Killer Mike | Live

This is a live review which was scheduled for publication by Artocker but never ranspacer6


Killer Mike

Killer Mike | XOYO | 21st May, 2013


It’s hardly a revelatory observation that humility and modern hip-hop make for unlikely bedfellows. Since the dawn of gansta rap in the mid-nineties, the genre has fermented into a concoction of brashness, bling and braggadocio.


All the more refreshing that Michael Render – for our purposes Killer Mike – emerges on stage at a packed XOYO with a smile, a DJ and not a hype man in sight. The Atlanta native may have recorded one of the defining hip-hop records of the past decade in last year’s El-P-produced ‘R.A.P. Music’ but the only baggage that the 38 year-old seems to carry tonight is his considerable frame.


The point really does bear repeating: no matter how many interviews you watch, or how many reviews you read, nothing will prepare you for the contrast between Mike’s furious lyricism and his cheerfully gregarious on-stage persona. One minute the rapper seems acutely preoccupied with paying respect to his fans, the next he’s in full-flow savaging Ronald Reagan or railing against police brutality.


The incongruence only intensifies the impact of the music. Initially tempered by some poor levelling and DJ-related technical mishaps, the stuffy basement venue – better known for its disco house nights than hardcore rap shows – is soon bouncing to a fierce, pounding set than culls heavily from last year’s aforementioned breakthrough classic. ‘Big Beast’, ‘Go!’, ‘Don’t Die’ and ‘Butane’ are all present and correct.


Mike prowls the stage throughout, leaning into each flawlessly-delivered verse and playfully demanding the capacity crowd get involved with virtually every song. Playful or otherwise, as he casts his gaze on the front row – and your correspondent – few dare not comply.


As the night continues, the crowd loosen up and become far more boisterous, much to Mike’s apparent delight. “This feels like a homecoming,” he says, grinning ear-to-ear as the audience roars in approval.


At one point a studious-looking fan calls out for a track from an early EP and Mike seems genuinely humbled, taking time to wax lyrical on his days trying to pay the bills by selling CDs out the back of his car. Then, as though with a flick of a switch, he’s back to political proselytising and disavowing organised religion (in front of a guy wearing a turban, no less).


If there’s any justice, even at this comparatively late stage in his career, ‘R.A.P. Music’ will catapult Mike into the same stratosphere as some of his golden age forebears (and OutKast collaborators). If so, this could be one of the last times the veteran plays such an intimate venue in the UK.


Not that we need worry. Jumping off stage and wading through the crowd as he wraps up his set, Mike takes time to personally say thanks to as many fans as possible, promising to head straight to the bar after the show. Rest assured that wherever Mike goes next, he’s taking us with him.


© 2013 James Francis Thompson | Never previously published

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Diamond Rugs | Diamond Rugs

This is an album review which first appeared in Artrocker issue 128 in April 2013

Diamond Rugs by Diamond RugsDiamond Rugs | Diamond Rugs

Partisan Records | 2013 | 2/5


If you’ve heard John McCauley’s band Deer Tick, you might as well have heard Diamond Rugs. The six-piece are ostensibly a supergroup comprising of McCauley, his Deer Tick saxophonist Robbie Cromwell and members of the Black Lips, Los Lobos, Dead Confederate and Six Finger Satellite. Yet it’s easily Deer Tick’s raw, booze-soaked stylings which figure heaviest here.


McCauley’s fag-and-whisky vocals certainly lend themselves well to the bar-brawling posturing, with a touch of Paul Westerberg’s Replacements caterwauling about them. The rest of the band puts in a creditable alt-country-by-the-numbers turn, although not on par with the constituents’ own groups’ efforts. In fact, I spent most of the record wishing I was listening to the Black Lips instead.


The real problem here though is that, as with most supergroups, you can’t help but feel like Diamond Rugs are phonies; as though their very being isn’t anything more than some metaphysical exercise in being in a rock band. Lead single ‘Gimme a Beer’ sounds painfully contrived, with McCauley opining that he wants “the kind of dog that listens when I call and pisses on my neighbour’s fence” in between shouting the song title. Yeah, really.


I just don’t buy this.



© 2013 James Francis Thompson | Never previously published online

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Karl Bartos | Off the Record

This is an album review which first appeared in Artrocker issue 128 in April 2013

Off the Record by Karl BartosKarl Bartos | Off the Record

Reprise | 2013 | 4/5


Many of you younger readers probably almost skipped over reading this review. I understand. Karl Bartos? Bureau B? Sounds like a hiding to nothing, right?


Wrong. Karl Bartos was one-quarter of the classic Kraftwerk line-up between 1975 and 1990, serving as a pivotal figure on classic albums like ‘Trans-Europe Express’, ‘Man-Machine’ and ‘Computer World’.


Interest sufficiently piqued? Good, since it turns out that during that period, Bartos was also keeping a secret audio diary, recording his private musical musings at the absolute zenith of Kraftwerk’s worldwide success. In 2010, Hamburg label Bureau B approached Bartos about compiling an album of previously unreleased material and the result is ‘Off the Record’, an amalgamation of 18 years’ worth of cassettes, multitracks, DATs, MIDI files and more.


Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is some run-of-the-mill outtakes and rarities compilation, though. This is an album proper and in fact it’s unclear just how much of the material is original and how much has been reimagined beyond all recognition by Bartos. Certainly the bulk of the pieces sound crystalline enough to have been recorded recently, though you could probably say that about most of Kraftwerk’s oeuvre too.


Check out the 1958 World’s Fair-referencing single ‘Atomium’ and tell me you don’t need to hear this record.



© 2013 James Francis Thompson | Never previously published online

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