When news arrived early last year that Loyle Carner would be making his inaugural visit down under, I could hardly contain my excitement. I’d played the 23-year-old South Londoner’s Mercury-nominated debut album ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ religiously since its January release (it was inevitably later revealed as my most listened-to album of 2017, thanks to that handy Spotify feature), and linked and raved about it to just about everyone that I knew — strangers, even. Unsurprisingly, his sold out Oxford Art show was my number one live set of last year as well.
So you can imagine how truly shook I was when, following the recent announcement that he’d been nominated for British Male Solo Artist and British Breakthrough Act at this year’s BRITs, a tweet went viral that asked, “Um, who is Loyle Carner? No disrespect to Loyle, but I’ve never heard of him…” Wow. Carner brushed it off in good spirits, however, kicking off the tongue-in-cheek #whoisloylecarner hashtag for fans to use. For everyone paying attention, you’d know that the MC had a colossal 12 months, with highlights including writing the foreword to ‘Dyslexia Is My Superpower (Most Of The Time)’ — a book helping young people with the same condition he’s struggled with himself — starring in a Burberry ad, and kicking someone out of his show for yelling sexual comments at his female support act.
Speaking about the latter event to NME, Carner said: “People were going, ‘What do you expect at a hip hop show?’ and I was like, ‘That’s the whole reason I kicked this guy out, because that’s not what hip hop is. Hip hop comes from poetry and jazz and blues and pain and people expressing how they feel, it doesn’t come from a man slapping a woman or telling her that she’s nothing but a body part. I don’t give a f**k what you think it is – I know what I think it is and what it is supposed to be in 2017.” If that alone isn’t enough to make you love him…
Back on our shores for the Laneway circuit, the wordsmith was ready and rearing to win over everyone who missed out on tickets last time round. It hasn’t been long between Aussie drinks for Carner; his only musical release between last May and now has been an appearance on frequent collaborator Tom Misch‘s jazz-laced cut “Water Baby”. With that in mind, I didn’t expect a set too different from our last encounter (not that I was complaining). Commanding the stage from the moment the hallowed choral chants of “Isle Of Arran” filled the room, Loyle Carner quickly made clear he wasn’t there to lazily regurgitate a set. Backed by best pal and long-time artistic partner in crime Rebel Kleff on the decks, Carner launched into his astonishingly articulate catalogue, intercutting each track with warm introductions.
“I’m from a little place called London Town”, he reminded the audience, still evidently taken aback by the full house at what he calls “the furthest place I could be”. It’s hard to pinpoint a single standout moment from the evening: he eased his way through “Florence”, a song he wrote for his mother about the daughter she always wanted (“She could be my little freckled-face fidgeter, me but miniature”), bounced confidently through “NO CD”, his guitar-led breakthrough ode to crate-digging (“Keeping it straight, buzzing ’til late, sample the greats/ Then we move onto the groove, grabbing that sample at eight”), and had eyes watering with “Sun Of Jean”, the track sampling his late stepfather’s unreleased album. He rendered the room silent for “Cantona”, explaining that the Manchester United jersey he clutched in one hand was a live show tradition, fulfilling he promise that he and his father (a huge Manchester fan) would tour the world together.
Sprinkling in other tracks from his breathtaking 2015 EP ‘A Little Late’, Carner and his diaristic offerings had the room spellbound, humming along to choruses and bopping along to slick boom bap beats. His energy was infectious throughout, powering through most of the set with a cheshire grin stuck on his face — especially when the time came for him to complete what has become an Aussie rite of passage: the shoey. Carner wrapped up by cheekily relaying his mother’s reaction to his use of the C-word upon returning home from his last visit, and promised to bring her with him on his next trip to our shores. Once again, the room buzzed with the knowledge that we’d experienced something truly magical. Carner is an authentic, dynamic force in contemporary hip hop, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s here to stay for a long, long time.
Photos by Jayden Gocher.