billy woods @ Summerhall, Edinburgh, 6 Feb

billy woods revels in freedom tonight at Summerhall, although missing soundcheck means he has to shout to be heard

Live Review by Skye Butchard | 08 Feb 2024

Gigs where the support and headliner clash are special. It adds danger. Veteran rapper billy woods and Glasgow punk group Doss have near-opposite energies. Doss, for example, have their clothes off by the second song. woods opens his set kneeling behind his computer with a cup of tea.

Where Doss and woods align is intent. Both write from a dejected outsider position. They see through bullshit. They're rightfully bitter about the cards life has dealt, given the odds are in the casino's favour. Doss explore this bitterness through a proudly central-belt form of nihilism. They party like they’re at an afters. 'It's shite being Scottish' is a hook at one point. While songwriter Sorely Mackay might go too obvious ('It's Scotland the cowardly, not Scotland the brave' is an actual lyric), he and his brother put their arse into this performance.

Their support slot at Summerhall might be the biggest stage Doss have played. They're confident, ripping through punk songs that combine semi-rapped ranted verses and hooky shouted choruses. Half the crowd are moshing by the end, even if lines like above make others wince. The University of Edinburgh Independent Music Society are to thank for this mixed bill. Their president, Cameron Bilsland, points us towards a Tunnock’s Teacakes donation box between sets. Doss say the society treated them better than most promoters, with complementary hummus, Doritos and beer in the green room (“Fuck BrewDog though”).

billy woods is a huge pull for the society. Our editor joked they might have mixed him up with the Scottish DJ of the same name. But sure enough, the real woods appears, tea in hand. In this small run of European shows not connected to a set album, there's no Kenny Segal or Elucid – just woods and a laptop. He figures it out as he goes, stepping back at outros to select beats, changing his mind occasionally, or hitting the space bar to stop and give context. Fittingly, he didn't make soundcheck because of an early flight from Amsterdam. He has to shout to be heard through the beats. Given woods has a great deadpan, his delivery is slightly flattened by it, but getting to hear these songs blasted adds a new dynamic, and the beats hit hard.

billy woods on stage at Summerhall, Edinburgh
Image: billy woods by Izzy Reeve

For longtime fans, it's an ideal way to see woods perform. His work is slippery, and has always been suspicious of newcomers. His recent mainstream hit Maps (featured in our 2023 Albums of the Year list) is an exception. If you've only heard this, you’ll struggle to make out lyrics; woods has never been one to hold your hand. He opens by playing a wild new track on the speakers – a swirling mix of noise and guitar, where long stretches are dedicated to ambience. He leaves the stage. It finishes. He returns. “That's crazy, right?”, he offers, before starting proper.

The set is dense. He’s able to get through an hour of heady material, sifting through his discography and pulling out hits. It underlines the consistent writing. No Hard Feelings is an early highlight, where woods' relentless delivery is heightened by producer Preservation's searing horns. There's also Spongebob, an Armand Hammer cut which gets an especially positive reception. “I was going to call that Monotheism. None of you would be standing here if I did,” woods jokes. He's a glass-half-empty kind of performer. “Don't clap, it's the same song,” he sighs, like a substitute teacher, when the young crowd cheer at the beatswitch of Paraquat.

Remorseless is the height of woodsian nihilism, and its drumless vacuum is eerie and captivating. 'It's a freedom in admitting it's not gonna get better', goes one line. A story of learned distrust and PTSD, it explains woods' demeanour. He's an artist worthy of all the adulation, who won't get comfortable with the success in front of him. He's too smart for that.