There’s a big noise in East Croydon. Pensioners, buggy-pushers and shoppers stop in their tracks, entranced by the deep, narcotic dub grooves and the voice saying “come closer to the stage, we’re about to make waves” emanating from the mysterious black edifice that has been slowly growing out of the side of the station for months. This is Boxpark Croydon, sister-piece to the famed Shoreditch retail and dining complex – for the uninitiated, imagine the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but with an array of chic shipping container-sized eateries and boutique shops inside rather than a psychedelic 60’s space headfuck. And the voice is that of TAILR.MDE.LVN’s Jamell, opening NME’s Future Sounds Of London one-day showcase of the capital’s best rising talent by wandering the crowd luring people forward with psych ragga raps that suggest they’re putting something special in the Lebanese tapas.
Touting subaqueous bass and minimalist scuttlebeats, Jamell and partner in rhyme M create an intoxicating dub brew that delves into loverman R&B, narcotic trip-hop and general acid-rap sauciness – “black clothes or naked?” they ask us before we’ve even had a chance to neck our first stiffening jam jar of passion fruit mojito. Our ganders up, it’s down to Alfa Mist to do the serious seduction work with their jazzy lounge pieces so cosy that bassist Kaya appears to have come in her dressing gown. One track is even called ‘Brian’ – from the sounds of it the most chilled Brian ever to walk the earth.
East London’s Barney Artist – “but I love South London, so don’t shoot me” – has created a unique blend of soul groove and UK rap attack that no-one in their right mind will ever call groul, but tells us he has a dream of being a full-blown grime MC. Hence he whips Croydon into a finger pistol-waving frenzy during ‘Beep Beep’, the energised centre-point of a rousing set taking in hop-hip odes to the mean streets of, um, Forest Gate, a lesson in the shit-there’s-a-mouse dance and a sudden drop of Montel Jordan’s ‘This Is How We Do It’, a #lifehack for instantly igniting any dancefloor.
A2 weaves some skunk dub witchcraft, pacing the stage referencing Macbeth in ‘Double Double’ and muttering “please don’t fall asleep, you might wake up in my dreams” like a rather more romantic Freddie Kruger. Then Nova Twins blow the Box apart with their urban punk amalgam of Skunk Anansie, Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kelis in full “I hate you so much right now!” mode. “We’re coming for you so I guess you’d better run,” yowls singer Amy Love, a future rap-rock goddess who sings as though on the verge of bursting, but nobody’s running; after storming set-closer ‘Hitlist’ self-declares these riot twins the “topic of the day” (and how), the crowd is left chanting “one more song!” and starting gymnastic dancing circles to expel any remaining pent up energy. Pump this lot into the nation’s Fitness Firsts, it seems, and Britain will be two-thirds Olympian in no time.
Finally, Jay Prince brings sensitive, summery vibes to chilly Croydon, pouring his soul over slick R&B on ‘Homecoming/Love Is’ (“I’m just coping”) and De La Soul grooves on ‘4U/Lately’ (“I’m just not the one for you”). His experimental bent is confined to the rubberised bounce of ‘Cruisin’’; instead he leans on tracks from his brilliant new ‘Smile Good’ mixtape and crowd-pleasers such as his breakout low-riding rap track ‘Polaroids’, Party Prince winning the day. This noise is only getting bigger…