Roots Manuva, Master Shortie, Ebony Bones

Witness the Brithop-ness! Koko, London, Thursday, Wednesday, February 19

It’s the NME Award Shows’ moment to, as Master Shortie puts it, “give some noise for UK hip-hop”, but down at KOKO, Camden’s Twiglet pseudo-urchins are having some trouble krumping in their winkle-pickers. Still, there’s no need for Shortie to rub it in by singing ‘Dance Like A White Boy’ with such glee.

It’s his fault the spotty white bums are grinding in the first place, and if you’re going to sample Adam Ant (on ‘Prince Charming’) and display such a whip-smart delivery over punchy indie-hop then what’s gonna happen? He’s bloody good, and he has to be to match Ebony Bones’ opening set, which is like watching the alchemical result of setting MIA and Santigold on fire. ‘Warrior’ sounds like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins at the Rio Carnival – a sensation.

Poor old Roots Manuva has to follow both these two, and though the relentless quality of his tunes crush anything that came before, he’s a curiously erratic performer tonight. Or possibly just a bit fucked. Things start off well with the raucous reggae pop of ‘Again & Again’, and a version of old classic ‘Witness (1 Hope)’ that’s so intensely heavy you’re practically swallowing dub.

But then Roots begins repeatedly disappearing backstage, leaving frontman duties to his excellent vocal side-kick Ricky Ranking. It’s all part of the collective spirit of the Roots live experience, of course. The excellence of his band, as well as the quality of songs such as ‘Dreamy Days’, means everything holds together despite Roots’ wanderings. Indeed, just as things look like they might be flagging he perks up all of a sudden, takes front of stage and soon leads the place bouncily through ‘Buff Nuff’ as the set hurtles towards the end, climaxing with an ecstatic version of ‘Let The Spirit’. Sure, he’s an enigma, but that’s what stars are supposed to be. The big teasing shits.

Martin Robinson