Monday, 22 September 2014

MUSIC REVIEW: MTV Crashes, Derry-Londonderry

No matter what one's taste in music may be, it's hard to ignore MTV. When the 2011 European Music Awards were staged in Belfast, the commotion created by the likes of Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber was such that even those who weren't lucky to attend the event in the Odyssey had their memories, even if they weren't necessarily musical.

Now here we are, back in the open air, at Derry-Londonderry's Ebrington Square, for the 2014 MTV Crashes concerts. Considering the line up at hand on opening night, it genuinely feels less about meeting the mega stars and more about the music. And that is a very good thing. For music is what "Stroke City" is all about in 2014 - Northern Ireland's very own "Music City" is in need of an elevating, electrifying experience. The question surely everyone asks before MNEK takes the stage is, can this supposedly fabulous foursome create the required atmosphere?

MNEK, pronounced M-N-E-K, has the appearance and name of a Nigerian footballer, but tonally channels the drive of De La Soul and the chic of CHIC, with the female backing vocalists to go with it. Dressed like a Hawaiian, his loud facade contrasts sharply with a stylish and soulful 1980s hip hop beat, creating a friendly verve that spreads around the growing crowd. That he seems a little more lightweight than his apparent inspirations isn't a bad thing, as both the performer and his catchy choruses are the kind of familial tonic required for a communally warm atmosphere.

The photogenic female foursome Neon Jungle may lack the heartfelt harmonies of Katy B, but they've enough chemistry and excitement to keep the crowd going through the slightly uneasy middle ground of the set list on the night. They are a steady, sultry, solid substitute, a calm prelude to the raving rap of Professor Green.

The 6 ft 2 in tall "professor" is not Eminem, and is hardly in the sort of surroundings where everyone can fully appreciate his lyrics. It matters little. He has the character and invention to compensate, his clever samplings of INXS' "Need You Tonight" and the Beatmasters' "Dub Be Good To Me" bringing back memories. Tied in with MNEK's music, it feels like quite the night for nostalgists as well as the young crowd, who are clearly relishing the booming beats. The female vocalists reveal unexpected versatility in Green's ensemble, if not necessarily from the rapper himself.

By this stage, the night sky is out in full bloom, the on stage lighting (a mixture of reds and whites) is hugely prominent, and smart phones are turning the present-day sightings into future memories. It's the ideal stage for Dutch DJ Afrojack to sign off a solidly satisfying opening to a welcoming weekend of music as only he can, elevating already impressive beats to another level.

(The original version of this review appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on Saturday September 20, 2014.)