Anyone doubting those who hail grime as 21st century punk is advised to see AJ Tracey live. The energy and enthusiasm of the subversive genre that has bewitched kids and adults up and down the country, across the Channel, Stateside and beyond was nowhere more evident than at The Liquid Room for AJ’s visit to Edinburgh.
The West London MC first came to mainstream prominence in 2015 with his second EP Alex Moran but has been quietly working in the subterranean levels grime game since he started rapping aged 6, performing at Eskimo Dance and doing the rounds on pirate radio.
Since the success of Alex Moran, he has solidified his reputation as one of the most innovative new artists, refusing to adhere to the purism of 140 bpm that many feel defines grime, or feeling obliged to name drop legendary MC’s in every track. “People care too much about the guidelines in grime, but there are no guidelines,” he said in an interview with Dummy magazine.
The raw energy in the building is palpable from the get-go. Big Zuu starts proceedings by blitzing through the highlights of his latest EP, before launching into a back and forth set with Ets, another up and coming star. Their caustic lyrics ricochet off the seemingly endless stream of classic grime instrumentals, from Rhythm ‘n’ Gash to Pulse X. Big Zuu works the crowd effortlessly, his personable yet commanding presence honed from his experience as host of The Joints Show on Radar Radio to the extent that he almost feels like the headline act.
By the time AJ gets on stage, the atmosphere is electric. He begins with tracks from his new EP Secure The Bag!: the sparse, erratic ‘LA4AWEEK’ fuses elements of grime and drill with American trap, while ‘Alakazam’ glitters with a heady, almost psychedelic melancholia. This combination of melodic, ethereal beats and venomous delivery is further explored in ‘Tour Team’, featuring 67, who assist AJ in cutting through the echoing instrumental.
The material from the new album is cutting edge – it plays with traditional grime and hip-hop sounds, incorporating them into a distinctive stream quite unlike anything else being produced right now. ‘Spirit Bomb’ and ‘Leave Me Alone’ blast through the crowd, the heavy, crunching bass scattered with an erratic synth that compliments the quick-fire lyrics.
The sing-along gang are required for ‘Luke Cage’, one of the two biggest tracks from AJ’s previous EP Lil Tracey: filled with irresistibly quotable bars, the crowd basically recite the entire song back to AJ while he conducts from the stage.
We finish with ‘Buster Cannon’, arguably AJ’s biggest single and a return to a more conventional grime sound. Pacey and furious, the thumping bass seems to bounce off of the cavernous walls of The Liquid Room’s warehouse venue. It’s a blistering yet finely-tuned set, ebbing and flowing in all the right places and keeping the crowd energetic and hungry to the end, who bounce to the joyous, reckless energy of the music.
Image: Jeaniq Amihyia