Pyro, water pistols, Skepta – slowthai’s Brixton Academy show is a statement of arena-sized intent

Brixton Academy, London, October 18, 2019

At last month’s Mercury Prize ceremony, slowthai made one of the most visceral and memorable political statements in music this year, holding a dummy of Boris Johnson’s severed head aloft after his performance of ‘Doorman’.

The Northampton rapper’s intense hatred of the Prime Minister has also become a mantra for his young, fired-up fanbase, and choruses of “Fuck Boris!” ring around Brixton Academy before Tyron Frampton even hits the stage tonight.

It’s the last we hear of Johnson tonight, though. While slowthai’s made political conversation and discontent the focal point of many of his shows this year, tonight he decides to hammer home the positives, instead.

“These mirrors,” the rapper says half way through the show, pointing to the wall of reflection that adorns the back of the stage, “are here to show you something great about Britain.” Beaming are back at him are 5,000 faces all witnessing the next step in the rise of a rapper who’s set to go much, much further than this. Tonight feels special, but the overwhelming feeling is one of it still simply being a stepping stone.

“We’ll see you at Ally Pally,” slowthai says as he departs after a raucous hour-long set, confirming that Brixton is far from the end. What it is, though, is a statement of arena-sized intent from the rapper.

Across the hour, highlights come in the form of scything Denzel Curry collaboration ‘Psycho’ and the bullish ‘IDGAF’, the latter of which sees the crowd doused by a pair of water pistols from either side of the stage. It’s everything  slowthai is becoming so adored for, simultaneously cheeky, unhinged and fun. Skepta also makes a (somewhat understated) appearance for ‘Inglorious’, handing over the baton to a new generation while greeted like a returning hero. The song’s greeted by spits of pyro, a far cry from the bare bones live show slowthai has exhibited thus far.

In his career so far, slowthai has built his reputation on his one-of-a-kind personality, winning over fans of hip-hop, indie, punk and dance with his all-encompassing draw. Tonight, when special guests, bells, whistles and pyrotechnics are available to him, this personality takes a back seat. Bar a few declarations of his thanks and dedication to the crowd, he largely stays quiet, faithfully running through tracks from ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ and beyond.

The songs and his new tricks more than carry what is a brilliant, rapturously received show, but as he graduates to the big leagues and announces his Ally Pally return, you just hope the personality doesn’t dim as the shows get bigger.