HIGH FOCUS RECORDS PRESENTS: THE "FRESHLY SKELETAL TOUR" FEAT ED SCISSORTONGUE & DEAD PLAYERS @ ROSEMOUNT HOTEL, SATURDAY NOV 21
It was a balmy night at the end of a bright, champagne-infused day. Doc had become a real doctor in the morning; we had both finished university for the year. With a view to letting the celebrations roll on, we moseyed to the Rosemount where some of Doc’s favourite rappers (from the UK’s High Focus label) were performing. It seemed like a perfectly decent idea. We had no idea if it would live up to expectations.
Beyond the musk of the smoking area, and the chatter and clink of the beer garden, there’s a tunnel into the Rosemount main room. Here we find a blaring PA broadcasting a broad cast of local supports, including the intense but jocular DISORDERLY CONDUCT, and the articulate but somewhat forgettable DEMISE. Easily the most impressive of the Perth contingent tonight are POETS LAUREATE: a two-emcee, one DJ trio with contagious stage energy, engaging beats, and ambitious lyricism. This ambition doesn’t always manifest in flawless delivery; there are moments, particularly in fast-paced, Grime-inspired passages, where the Poets can’t quite keep up with the verses they’ve composed. Still, when their gambles pay off, the returns are significant: suddenly the set rises above the ranks of comfortable, mediocre skip-hop and becomes something special. Their sense of humour and evident camaraderie enhances things further. If Poets Laureate can keep up the ambition and hone the execution, they’ll be definite ones to watch.
Nevertheless – as much as I love a bit of hometown pride – there’s no denying that as the High Focus labelmates take the mantle, this is another league entirely.
EDWARD SCISSORTONGUE comes out with all guns blazing – those these guns blaze smoothly, effortlessly, and he never breaks a sweat. His stage presence (complete with indoor sunglasses that few could pull off) is almost icy cool as his rhymes. But the art trumps the persona; it takes more than swagger to conceive of lines like “Mud is getting scattered on a casket tonight / Vultures scale scalectrix circuits in the sky / where rigor mortis episodes are never televised – missing / Like ghosts in the machine, cogs spinning.” Sometimes it’s clear what Edward Scissortongue’s songs are about – mortality, morality and cathartic experience are recurrent themes. At other times what you get is a surreal lyrical rush, a flurry of warped imagery that evokes a Fear and Loathing kind of nightmare. Often it’s both, but in any case it’s all executed with the care and finesse of a master watchmaker, no detail left unaccounted for. Everything’s underscored by fascinating beats – compositions which are interesting not only in their deviation from convention hip-hop backings, but as musical ideas in the broadest sense. Apparently these instrumentals are mostly crafted by a Glaswegian guy named Lamplighter. All this makes me wonder why Edward Scissortongue isn’t way more famous, and why this room isn’t fit to burst. But every head in the place is certainly deep into it.
After a substantial (but not particularly long) set, Scissortongue passes the vocal torch over to Dead Players – the group consisting of rap luminaries DABBLA and JAM BAXTER, as well as producer/dj GHOSTTOWN. It’s no surprise that the High Focus artists have found themselves on the same label; Dabbla and Jam Baxter share Ed Scissortongue’s penchant for dark, weird, surreal and literary rhymes (though Dabbla’s are a little more down-to-earth). However, unlike the Scissortongue’s detached composure, Dead Players’ set tonight dials up the unhinged intensity, with the artists hurling themselves around stage, into the audience, into each other, over piles of broken glass and pools of frothing beer. It’s a big sweaty ugly freaky bacchanal. We sail through with a number of Jam Baxter’s skull-rattling, tongue-twisting solo highlights including the cheeky “Brains,” “Fresh Flesh” and “Leash.” His venomously-spat wordplay errs towards Lovecraftian imagery of splattered internal organs, septic goo, bugs, rats and so on: while the beats take care of your body’s need to flex, Baxter kneads your imagination. There’s self-aggrandization, but as with his flowery US contemporary DOOM, it’s wrapped in sufficient weirdo similes and magical anecdotes to be endlessly varied: “I said it with impeccable mystique, as I hot-wired a 747 with my teeth, last week / the memories are patchy, the word is, I left a bleeding segment of myself in every taxi / and crawled out the last as a disembodied fist / still swinging, still missing, still pissed.” Dabbla is typically more direct, unafraid to use simple silly lines like “I stepped on the rap game now it’s under my shoe.” But his delivery is blisteringly fast and tight, his demeanour wild, and when he wants to, he can get as oddball as the next guy: “Standing in the puddle, scared to guzzle from the cactus / Tell you something I do know blud, get more slam than a judo rug.”
Despite some challenging sound issues (Dabbla’s vocals come across mostly blown out and brittle, while Baxter’s voice sounds pokey and harsh), I soon realize this is perhaps the best live rap show I’ve ever seen. The three emcees tonight are at the top of their unique games, Ghosttown is a force to be reckoned with, and the group boasts an incredible joint energy, each man bouncing off the other like a ricocheting bullet. Bringing together the world of the club/street, and of deep, surrealistic poetry, the High Focus team are a remarkable exemplar of what is possible within hip-hop. After the roar-along track “Yeah,” the night ends with a raucous stage invasion; bodies pressed together, swaying, bouncing, beats blaring on. Doc gets to drop a sneaky 16 bars of a verse he’d prepared earlier, and Jam Baxter gives him a knowing look and a finger-point of approval. We bask in the wonder of it all as we walk home in the tepid air. A night I’ll remember til the worms nibble my eyeballs out.
(Photo by Dan Zeplin Media)