Wiley at The Academy, Dublin on Tuesday, 20th February 2018
Born Richard Cowie Jnr, grime pioneer Wiley last year earned an MBE from the British Monarch for his contribution to music. He’s come a long way from the earnest days of Roll Deep. Grime sprung from the vaults of East London in the early 2000s, a counter-culture powered by disaffection, both socially and culturally.
Spearheaded by Wiley, a new fearless breed of rapid-fire MCs rapped in the vernacular of something more immediately recognisable to the youth of London than the bling-era of American hip-hop. The flows and sonics are an unholy bass-heavy marriage of jungle, garage, drum & bass and dancehall. Further afield, it began gaining traction. It now firmly, and rightfully, lies in the lexicon of modern pop-culture, largely thanks to Mr. Cowie.
Moved last-gasp from the Olympia to the Academy, the show was steeped in absurdities and awkwardness. Grime’s godfather offers little more than a handful of his greatest hits in a show blighted by heated exchanges with his DJ, a bloated, disorganised set and physical signals of disinterest as the night drew on.
Admittedly, it was the first leg of the tour and a follow-up album is likely being lacquered but it has to be said, though, performing live is an artist’s bread-and-butter. Though Wiley’s legacy is untainted, the night’s proceedings increasingly felt as much a chore for onlookers as it did for him. Less the godfather, more the un-enthused grandfather.
Rushing onto the stage sporting an ornate Gucci backpack, Wiley started the night brightly. Thunderous garage basslines, an electrifying, rampaging stage presence and fiery stocatto flows all made for a carnival atmosphere. “Let’s party”, he repeats between the three opening tracks.
I Call The Shots is second to be performed, the lead-single from ‘Godfather II’. Volcanic tremors could be felt as the bass rattled from side-to-side. The first of many conversations then takes place between the DJ and Wiley as he removes his bag. He leads an unprecedented chorus of Ole Ole’s, reciprocating the feverous energy, distilled through a green, white and orange lense. American artists normally stare blank-faced at the chant but Wiley understood and valued its strange merit on this isle.
Subwoofer crashers Speakerbox and P Money almost tore the Academy balcony asunder, Wiley’s heavy customized chain swinging like a glowing pendulum. Wearing My Rolex then blasts through the speakers and before his first verse gets a chance to breathe, he leads an Oggy Oggy Oggy chant.
There’s a certain level of trust that Wiley is tonight’s party curator, much like a District 8 set, but this connection wanes. Here, the night’s events reach their apex.
The set crept towards chaos after the performance of hit-single Heat Wave. He introduces a R&B comrade and leaves the stage entirely to allow him perform his own new single. The reception was wedged somewhere between animosity and confusion; he had quenched the flame with a flaccid cosign and would be forced to reignite.
His unintentionally sardonic comments about Finglas-based support act Mango were simultaneously warm and cold. “Make some noise for the people who came on before.” At one stage, Wiley prematurely ends a track, posturing a cut-throat gesture to his DJ and audibly says, “Let’s get through it”.
Spanning 22 tracks, the setlist was disorientated, if you could even call it a setlist. Between almost every track, Wiley consulted with his DJ. Occasionally, Wiley looked perplexed, it seemed like the DJ was either playing the incorrect tracks or playing the tracks incorrectly; all we truly know, is that it looked amateurish.
Back with a Banger was followed by yet another disarming clash with the DJ. The subsequent song’s backing-track bellowed out as Wiley remained entangled in conversation with his so-called “Selectah”. He even goes as far as poking at his equipment, turning a knob or two. The anthemic Joe Bloggs couldn’t even salvage some much needed momentum.
The truly forgettable remained to come. Where before, he, at minimum, performed tracks with vigour, a later three-track sequence was almost completely devoid of a Wiley verse.
Instead, his Boy Better Know crew members Skepta and JME echoed throughout the venue. He just ad-libs, bays the hooks and jumps up-and-down, spinning a towel in his idle role. “Turn it down, put the next one on,” he says, after remaining mostly voiceless for the best part of 10 minutes.
The last few performances were equally drab as he struggled to resuscitate a noticeably riled up and youthful audience. What had started like a Bugatti screaming its way down a barren American highway ended in a flame-spitting car crash.