By Brendan Callaghan
Last Monday saw the visit to Dublin of one of hip-hops most exuberant, imaginative and individual voices – the destructive, eccentric and ever interesting Danny Brown.
Following the release of his brilliant latest album Atrocity Exhibition, Brown has cemented his position as one of the most original and exciting rappers around. This can be gleaned from the album title alone – a reference to a classic but less well-known Joy Division song that is itself a reference to a novel written by the revered British science-fiction writer J.G. Ballard.
Whether or not Brown intended his listeners to read too deeply into all of these curious inter-textual references is uncertain; but nevertheless the demented and sometimes suffocating atmosphere created by the album ensures that it shares at least a tonal fraternity with its namesake. Equally, the undeniable brilliance of Atrocity Exhibition ensures that it can sit confidently beside artistic and cultural giants such as Ian Curtis, and maybe even Ballard himself, without eliciting too many sideways glances from the post-punk purists or the glittering literati who guard such cannons.
Because of Brown’s interesting musical influences, his frankly hilarious word-play and lyrics, and also his uniquely gregarious character, he tends to attract a much more diverse crowd than other rappers. As a result the audience at the Academy includes every caste, clique and cultural creed you could possibly imagine; from metal-heads to sesh-heads, from hipsters to teeny-boppers – the pit looked like a United Colours of Benetton advert from a backward universe.
Support for the gig was provided by fellow Detroit resident and Bruiser Brigade cohort Zeelooperz, who put in a suitably energetic and hype-generating performance. At one point during his final song he took the ballsy move of handing the mic to a member of the audience and allowed them to be the MC for a few precious moments. The lucky audience member did an impressive job and the gesture went down well with the rest of the crowd, involving as it did an element of anecdotal randomness that all seasoned gig-goers appreciate.
In between artists the soundsystem blared out a faintly recognisable version of the song that gave Danny Brown’s latest album its name. If you squinted your ears hard enough you could just about make out the sound of Ian Curtis’ muffled voice, drowning under a sea of distortion and effects as if it was coming from some sort of apocalyptic rave in the next room. Eventually the house lights dimmed and Mr. Brown himself entered to a delighted chorus of chants and cheers.
He wastes no time with introductions but instead launches straight into a frantic medley of early hits off of his breakthrough 2011 album XXX; beginning with the dark and hedonistic tones of ‘Die Like a Rockstar’. As you might have guessed, the principal themes of these tracks are drugs, partying, sex and more drugs (topics that seem to resonate strongly with the mainly young male audience that make up the front of the crowd).
Each song treats us to another enthralling and voyeuristic insight into the private mental and personal life of the man on stage. The audience display an impressive knowledge of the content as they shout back the lyrics at the appropriate cue. This call and response technique is utilised at every opportunity and adds to the already hyper and testosterone filled atmosphere of the gig.
Brown moves chronologically through his back catalogue starting with songs from XXX, then onto his 2013 release Old and finally but all too briefly four final songs from the great Atrocity Exhibition.
The pace and energy of the gig did not relent for a moment. But it was clear that Brown was tentative about playing his newer more experimental material to an audience that was obviously enamoured with his earlier releases.
Although this might have been a misjudgement on the part of Brown. He would have found an equally good reception if he had played more songs from the album he is supposed to be touring. This is just a small but legitimate criticism from an otherwise brilliant performance.