Sons of Kemet – Komedia, Brighton – 30th October 2018

Photo by Rhys Baker

It was as if I had immersed myself within a Jack Kerouac novel. Suddenly, without a word of warning, the quartet emerged on stage. An exhilarating and explosive start left the room roaring, as the revolving cast of twinned percussionists catalysed the crowd into dancing fruition; with their syncopated and scattershot rhythms building up the energy in the room.

Instantaneously the band created a wall of sound, as Shabaka Hutchings on sax, and Theon Cross on tuba locked into staccato-phrasings. Collectively blurring their musical outputs, the trumping tuba and airy saxophone both amalgamating into a squawking hot-blast of dizzy brass. At times harmonising, at others reinforcing, both musicians bounced off one another, in a call and response motif.

A couple in front began swing dancing, clearing the dancefloor around them. Looking up onto the stage, I could see the sweat dripping off Shabaka Hutchings, flowing down onto his sax and then the stage floor. Hutchings appeared only as a silhouetted saxophonist across the theatrical stage smoke, which had engulfed the front of the room. His coarse sax playing created space for his signature speedy hooks, which just added to the rawness of Sons’ performance.

On stage, the band became one body, with Hutchings acting as the brain or puppet master. Working in unison, the musician’s communal momentum took the music deeper and deeper into hypnotic awe. The core of the performance is centred on the jam and chemistry between the musicians, with every new track becoming the start of an embarking journey – yet with a looming uncertainty of an end or resolve.

The sound shrank and grew across the tracks, as the group flexed the dynamic muscles of their set. Sons created a strong sense of direction, despite being overwhelmed with improvisation, leaving the crowd to lose themselves in the double-drums, while the horns darted around the room violently, echoing the stage spotlights.

Sons of Kemet’s genre and style is a beautiful and diverse tapestry; incorporating afro-centric ideals with afro-futurism. The band’s poly-rhythm instrumentation, mixing mutated Caribbean and African vibes, with a psychedelic fusion of dancehall and dub reggae, creates a primordial context – giving the group’s sonic output a decades-old feel and heretical heritage.

With a sound laced with tradition, yet twisted with counterparty vision and a punk spirit, Sons create what can only be described as Gangster-brass, a woozy-tribal vibe, restless – yet trance-like. Delivering track after track of up-tempo stompers, Sons created an electrifying and remarkable output for only two drummers, a sax and tuba player.

The bouncy, heavy, deep, subterranean, smouldering, dirty tuba, created by Cross was just pure swag; a bass sound which is so deep, it is almost post-dub. In moments of mellowness, Hutchings’ performed a sax solo providing an exotic interval in-between the rhythmic ruckus.

One of Brighton’s finest new exports, Vels Trio, provided the support on the night. Warming up the crowd with their elegant meshing of contemporary UK jazz, synth-knocked electronica, and hip-hop feels. The prog jazz-triad performed material from their fantastic debut EP Yellow Ochre – a blend of trip-hop-inspired lounge and characterful groove. As well as revealing their latest release, ‘The Ward’, an almost jazz volte-face, that replaces the slender keys of Jack Stephen Oliver with cosmic psych-fuelled bass-wave, that gives a firmer nod towards the likes of Todd Terje than their jazz counterparts.

Returning from one of the shortest-lived encores, Hutchings took the mic for the first time that evening, leaving his saxophone on the ground. Addressing the attentive and wide-eyed crowd, he started to intellectually dissect the concept of history, touching and encompassing the values, ethos, and conceptual meanings within Your Queen is a Reptile – saluting women of colour, aggressively taking a shot the monarchy, while schooling the very white crowd on black history.

Spoken like a true postmodernist, Hutchings explained how history is always in a state of fluidity – an ever-expanding study of the past, that is made richer and more wholesome through a diverse tapestry of meta-narratives.

That is true for each and every track on Your Queen is a Reptile. It is a re-contextualisation of history through live sounds centuries old, as if the songwriting is crafted with the queen referenced in mind, attributing and encapsulating the personality and sonic representation of Ada Eastman, Harriet Tubman, Yaa Asantewaa and Doreen Lawrence.

Rhys Baker