“When we got here earlier, it was very empty. I was scared.” El-P (or Jaime Meline if you prefer) confessed to the crowd. Being ‘scared’ doesn’t sound right coming from a man who wrote a song called ‘Habeas Corpses (Draconian Love)’ and drew inspiration from poems his godfather wrote to dead soldiers. If anything, El-P seems the opposite of scared. His new album, the fiercely titled ‘Cancer For Cure’, sounds mind-blowing live, especially tonight, when it played in its full glory to a crowd of only 80 people.
After unexpectedly making his stage entrance to Phil Collins’ ‘In The Air Tonight’, the album’s opening salvo, ‘Request Denied’, crept through the speakers. About three minutes in, you hear Meline’s distinctive voice over the Prodigy-inspired break, sounding more on-point than ever before.
El-P was accompanied by two keyboard players and a hype man who would occasionally stop with the ad-libs and smack the cymbals during the heavier tracks. The keyboardists had other talents too, playing multiple instruments including guitars, keytars and tambourines. Throughout the evening, they would explode into infrequent bouts of psychedelic metal when El-P’s vocal cords needed a quick break.
Halfway into his set he then goes on to explain what the situation was with Def Jux, describing the label’s breakdown as a “crash of horrible flames and depression”. Despot, an artist who was also signed to Def Jux, made stage appearances during El-P’s performances of ‘Oh Hell No’ and ‘Tougher Colder Killer’, when the two MCs traded bars. The man didn’t look like your stereotypical rapper, in fact quite the opposite, resembling a weedy little ginger man with an intriguing hairline. Despite his appearance, you wouldn’t have the slightest idea he could produce such powerful and aggressive hip hop delivered with such brutality.
Throughout the night, this brutality continued through the vein of El-P’s dark lyrics. The crowd embraced this darkness, screaming out lyrics like “If you kill him, I won’t tell” as loudly as they could. El-P even attempted to build a sense of paranoia before ‘DRONES OVER BRKLYN’, remarking that Britain is the most watched nation in the world. However, his attempt to induce unanimous paranoia failed when he started pointing at a stage light rather than a camera.
After performing the ‘Cancer 4 Cure’ album in its entirety, El-P came off the stage whilst the guitar and keytar player battled to play the most erratic solos they could. Shortly after this encore, El-P returned to reminisce about the old times, when Brighton was one of the first places he toured overseas with his old group Company Flow. He then finished his set with ‘I’ll Sleep When Your Dead’ track ‘EMG’, a medley of freestyles and Company Flow classics, ‘Vital Nerve’ and ‘Deep Space 9mm’. Both the die-hard fans and the new recruits were happy.
Haunt, Thursday 13th September 2012
Words by Jack Dutton