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We Love Japan Benefit: Akira The Don and Adam Ant

The bill for Saturday’s We Love Japan benefit at the (cough) “Relentless” Garage had been put together hurredly but with vigour, as is usually the case for such rapidly-announced charity gigs. All credit to the organisers of the night, who not only secured a plethora of bourgeois swag for the evening’s inevitable raffle but who had also coaxed out a rare solo gig out of, and I hasten to repeat the words, 70′s glam legend Adam Ant. I wouldn’t want to be glib, or offer too ready an embrace of kitsch- but gods! I’d come to check out Akira the Don, who had initially been booked to headline- but now I’m seeing an Adam Ant gig! Potential for rock star anecdotes to tell my dad just went through the roof!

Anyway, we’d not come to see the Ant- or that guy from E4 cast as the night’s awkward compere (how do you strike the right tone between recognition of utter tragedy and the desire to have a good night out?)- tonight promised only the opportunity of a rare live outing for the Hackney-based rap-tastic Akira The Don.

This gig, albeit a benefit slot, came at a good time for The Don- shortly after the release of the 25th free mixtape via his website, and before the release of his second proper album, The Life Equation. That mixtape, ATD25- is a phenomenally enjoyable thing- a unstoppable barrage of rapid verses, stupidly good sampling (their remix of Marina and The Diamonds ‘I am not a robot’ is a work of breathtaking alchemy), complementary guest verses and taut production smacking of professionalism and potential. Such sonic results demonstrate well why Akira was initially booked for the night’s main slot. That being said, and making do- a half hour set was more than enough for this enigmatic hip-hop artist to bring his particular ruckus to an audience left tender by the ear-shattering heavy metal band that had preceded (note: that’s not a criticism per se: I think ‘ear-shattering’ is firmly in the mandate for heavy metal bands- central to their raison d’etre, if you will).

Donned in an authentically ‘back in the day’ Wu Tang jumper (from the Iron Flag tour, OG auditers- but besides, what’s with everyone hating on Iron Flag anyway? Ok, it’s not traditional Wu- but it’s got some solid tunes! Akira knows…) and with the help of DJ friend Jack Nimble (who was given his props, no doubt) Akira tore through a set that reflected much of his back catalogue at it’s finest. Old school number “Living in the Future’ was performed with it’s trademark innocence remixed and Akira bouncing around the stage with a glee that was infectious. The beautifully summer ready ‘Oh! What a glorious day!’ gave opportunity for some bona fide sentimentalism, a sing-along in the chorus bracketing odes to cycling down the Kingsland Road in the sun. Pausing between numbers to orate in his uniquely enthused manner (after climbing up a side-stage ladder, noting to himself with excitement ‘Ok, wow- that’s a good climbing ladder..’)- there’s something that’s plain irresistible about the kind of hip-hop Akira the Don is making and all his swagger is ultimately endearing. Calling onstage a troupe of “hip-hop superfriends” (Pixel, Littles, Big Narstie, Marvin the Martian) for the closing number ‘Big Iron’, a standout track from ATD25- the song had the feel of a special moment. The track bounces and jangles like something the RZA might have produced on an upbeat day- and along the finest teachings of the Wu, each verse is magnificent, each rapper’s tone and flow complementing as well as drawing distinction from those around it. And that was that- the support slot feeling all too brief, all too enjoyable.

An intermission, E4 guy doing his level best, and the crowd’s dynamic manifestly altered: the front rows of hipster boys and lolita-inspired harajuku girls replaced by a row of 80s rockers who had taken to reliving their youth in dusted-off leather jackets, and their wives. I was under no illusion what to expect; this was a solo gig from Adam Ant, whatever that meant, and the signs around me were telling their own story. I was open minded enough, and thought I was prepared for this gig to speak for itself. But then, how do you prepare for a performance so underwhelming it merely confuses? Adam Ant bounded onstage dressed up like November 5th had come early. His guitar fed back throughout. He dedicated a song to Elizabeth Taylor (at a Japan benefit, I’d like to remind dear readers). He covered Wild Thing, stripping it of all it’s sex, and seemingly left in a small tissy after failing to rouse the crowd into a singalong with his broken voice. Seriously, some of those high notes? Were meant to be higher. Look, many people applauded him throughout- and he did well playing solo and keeping the crowd engaged enough- staring down audience members and offering perfectly contorted facial expressions on demand and in cue with the showmanship on the fretwork- but I didn’t get it and I’m confused about it to this day.

-Amir Adhamy



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