Egyptian Hip Hop: Manchester – Live review
Egyptian Hip Hop, G R E A T W A V E S & Châteaux
8th March 2013
One of the stranger bands to emerge from the New Manchester scene of the late 00s, Egyptian Hip Hop are still brilliantly confounding.
Trying to think of the last time I used a circumflex – deliberately, that is, as opposed to the rogue feral ones that have infested LTW’s archives. No… no idea, and I suspect none of the young men whose presence on stage has brought this on were even born when I did my GCSE French; equally impressed with myself for being able to recall the name of it and with them for their grammatically correct Gallicism. They being Châteaux, who start their set with some pretty soulful three-way harmonies – and the fact that you know the guitars and bass and drums are going to burst in doesn’t make it any less perfect when they do. They’re indie, they’re pop, they’re nothing you’ve not heard before – and the fact that they’d been heavily blogged before they’d even played a gig and compared to the feeble, anaemic likes of The Drums is always going to foster some cynicism. In reality though they’re closer to the 80s source material than most of their contemporaries, not least because they’ve remembered to have a bassist and to write some classy, catchy tunes. It’s freezing in the still somewhat underpopulated venue but Châteaux leave early arrivals with a distinct feeling summer’s on the way. Which it probably isn’t, yet.
G R E A T W A V E S (I think that’s their preferred syntax. It was so much easier when bands were called things like Ride and Lush , wasn’t it?) are a different kind of warm, the kind you immerse yourself in and lie back and let all the shit things that have happened during the week dissolve away in a lovely cloud of dry ice and reverb. “We can sleep in the morning” runs the first track and it feels like it, like that state between dreaming and awake. The stage is a blur of bright blue, one figure behind a keyboard and another standing, facing upward towards a microphone set a couple of inches higher than you normally would; their stature adds to their presence. They are but two people, and fairly anonymous ones at that – they don’t give much away either in person or online; I’ve seen them a good few times now and still know very little about them. I like that. It’s not some contrived thing – this isn’t extrovert music, it’s one of the many descendants of the shoegaze era, electronically underpinned but washed in echo-drenched guitar, reminiscent at times of both sides of the ex Spacemen 3 coin. When the blue fades and the lights come up at the end it’s like being snapped out of a trance.
At least the place is busier now, though not full. Egyptian Hip Hop emerged on a wave of hype a couple of years back, splattered across mildly patronising national media stories about the new Manchester and how we don’t all walk round doing the monkey shuffle wishing it was 1990, as if anyone who had spent any time here actually needed telling. They were young (really young, too young to buy their own drinks legally) and exciting and the record labels beat a path to Marple to snag them and then… the buzz-chasers moved on. It may not have felt like it at the time, but maybe it was the best thing that could have happened to them; their distinctly low-key re-emergence towards the end of last year showcasing a band that had matured, to an extent, into something more coherent – but were still pretty bloody strange.
Case in point: most of the band are on stage ready to start; singer Alex Hewett isn’t. Until he descends from a window behind the drums wearing a paisley-ish silk dressing gown. In contrast to many earlier live appearances, they actually look like they give a fuck tonight. And so they should – somehow, the sullen kids with an overload of half finished ideas and a decidedly patchy live reputation have become a bloody great band.
Not a band you can easily say sounds like x and y – they’ll take some spaced out reverb dreamwave and stick a loose funk bass on it, a bit of stoned tropical jazz, and stretch it out into a vaguely Can-like sprawl. Sometimes they remind me of PVT and they’ve never been an easy one to nail either. Alex is largely incomprehensible whether singing or addressing the crowd in a somewhat distant way, to the point where his sudden leap into the crowd for a spot of disco mosh is a bit of a surprise. Meanwhile the fact that new single ‘Tobago’ is some weird prog funk trip that’s about as commercial as dog’s milk doesn’t seem to bother the mostly teenage pack dancing down the front. If it’s snappy, obvious tunes you’re after then look elsewhere; their songs still mostly sound like accidental coalescences of a bigger picture, liquid and otherworldly and hypnotic. They probably don’t consider themselves psychedelic yet they are, so much more than the sort of trippy-dippy sixties-fixated types who do. They end the set with a great twisting shifting squall, and it’s genuinely exhilarating – not just because of how good they’ve become, but because of the possibilities it offers for where they might go next. Or they might just bugger off never to be heard of again. It’s a fair bet, though, that whatever they do it isn’t going to be boring. That’ll do for me.