Live Review: Keith Ape at San Fran, Wellington

Keith Ape San Fran Wellington
Keith Ape and Bryan Cha$e (The Cohort)
w/ KVKA, Beach Boy, Jay Knight & FAR TOO KIND.
San Fran, Wellington
Friday November 11 2016

Keith Ape Bryan Chase San Fran Wellington Will Not Fade

I’ll start by admitting a few things. I don’t know the first thing about trap music. I don’t speak Korean. And I hadn’t even heard of Keith Ape before yesterday. But I could tell that this show was going to be a banger, even if it was out of my comfort zone.

I rate Guitar Wolf as one of the best live acts I’ve seen. I don’t understand most of what they’re saying, and I don’t usually listen to that kind of music. But when an artist puts that much energy into a performance, than you can begin to understand how they have managed to build a diehard underground following. I figure Keith Ape must be similar. He manged to sell out this NZ tour, and hasn’t even released an album yet! I guess an album isn’t even required when you’ve already managed to clock up over 30 million views on YouTube…

Keith Ape Bryan Chase San Fran Wellington Will Not Fade

Arriving at San Fran, the place was already packed. A handful of people throughout the crowd wore surgical masks over their faces – one of Ape’s trademarks. The general vibe was jovial, with people dancing and singing along to the songs that the DJ’s were playing. Things started to ramp up when KVKA took to the stage. He worked hard to hype up the crowd, offering free merch to those who went nuts during sections of his set. It made me think of a recent interview with Emanual Psathas (aka Name UL), in which Psathas was discussing how artists from our local scene should be able to  perform just as well as international acts they open for.  I think KVKA proved that point well, providing enough energy and talent to claim the stage as his own.

By the time Keith Ape and Bryan Cha$e came on for their set the place was humming. San Fran is my favourite Wellington venue and I’ve seen plenty of sold out shows here, but none quite on this scale. The sea of bodies was pulsating just in front of the stage, as you would expect. People were dancing and jumping and spilling their drinks as they mashed their sweaty bodies against each other. But what was different is that rather being contained to the front, this was also happening further back near the bar.

Keith Ape Bryan Chase San Fran Wellington Will Not Fade

As well as this, people were also standing on any higher space they could find – atop a shelf along the side of the wall, dancing on the tables at the bar area, one girl was even dancing on the end of the bar itself. I was watching the tables move and sway under the weight of dancing bodies and wondering if they would hold up under the added stress. One goth-looking figure even fell off at one point, but just climbed back up to continue the dancing.

Ape and Cha$e had a good partnership going, tagging off each other as they worked the stage. The crowd was already going before they came on, but their extra input of energy served as a catalyst to set the place ablaze. Many bottles of water were opened and thrown out over the front few rows of the pit just to give people some respite from the heat.

Keith Ape Bryan Chase San Fran Wellington Will Not Fade

Despite having no album to draw material from, Ape’s set lasted long enough. He’s had his share of hits, as well as collaborating with other big name American rappers like Waka Flocka Flame and A$AP Ferg, so it was clear that many people in the crowd were familiar with his material. One track had been written during the tour in Japan just a week earlier, and was received just as well, but the biggest hit of the night was predictably “It G Ma” – the big YouTube hit that Ape can attribute much of his success to.

I can’t pretend to be an expert on trap music. I can’t pretend that I understood much of what Keith Ape was rapping about. But I can testify that he lifted the roof in Wellington last night. There was a lot of hype around this sold-out show, and Keith Ape more than lived up to it and proved to himself that even a self-confessed “outsider” can be successful on an international stage.


Joseph James

Live Review: Mogwai at James Cabaret, Wellington

Mogwai James Cabaret Wellington Poster


w/ Mick Turner
James Cabaret, Wellington
Friday 6 March 2015

The term “post-rock” suggests that the genre of music has evolved beyond standard rock. And for Glaswegian act Mogwai, this appears accurate. They have gone past the standard band formula of guitar, bass, drums and vocals, expanding their sound with the use of synths, 12 string guitars, multiple drums (both electric and acoustic), vocoder and violin. Electric and analogue sounds marry to create something unique.

For the most part there were five musicians on stage. Sometimes the keyboard player would play a third guitar. Touring member Luke Sutherland made an appearance for a handful of songs, fleshing out the sound more with his violin, or by singing, or playing some secondary drums.

The lights were an integrated part of the experience. There were three neon looking hexagons from the cover of Rave Tapes that pulsated and flickered. Backlights synchronised with the music cast the band members as dramatic silhouettes.

Mogwai songs have very gradual growth. They slowly build up with layers. A steady drumbeat, a repeated riff, another guitar fills the space and the keys take over the high-end. The wash and hum lingers and sweeps through.

Like the songs that gradually build up, the set got better as it progressed. People started to sway and dance as the songs became more interesting. Better recognised songs were received with whistles and cries of delight.

Image: Bradley Garner Photography.

Image: Bradley Garner Photography.

One of the more memorable parts was the set closing song, “Mogwai Fear Satan”. After six minutes of building up the song pulls back to light swells and an undercurrent drum beat. This lull in the song continues for a few minutes, before the band suddenly launches back into a frenzied feedback explosion. Many people jumped back in fright, just to laugh at themselves moments later.

One criticism is that the set was loud. I always wear earplugs at gigs to protect my hearing, but even so, it was excessive. Many people had fingers stuck in their ears, and I heard later that people had left because they couldn’t handle the volume.

