No one can deny that the music scene is thriving, but one area that it is seemingly falling short is in the live performance.
Ghetts recently released a documentary covering his tour for his latest album Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament. In the documentary, you see snippets of Ghetts’ performances, the energy he brings and evokes from crowds as well as a structure to the show that has been expertly constructed. Having seen Ghetts perform multiple times I can attest that there is no stage show quite like a Ghetts stage show. But it’s not just Ghetts that has great shows, previous rival P Money equally has a great live show, as do the likes of Smoke Boys, A2, Octavian and more. What is puzzling, however, is that despite the levels the likes of the aforementioned create, not everyone seems to be living up to that high standard. In fact, quite a few fall short of even performing acceptably.
Ramz is somebody who was thrown into the limelight off the back of the success of ‘Barking’ and then was thrust into performing on some of the biggest stages and expected to be up to scratch. So when things didn’t go to plan in his performances the internet was quick to let him know and they didn’t take it on him easy at all. Yet Ramz is just the most easily identifiable example there are plenty of others who weren’t even in such a pressured environment that are lacklustre performers. Ramz situation has been unfair, and seeing his performance at Cadet’s Rated Legend Show was great. Not only had his performances improved leaps and bounds but the fact he didn’t just stop performing due to the court of public opinion was admirable.
Ramz was an easy name to pick out because of how publicly his performances have been scrutinised. It also shouldn’t be assumed that I think that it is just younger artists that aren’t really performing very well live. Wiley – the literal godfather of an entire genre that’s foundations are in performing live, has one of the worst live shows despite a great catalogue. He might have once been a stage show don, but of recent his shows (when he even turns up) have seemed like he was on stage to fulfil an obligation and delivered with a lack of conviction that I’ve heard numerous people question whether he’s been performing under the influence. So the old guard is not always any better than the new.
One big thing that affects live performances is the choice of backing track. This is where there tends to be a disparity between the older artists and the younger artists. Older artists tend to get live PA tracks made specifically for performance which includes the instrumental, ad-libs, and certain lyrics but very few. Newer artists tend to just play their songs as they sound on Spotify then sing/rap over that. This is a generalisation but it’s the easiest way to delineate on the topic. The difference between a live PA and regular track in terms of performing is astronomical. One person who has repeatedly brought this up is Chuckie, and he’s said it multiple times on #HalfcastPodcast. A live PA gives artists the chance to actually perform their tracks, performing over the regular track doesn’t.
The live PA forces the artists to know their lyrics, manage breath control, know what they are capable of performing and what they’ll need assistance with. It also means artists have to know how much physical activity they can do whilst performing without deteriorating the performance of their songs. A regular track does none of this, it allows for artists to coast and essentially focus more on their movement than performing the song. But the biggest detriment of using the regular track is that it forces artists to have to fight against the sound level of the track to be heard. Essentially, it makes artists have to shout over their own tracks just to be heard above the backing track.
Now it’s nice to be able to identify the problem and say that if all artists used live PA tracks performances would be better. But it’s not completely true. There are a lot more factors at play such as working the performance circuit which is something a lot more artists are skipping. I don’t think that’s completely of their own choosing. When involved with labels I often think newer artists are being pushed into performances a bit too quickly to piggyback off of and maximise early visibility and success. I think this is sometimes the reason it seems like the quality of performances is going down.
As mentioned previously, artists not working the performance circuit heavily before doing big shows is to me at least one of the big reasons why performances across the board sometimes lack quality. The artists from the Grime era, for the most part, are the best performers today and I think their performance route is largely the reason for this. Grime was built on performing live on radio, live clashes on both radio and at shows. The element that is truly unique to their environment and is lost in Rap or melody based genres is competition. Grime artists were rarely performing alone, meaning they had less to know in terms of the amount of content, but equally had less time in the limelight. So how did people manage to hold the limelight? By making sure that when they got their turn nobody wanted them to stop or come on after them. Whether it was a set, stage show, or a crew radio show, everyone was perfecting how to perform and be enigmatic. Also physical sales were not always profitable, so artists were taking every live booking they could get; from small to large venues, and supporting other artists on tour, this was not only a way to get paid it but the ultimate training ground for them.
Today there’s not really that same kind of structure. With streaming and external partnerships being extremely lucrative ventures, performances are much less needed as a source of income. This puts them almost as an ‘add-on’ for artists as really and truly most of them could survive without ever performing live. This combined with the fact that artists are less inclined to take the smaller performances where they would have the most room to grow and learn as performers, leads to artists to be less equipped for the big stages.
But as I mentioned at the start, this is not completely the case as A2, Octavian, Smoke Boys, Ghetts and more all have great live performances. The fact new artists like Octavian or even Northampton’s slowthai have still got great energy and well-delivered shows sheds light on the fact that the skills for good performances are not exclusively in the older generations. Artists like Krept & Konan that have gone above and beyond to provide spectacles at their headline shows, again and again, show that despite it seeming like performances are lacking in quality. there are still those that keep the levels at an all time high.