing a tireless work ethic (“You gotta put in that work / Man are putting in work) is a key reminder that BBK have endured years of grind to close the second stage at the most famous festival in the world, even in the wilderness period before grime’s resurgence. Wiley bounds on to tear through ‘Can’t Go Wrong’, sharing a stage with the man name-checked in the line, “Skepta, that’s my brother / That’s my don”, underlining the fact that the grime’s stars have stuck together on the long road to Worthy Farm.
Although Skepta creates urgency, demanding a wider circle pit and earnestly telling the audience, “Fucking love you lot”, this is a pretty playful performance from a group whose sense of humour is sometimes overlooked. JME points at his corresponding footwear when he delivers the line, “I wear snowboard boots to a festival / You can’t talk to me about style”, while Jammer asks, “Where’s the alcohol massive!?”, the latter proving BBK know tonight’s crowd.
‘Man’ incites a massive moshpit, as does the pulverising set closer ‘Feed ‘Em To The Lions’. Having warmed to the theme he touched upon earlier, Skepta implores: “Everyone take that energy onto someone that needs it somewhere. Pass it on.” On this evidence, it seems inevitable that BBK will take that energy to a headline slot at the Pyramid Stage, sooner rather than later.