Mogwai last came to New Zealand 16 years ago. This was their first time in Wellington. The venue was close to full, but not packed enough to make the place as stifling hot as it has been last few times I’d been there. Tonight was quite mixed, predominantly an older crowd (30+). They played for around 90 minutes, including a two song encore.

The set was loud and varied. The visuals were simple yet dramatic. There were quiet, drawn out sections and explosive, euphoric moments. The use of unconventional instruments made it more interesting.

After most songs guitarist Stuart Braithwaite would step forward to his microphone and meekly offer “Thank you, cheers” in his Scottish accent. On behalf of the audience, right back at you, Stuart.


Joseph James

The setlist

The set list

Live Review: Freddie Gibbs at The Studio, Auckland

Freddie Gibbs Auckland Studio

When he calls himself Freddie “Gansta” Gibbs you better believe it.

I’ve seen a few rappers in my time, but none seem as thug as Freddie Gibbs.

Gibbs had a DJ providing backing beats, and was also joined onstage by two big black men from his entourage. These two men didn’t seem to have any musical role so I assume that they were bodyguards or security. They spent the whole time drinking and smoking. $10 says it wasn’t tobacco, either.

I swear every song ended with Gibbs saying “Give it up for this motherfucker” and the DJ making an obnoxious horn noise, followed by Gibbs starting the chants “Fuck the Po-lice” and “When I say ES, you say GN!” [Evil Seeds Grow Naturally, the name of Gibb’s début album and clothing label.]

Every. Single. Song.

The dude would give South Park a run for its money in a swearing competition. “Fuck the Police! Smoke yo weed!” he shouted. “Who gets high and shows up for work?” he asked. “That’s what I do!”

This was the first time I had attended a hip hop gig in Auckland. When I first walked into the venue I was impressed. It was nice and big with balconies running around the perimeter of the room. And air conditioning – something that most Wellington venues seriously need to work on.

Gibbs was advertised to start at 9.45pm. I was surprised then, to see a younger rapper come onstage at 10pm. Turns out it was Wellington based support act Name UL.

He did well. He worked the crowd up, as any good opener should. And the once he finished we waited.

And waited.

And waited. For over an hour. Any hype that Name UL had caused had long worn off.

When Gibbs finally came on stage he said “We don’t have much time for this shit so let’s get going”.

Gibbs then delivered a solid half hour set. His rhymes were tight and his delivery impeccable. The crowd was lapping it up. Many of the songs were from his most recent release, Pinata. Half of what he did was a Capella, making it more impressive in stark comparison.

Then Gibbs left the stage. The DJ started a song and Gibbs ran back to do a song. Then he left. Then he came back. It was very confusing. Was he hoping that we chant for an encore? Clearly I wasn’t the only one confused because the crowd was noticeably thinning.

The DJ proceeded to play about four songs while Gibbs watched from a balcony upstairs. Then Gibbs came down and started dancing. Then he left again.

Was he going to rap again? Why had Gibbs said that he was short on time? If he had enough time to dance around surely he had enough time to rap a few more songs? Is it over?

I showed up to the show around 9.30pm and left at 12.20am. I barely saw an hour’s worth of live rapping during that time. I don’t feel like I got $60 worth. I paid money to see a rapper perform. If I wanted to listen to recorded hip hop I would have played some through my own speakers at home.

There’s no denying Gibbs has talent. He spits lyrics as well as the rest of them. But maybe if he had spent more time onstage instead of making me wait while he smoked weed I would have left with a more favourable opinion of him.

Live Review: Run the Jewels, Danny Brown & Earl Sweatshirt at James Cabaret, Wellington

Earl Sweatshirt Run The Jewles Danny Brown Wellington James Cabaret

Run the Jewels, Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt

James Cabaret, Wellington

Tuesday 28 January 2014

It’s only January, but tonight was promising to be the biggest Hip hop show of the year. The triple bill of Run the Jewels, Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt was almost too good to be true for hip hop fans, and the hipsters in their bucket hats attended in droves.

Run the Jewels proved to be a good opening act. The crowd were worked into a frenzy as MCs EL-P and Killer Mike tagged between themselves alternating lead duties. I was a bit confused when they talked about their DJ being born in Wellington and being raised by Koala Bears, but all was forgiven when they pulled an especially rowdy fan up onstage and sat him down for “time out” so that security wouldn’t need to deal with him anymore.

Danny Brown was arguably the biggest draw card of the night. Known as the rapper with the funny voice and having been touted as the next big thing by overseas press, Brown delivered on the hype. His music was bass driven and required a lot of chanting from the crowd, an interaction that the audience was happy to oblige. Brown lapped it up, continually poking out his tongue and throwing the goat.

Compared to Brown’s incessant bass driven music, Earl Sweatshirt’s set seemed far more stripped back, especially when he started spitting lyrics a cappella between his other songs. Sweatshirt’s set was a lot less structured than the first two bands and he would get the crowd to vote on if they wanted to hear old or new material. He later admitted that he’d only written about 20 songs, so we’d heard just about all of them anyway.

My personal highlight of the night was when Odd Future collaborator Domo Genesis threw a bucket of fried chicken into the audience and watched the crowd fight over the fried chicken. “Yeah! Rip each other’s throats!” shouted Sweatshirt.

An interesting insight into the world of hip hop. I just hope that they’re not all serious.


Joseph James