It was refreshing to see a more 'mature' audience donning puffa jackets, baggy jeans and ‘old skool’ Adidas Shell Toe trainers rather than the normal array of skinny jeans, tattoos and beards which The Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre usually attracts, then again, you don't often get a legendary Hip Hop DJ dropping by to ply his trade less than a week before Christmas....
The Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre has really pulled out all the stops in order to present fans of Hip Hop with a great Christmas gift just a week before the big day, 11 acts in two rooms covering every genre from funk and soul to classic old skool cuts to keep you up and grooving until the wee small hours.
Having seen Grandmaster Flash a few years ago, I was interested to see how his show would be received in Exeter, which, from memory, has a greater understanding of Hip Hop culture from the last venue I saw him (Newton Abbot) which is more akin to young farmers and the great unwashed.
Phrixus opened up proceedings in the main room with a culmination of Footwork, Ghettotech, House, Miami Bass and Drum & Bass, drawing strong influence from US club music, whilst still retaining a definite UK vibe. It’s tough being the opening act as there weren’t many people about at 9pm when he kicked off his set, by the end of his time on stage, a healthy throng of revellers had taken to the floor to embrace what he had to offer.
Dj Louie Louie was ripping things up in the bar with his blend of funky tunes with a bit of old skool rap thrown in for good measure, Dave Singh was on hand to demonstrate some great breakdancing skills that went down a storm! I was tempted to get down and bust a few 'windmills' myself but knowing the only thing I’d be breaking would be my pelvis, I let the younger generation take my place, I wouldn’t have wanted to show anyone up now would I?
WGWN was up next in the bar and bought his eclectic mix of Garage, grime, UK funk and jersey club to the bar where the audience were loving every minute of it.
Back to the main room, we caught Jef Showbiz pleasing the crowd with his Funk, hip hop & disco music that had everyone up and dancing away like it was the last Friday before Christmas, oh hang on…..
Rapha Ghetti were up next, rather than being a solo turntablist, they turned out to be a 3 piece acoustic/Hip Hop act consisting of drums, keys and guitar, how this would keep the masses amused after Jef Showbiz had whipped them into a frenzy was beyond me but they managed to pull it off! An interesting mix seeing as 10 of the 11 acts were of the turntable variety.
Filthy Mitts took over from Rapha Ghetti and I was excited to see someone handle 4 turntables at once, I had seen Oakenfold do 3 at once and I’m sure that Carl Cox gave 4 a whirl some years ago. To my surprise, t was 2 DJ’s each tinkering with a pair of decks, which made more sense and seeing how they worked, duelling, almost goading each other to produce a better mix, one leading the way, the other responding in a way to try to get one up on them, great fun! They did a great job of dropping some classic Hip Hop beats during their set which ensured that the near capacity crowd was ready for the main event at 12:30am, way past my bedtime! At one stage, they were spinning some choice beats with The Beasties rapping over the top and as I left the main room, I heard them slot in a bit of Arctic Monkeys, amazing!
Rusticate had taken over the decks in the bar area and was busy playing what I can only describe as ‘hardcore’, it was proper banging, this was later mixed with some lush beats and top melodies which bought the masses flooding to the floor to bust some moves (thankfully no bones).
Back into the main room to catch the final stages of the Filthy Mitts set, they were giving it some proper jungle beats, real bass heavy that subsided to Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots Were Made For Walkin’, this was followed by a nice slice of Led Zeppelin with ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and even the legendary Ramones made their way onto the setlist with ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’. Talk about a great range of music, spanning 5 decades of music, each track had the audience punching the air and crying out for more when their set came to an end with the heady delights of ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ and even ‘Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town’.
A short break ensued where Flash’s sound guy took to the stage to set his gear up and checked it was all okay prior to him gracing the place with his presence, then, as the lights dimmed, his intro music piped up and he was onstage, stood behind his console, ready to rock the asses off everybody in the venue.
Opening his set with a massive ‘HELLO EXETER’, he asked how everyone was doing and asked everyone to abide by 3 golden rules if you want to get the most out of his show;
• Rule 1 - Put your mother lovin’ hands in the air…..
• Rule 2 - Make some mother lovin’ noise…..
• Rule 3 - If you know the words to the song that I’m playing, sing them back!
From then on in, he mentioned that the first rap record was introduced in 1979 but the Hip Hop movement kicked off in 1969, so what had happened in the 10 years leading up to that first release? prior to taking the room on a journey spanning the 1970’s, tracks including Paul McCartney’s ‘Let em’ In’, an unusual track for the godfather of Hip Hop to open his show with but the beat was there and over that, he demonstrated his flawless scratching technique that proved he was the real deal.
The tracks he played weren’t all classic hip hop, he blended a range of beat heavy numbers such as UB40, Dizzee Rascal, blending them effortlessly into some classic Donna Summer. He produced some amazing spin backs and mixed tracks all over the place until you didn’t know whether he was coming or going, all whilst the crowd were jumping, whooping and hollering like it was the last night on earth.
There was the ‘to be expected’ section where Flash pitched the left side of the room against the right to see who could make the most noise, then it was the ladies vs the gentlemen, the ladies winning hands down!
Normally, a DJ will stand behind their decks, headphones pressed to their ears, mixing records into one another and generally orchestrating the proceedings, NOT FLASH, he gets up, wanders the stage, leans out into the crowd, preferring to interact with the audience, HIS audience. To be in the same room as such a legend of the hip hop movement is inspiring in itself, to be there whilst he plays you some of his hand picked favourite tunes from all time is on the same level as being taken on a high speed ride around his neighbourhood…
Grandmaster Flash was one of the pioneers of hip-hop DJing, cutting, and mixing. He, along with the Furious Five were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, becoming the first hip hop/rap artists to be so honoured. It has been said that "his pioneering mixing skills transformed the turntable into a true 'instrument', and his ability to get a crowd moving has made his DJ sets legendary, something that I can echo whole heartedly from watching him weaving his magic at Exeter for one night only…
Main Room Phrixus / Jef Showbiz / Rapha Getti / Filthy Mitts / Grandmaster Flash
Bar DJ Louie Louie / WGWN / Rusticate / Jawjii / Marvin Vital
Review by Steve Muscutt
Photography by Julian Baird © www.julianbaird.com