There are plenty of ‘holy shit’ moments at an Anti-Pop Consortium gig: M. Sayyid and High Priest trading verbal punches; beatmaster Earl Blaize’s Morse code racket as the three MCs take the stage; Beans’ breakneck freestyling – and of course his latest moustache. It’s their second Whelan’s gig in less than a year and the New York hip-hop crew are back to ‘disturb the equilibrium’. After a hiatus of five or six years, the quartet bounced back in 2009 with their fifth and strongest album yet (Fluorescent Black) and got their hands dirty in club gigs and festivals worldwide – who says comebacks are just for middle-aged rockers?
An APC live show is as hands-on as hip-hop gets. Never mind the backing tracks – the quartet (no MegMan this time) have a work table in Whelan’s that is a hardware fetishist’s wet dream; a mass of synths, laptops, controllers, drum machines and samplers. Earl Blaize kicks off with some forgotten sci-fi theme tune looping ‘I’m just a lonely space girl’ before Beans walks on, lining up a few beers at his feet. Priest and Sayyid then take their positions for their usual electro warm-up, bashing keys and turning dials. Sayyid – who takes on the hype-man role – chants out ‘Fluorescent Black Dublin’ before -Lay Me Down’ kicks in ‘with paramilitary precision’. Played back-to-back with Arrhythmia single -Dead In Motion’ it’s a knockout opening, a one-two suckerpunch. As the three MCs holler ‘more fire/ more fire/ MORE FIRE’, there’s already pogoing in the front row – Saturday night is alright for rapping.
Much is made of APC’s avant garde forays, even their name can come across as a bit aloof. Sure, song titles like -Superunfrontable’ and -Systaltic Quiessence’ are hardly -Rapper’s Delight’ but their gigs are more hip-hop block party than po-faced poetry slam. Sayyid is full of high-fives, cracking jokes and sharing pints of Guinness, while the three MCs hype each other up between verses. Sayyid is master of ceremonies, Priest stalks the stage like a wrestler and Beans (mic in each hand, nice touch) spits out hundreds of words a minute. They’re all skilled producers too, so we get plenty of glitchy improvised interludes between the verbal gymnastics, ranging from pounding Autechre-style sound clashes to early electronic B-movie pastiches. While last May’s show had APC testing out Fluorescent Black tracks before its September release, they’re greeted with the biggest cheers this time. The ravey synths and dizzying MC battles on -C Thru U’ up the ante, and the fuzzy power chord outro on -Reflections’ starts a mosh-pit, right after the beats cut out for a breathtaking Sayyid unaccompanied solo verse. Sweating bullets, Sayyid keeps repeating through the night: ‘Ah shit Dublin, APC from NYC, pleasure to be back.’ Ditto. Anti-Pop Consortium have always been trailblazing forward, and hip-hop’s future looks brighter now they’re back in it.