El-P / Despot / Bigg Taj & Spee 69 @ Stereo, 18 September

Live Review by Bram E. Gieben | 20 Sep 2012

With Stereo's basement superheated to a temperature somewhere beyond that of a tropical rainforest, the night kicks off with a set from UK rapper Spee 69 and Glaswegian beatbox legend Bigg Taj. Having just dropped a collaboration with Stones Throw rapper Guilty Simpson, the former delivers a set of traditionalist hip-hop hooks while Bigg Taj demonstrates why he is one of the UK's most respected beatboxers, with a technically audacious showcase that takes in everything from soul and house to dubstep.

El-P collaborator and former Def Jux artist Despot follows up with a smart, infectious, fuck-you performance of cult hits like Crap Artists and Look Alive, and a smattering of new tracks. There are promises from the supremely confident, diminutive ginger rapper to finally release his debut album, and his zany between-song banter is enriched by a fantastic put-down of an ignorant heckler.

El-P himself takes the stage as the temperature rises from 'tropical' to 'Dante's Inferno,' along with his touring band, consisting of Chin Chin's keyboardist Wilder Zoby and multi-instrumentalist Little Shalimar, plus hype man Shannon (from fellow former Def Jux signings Activator). They launch into an excoriating, punishing rendition of Request Denied and The Full Retard. Despot rejoins the fray for an aggressive rendition of Tougher Colder Killer; elsewhere El-P gets dark and paranoid on True Story and The Jig is Up. Throughout, El-P is on intense, supremely confident form. The odd legacy track aside, tonight is all about attacking third album Cancer4Cure in its entirety, and rightly so: it's a high for the Brooklyn producer and MC in a career full of incendiary moments.

After an intoxicating, sing-along rendition of For My Upstairs Neighbour and a sincere dedication of album closer $4/Nothing But You+Me to lost friends and family, the night finishes with Zoby and Shalimar trading licks over the bassline of Can I Kick It?, swiftly followed by El-P wheeling out Vital Nerve and Deep Space 9mm, to the crowd's delight. Drenched in sweat, we leave reeling and high, the darkness and paranoia of Cancer4Cure transmuted into pure euphoria.