Open on Stereo92. Interior – hardwood floor, bare walls and spotlights adorning the ceilings and stage. A raised platform at one end of the venue, hosting a wealth of keyboards, computers, speakers and a full drum kit. A bar is set into the corner of the room, near the exit to the street above. With a capacity size looking to hold around 200 people, this small, low ceilinged basement is about to play host to the breakthrough of an artist; a culmination of his hard graft and commitment to his art. With doors at 7pm, fairly early for a Tuesday by all accounts, a sparse room was waiting to be filled.
I give all credit to promoters and event hosts. It’s not an easy job, and 99% of the time there’s something that can go wrong. A certain amount of leeway is pretty much required by the consumers if it’s not in a major venue and even then, crew are only human beings just like me or you. But, it was somewhat concerning that with no explanation or communication there was a two hour DJ set prior to the main event, seemingly to fill the time.
It wasn’t until 9:30 that the host climbed onto the stage to introduce our first act, a somewhat nervous looking musician by the name of Jovel. With only an acoustic guitar and solo microphone, there was an air of anticipation as to what could happen next. His opening was a freestyle rap over the top of his guitar, and to put it bluntly, was astounding. His flow was fast and yet controlled, each word carefully chosen but delivered at breakneck speed.
Accompanying his lyrics with the odd strum of a guitar, it’s not a surprise to find out that Jovel has written for the superstar Ed Sheeran. His style completely fits with it, from his pauses and minimalistic guitar patterns all the way to his choice of subject. Despite there being only four songs to the set, it was a joy to listen to his recitation of his thoughts and experiences. Explaining the song lyrics briefly after each track (a notable instance being the clever parallel through the song ‘Dreams or Dragons’, but it’s better to work it out for oneself), there was an immediate air of intimacy yet control. By starting with a very Sheeran-esque performance and smoothly transitioning into a ballad situation, ending on a track written for his partner who afterwards affectionately asked him not to ever sell the song to his red haired counterpart, he proved his master of moods and set a rather special feeling tone to the evening.
Immediately following in the footsteps of Jovel was PW, another solo artist but of a completely separate genre. At this point we were introduced to the harder side of rap for the event; there was to be no more singer/songwriter vibes with this set. As a performer, PW held a certain air around him that demanded attention. His energy and enthusiasm are undeniable and to a large extent contagious, and it didn’t take long to get into his first track before the crowd were moving with him. With his hood raised and microphone seemingly joined to his face, one couldn’t avoid being starkly aware of the shift in atmosphere, and revelling in it.
Now onto the main event. With a small respite of 10 minutes to get the band on stage – yes a full four piece band (where else was that drum kit going to be used?) – it was now time to get acquainted with the man we were all here to see – Ikes. With the event based around the release of his new EP Outside|In, he wasted no time starting with a carefully planned opener. With his bandmates all donning black balaclavas, he introduced his ‘band of criminals’ and swept into his first track. This was the part we’d been waiting for, and the night certainly kicked up a notch.
It almost goes without saying that Ikes and his band were certainly encompassing a more professional sound than their predecessors, with tight hooks and playful basslines to accompany Ikes’ lyrics. The thought that had gone into the preparation for the night (in terms of choice of performers) seemed clear now, both Jovel and PW held the two halves of Ikes’ whole.
A clear songwriter from the beginning, Ikes told a story of hardship and work, a born storyteller through music, but this was different to the sultry sound of Jovel’s guitar. This had the edge of PW’s tracks, minus a handful of the almost aggressive energy. It hit the right line between groove, soul and hip-hop, with Ikes pulling all the strings together in a stage presence worthy of any headliner. The expression found in his body, facial expressions and vocals was moving, with the crowd now moving all over the venue, jostling to get closer to the man himself. What was truly touching was his dedication to his own family who were standing in the wings, cheering him on and singing every word as if they were their own.
All of this was made possibly with the sponsor of the night, Take Over UK clothing. Whilst chatting to them between the sets, it became clear that they’re not doing this as ‘just another gig’. There is no such thing to these guys. Each artist they support is in unison with their principles, to help each other out and to achieve the goals that they set in life.
For Ikes, this moment seemed to be a defining one in his career so far, and for TOUK to represent and assist in that, well, everyone gets to be part of something bigger. Keep your eyes peeled for this major brand, not only for their merchandise, but for their ideals and spirit to the music industry – and not for the Simon Cowells out there, but for the regular people like you and me.
It was with great pleasure that I listened and danced, completely taken aback by what a talent could emerge from such a place. Ikes has won over a new fan, and in this reviewers eyes, made his entire family – of blood, musicians and fans alike – immeasurably proud.