El-P ( featuring DJ Mr. Dibbs ) Corner Hotel, Melbourne, 26 February 2009
Sadly the Corner Hotel was only half full for Def Jux’s CEO last night. It seems that interest in ‘experimental’ hip hop is going through a lull at the moment. A few years back the same venue was bursting at the seams while Def Jux label mates Aesop Rock and Mr. Lif tore the roof off the place. More recent shows by the likes of Cage and Atmosphere have also been well received.
But the lacklustre crowd didn’t appear to bother El-P. He convulsed around the stage like an indie rocker and tried his very best to get some call and response going with the audience.
On record El-P cuts a menacing figure, spitting aggressive rhymes with a William Gibson and George Orwell edge. He’s all about apocalyptic visions and comic book predictions of what we can expect from the future if world leaders have their way. He remains as aggressive on stage, but it’s a shock to witness these spiels coming from a short, chubby red head. El-P is the antithesis of traditional Hip Hop in every way.
Perhaps it’s this difference that sets his brand of hip hop apart from the mainstream. He’s never afraid to introduce dynamics, rock rhythms and unusual structures into his jams. He looks beyond the beats and word flow, to merge the foundations of hip hop with actual songwriting. He’s a damn good story teller to boot.
All of this is amplified in the live arena. Particularly during more theatrical tracks like “The Overly Dramatic Truth”, his creepy tale of a much older man emotionally manipulating a much younger girl, where his voice built to a deafening scream over the course of each verse. He never rhymes in monotone.
The set drew heavily from his latest opus “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead”, and a couple of older tracks including a short medley from his days in Company Flow. Best of all, many of his rhymes were accompanied by remixes and Mr Dibbs was allowed free-reign to mix and mash as he pleased. We weren’t given lazy replicas of his recordings, which is a trap that rappers often succumb to when performing with a backing DJ (yes, I’m especially talking to you Dizzee Rascal – you’re one-armed DJ is no excuse).
Sure, I’ve seen better hip hop shows, but El-P was worth the ticket price nonetheless. He put up a good fight in the face of a small and not so animated crowd. One can only wonder what could have happened if the atmosphere had hit full guage.