Bodies – shirtless, contorted – slap the wooden floor and crab-walk across it. They’re clearing a space in the middle of a seething crowd. Bodies – of every gender and race – are pushed to the fray while some somersault through the empty area. Bodies – tensed, maniacal, frenzied, sweaty – ready themselves. And then they collapse into each other with an unmatched intensity; skin-on-skin like folded batter forming one gigantic, impenetrable mass. Some of them fall to the ground, helped up and then they’re directed to mosh all over again by the force on stage: slowthai.
The Northampton rapper, born Ty Frampton, is in London at a converted leisure centre and boxing ring, York Hall, in East London. Alongside balaclava-clad sidekick Kwes Darko – his DJ, producer, and hype-man – slowthai has performed for the crowd with an intense, rambunctious passion. It’s the last stop on his Brexit Bandit Tour and he manages, despite technical difficulties, to put on a show that his young and energetic crowd will be banging on about for some time.
No wonder, they made some entrance. The duo walked into the boxing-ring-and-converted-stage donning boxing robes. They’re introduced by an announcer – who calls Frampton “The King Of England; the grand master of disaster” – while ‘God Save The Queen’ plays in the background.
Despite only putting out two EP’s and a slew of singles, slowthai’s hour-long set never loses momentum. To kick thing off, he runs through bruising anthems like ‘GTFMOF’, ‘North Nights’ and ’T N Biscuits’. As has become a tradition in his live shows, he eventually strips down to his underwear and socks, crowd-surfing multiple times. They enter the crowd at will, create mosh pits and boxing circuits. During the evening, slowthai’s go-to chants of ‘Fuck Brexit’ and ‘Fuck Theresa’ fill the air; the latter surfaces multiple times with slowthai splitting the crowd to scream it.
Mid-set, though, slowthai is visibly rattled as the technical issues persist. He asks for more bass and receives something tepid, for him. Rather than getting angry, he turns around and looks up at the upper deck where his close family are most definitely in his corner. It’s this beguiling belief in himself and his family, his incredulity that he’s still here, touring, performing, and playing in London, that makes his audience want him more.
He hits the crowd with memorable tunes like ‘Doorman’, ‘Drug Dealer’ and ‘Peace of Mind’. Never mind that you can’t hear his verses because of the sound system; the crowd are chanting along with each word. And it’s the chorus that matters as more and more mosh pits are created, each folding and collapsing into one another. They seemed to have formed a life-force of their own. It’s a spectacle: of sweat, energy, skin, cathartic anger, but mostly, a sense of tight-knit community.
slowthai conducts the seething mass of bodies with the knowledge that he has each and every one of them entranced. That’s what Ty Frampton manages to do: break down the distance between audience member and performer. He repeatedly thanks everyone, gushes praise for the crowd and bear-hugs people at the front. He wants the crowd as involved as possible. Ty sees himself reflected in each of the bodies attending. They’re transfixed by his every word, screaming along with him, stomping their feet at just the right parts —they embody his songs, hanging onto what he’ll say next, spellbound and captivated.