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Barbican, London, UK

The concert opens in a confrontational vein. A sharp spotlight fixes itself on the audience while a heated debate about gender roles, sampled from the BKChat LDN webseries, booms out of the PA. The atmosphere becomes increasingly disconcerting as the spotlight moves around the auditorium, momentarily blinding anyone it falls upon. Gradually, two choral voices fade in before collapsing into a hyperdigital crescendo. This primes us for the journey to come: a varied set that includes elements of theatre, noise, contemporary composition and ironic humour.

Visibly excited, South London musician Klein, who performs atop a scaffolding platform, jokes that “this is the last show I’m doing, so shake your bum. I’m becoming a librarian!” just before bursts of timber-shaking bass explode out of the speakers. The sound is often brutal, with feedback occasionally breaching the limits of bearability. 

Such moments of extreme tension are counterbalanced with phrases of quieter, more accessible compositions. One memorable piece is a duet between Klein’s trumpet and Khush Jandu Quiney’s haunting saxophone melodies. The stage, shrouded in a cloud of haze which is illuminated by flashing red lights, evokes an otherworldly Lynchian mood, as if we are witness to some late-night roadside emergency. Quiney’s bold silhouette breaks through the fog, acting as a visual anchor for the duration of the piece. 

Other credited collaborators include Bunny, Josiane M H Pozi, ​​Aminat D Seriki and Nellie Owusu can often be found grouped together on stage left, moving in time to the music or mirroring the rhythms of unintelligible time-stretched speech with their bodies. At one point the house lights go up and Pozi reads out intentionally bad jokes. Her forced, sarcastic laughter is then looped and used as a backing track. 

Rapper Jawnino, who also opens the show as a support act, improvises with beaters and a bass drum. His harsh blows, which are not backed by any other music, respond to a set of automated drums sitting on top of the scaffold. Programmed by Klein and kinetic sculptor Tobias Bradford, these snares and toms are played by robotic drumsticks. These and similar improvised segments stitch together more recognisable elements of Klein’s catalogue, such as the ethereal-sounding “Hope Dealers” from last year’s Harmattan album, the stems of which are triggered using a MIDI guitar.

The central focal point throughout the show is a large screen directly underneath Klein’s platform. Its projected visuals cycle through détourned videos, photographs and internet ephemera. During the swelling detuned synths of Klein’s new track “whos on the panel” the phrase “Hug A Hoodie” appears on screen. While the track title refers to a 2011 diss by grime MC Ghetts, which commented on exclusion in the music industry, the hoodie quote recalls former UK prime minister David Cameron’s much ridiculed attempt to reconstitute the Conservative Party’s image as modern and inclusive. 

When these recontextualised references are considered alongside unsettling synth pads, a pitched comedy sketch about racism and an elevator LED display prop that is always either ascending or descending but never settling on any one floor, the overarching theme of the performance reveals itself. For all the lip service paid by those in power, institutional racism is a huge factor in how our society functions and we have some distance to go before this can be overthrown.

Ilia Rogatchevski
Originally published by Wire, March 2022

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