sun 05/12/2021

Live is Alive!, Brighton Festival 2021 review - local talent makes for snappy return to gig-land | reviews, news & interviews

Live is Alive!, Brighton Festival 2021 review - local talent makes for snappy return to gig-land

Live is Alive!, Brighton Festival 2021 review - local talent makes for snappy return to gig-land

Dakka Skanks, AFLO. and the Poets, Super Dupes and Tiawa kick up a small storm

AFLO. and the Poets bring black power to the Brighton Dome© Jamie MacMillan

The idea live music is back is worth shouting about. Indeed, the BBC News has been doing just that about this gig. In reality, though, while it’s a joy to be out (this is my first major venue concert for a year-and-a-half), Live is Alive is a stepping stone towards a ‘proper’ gig, rather than the real deal. The Brighton Dome is less than half full, the moshpit set with cabaret-style tables, everyone socially distanced.

As the event’s MC, local radio presenter Melita Dennett, explains at the start, we are to stay seated, no dancing – “you can wiggle your bums!” - while drinks can be obtained all evening via a phone-app and waiter service.

gigBut it really is great to be out. That buzz is tangible, with over-excited shrieks and whistles exploding regularly. Live is Alive is a celebration of live music, under siege from COVID and lack of government support. As a looped film at the start tells us, live music is worth £112 million to the local economy, and the four Brighton bands whose 20-25 minute sets we’ll be seeing are each “presented” by a local venue.

First off is Tiawa [pictured below right] who’s on globally successful local independent label Tru Thoughts, a new album, Moonlit Train, forthcoming. A female compadre plays music from a laptop and Tiawa, clad in a crop top and playing self-consciously with her long hair, sings in a sweet, hazy, airy way. The music is, in essence, trip hop. It’s a style endlessly rebranded as each new generation lays claim, but loping downtempo shuffle-beats, stoned soul vibes and a female vocal will always and ever be trip hop.

tiawaTiawa adds a subtle Caribbean-Hispanic flavour, both musically and with slightly slurred, dancehall-style MCing, as well as occasional singing/rapping in Portuguese. The sound balance isn’t great and she needs to project better (it’s hard to hear any specific words), also to develop confidence in a stage persona. But there’s the beginnings of something here; Tiawa is likeable, shy but street, in the way Amy Winehouse was circa early promo for her first album Frank.

supaSuper Dupes [pictured left] have a horrible name and when the “fusion” six-piece start with an unpleasant slice of tasteful smooth jazz, things don’t look good. But then they open the throttle and my opinion radically flips. Featuring, in a row across the stage, a guitarist, a sax, a trumpet, two drum kits and a bassist, they plunge into tightly knit Afro-funk, and the next three cuts exude inarguable energy, the band super-tight, their virtuosic chops displayed on fast, lean solos, the short set climaxing in a noisy, speedy funk attack that has the room clapping along, whooping with fiesta spirit.

AFLO. and the Poets are a trio, a guitarist-singer and two poets, proudly black artists, and are about as Brighton as it’s possible to be. Central figure AFLO [pictured below right] tells us that, “Tonight the flavour is black joy and resistance in the face of oppression.” Happily, their work is engaging and witty rather than earnestly polemic. AFLO kicks off with a couple of impressive poems, notably “Compost”, a clever analogy around turning the crap flung at a person into something positive.

afloPriss Nash follows, opening with the memorable line, “I know that Hell is real because Kent exists,” and follows with a righteous self-empowerment ode based around the way she’s often been pejoratively defined by the combination of her skin colour and her pristine English. It’s delivered with vim and humour – “I speak like the English dictionary is my bitch!” Guitar-playing non-binary singer Khanyisa follows with the song “Lightly”, again about ignorant perceptions around skin colour, then the trio close with a new number, “Black Joy” which, after a false start, hits its stride.

Poetry works well in these controlled circumstances, allowing focus, coming into its own. What doesn’t work is that, despite the opening announcement that drinks are available throughout, the Dome close their bar service three-quarters of the way through the gig. Given all the other strictures, this is supremely irritating and unnecessary. Happily, final act Dakka Skanks [pictured below left], a five-year-old band with a new line-up, conclude the evening with a set that, even glued to a seat, is relentlessly invigorating.

dakkaTheir style tonight is midway between their default setting, ska, and psyched garage rock. Frontwoman Clara Byrne, in black skirt and striped black’n’white top, is the focal point, rocking out with forceful lyrics on songs such as the Bananarama-riffing “Babylon Falling”, the set peaking with the catchy “You Can’t Cancel This” wherein she plays the jolly central motif on a red melodica. Finishing short of their time slot, they give us a final dub jam worthy of On U Sound and the like. Give this lot a festival and they will slay!

Live is Alive is an enjoyable taster of what we all hope is round the corner. Anyone with an ounce of sense cannot wait to leave those TV boxsets behind and huddle back into all the brilliant local venues this evening celebrates. In the case of Brighton, this means The Prince Albert, The Komedia, The Latest Music Bar, The Old Market, The Green Door Store,  St George’s Church, and the rest. We need them back!

Below: Watch the video for "Babylon Falling" by Dakka Skanks

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