Digital Soul Boys

RED BULL MUSIC ACADEMY @ The Palm House 6/10/16

The exotic setting of Sefton Park’s Palm House is accentuated by striking green and purple lighting and the stream of bass-heavy grime, hip hop and soul being pumped out by DJ SUEDEBROWN as the Red Bull Music Academy tour kicks off. The Red Bull PR greeters look slightly askance as I decline a freebie (how could you NOT want a free can of Red Bull?). A young, bright eyed and bushy tailed audience is on the groove early and Suedebrown keeps things up tempo for a while and then pulls it back a little before the arrival of S.G. LEWIS.

Signed to PMR, namechecked by Pharrell and touring on the back of recently released debut EP Shivers, the former Chibuku resident DJ takes to the stage, drummer and keyboard player in tow, and launches a heavy synth backdrop below shimmering cymbal rolls and a stabbing keyboard pulse. The loops build layer on layer, and clean, fluid guitar lines embellish the thunderous bass and vocals. They proceed in a lighter, electro-pop vein but, call me old fashioned, when I hear a fine, soulful vocal performance I prefer to hear it emanating from someone on the stage, the absence of such leaves me somewhat frustrated. They are joined later by BISHOP NEHRU for a short, sharp, well received rap salvo but then play the absent singer card again, leaving me with a busted flush. The crowd love it.

There is immediately a more organic feeling in the air as JAMIE WOON’s band, consisting of drums, bass, keys and two backing singers, take to the stage. The vocal harmonies are watertight, and the band play with a certain élan. Forgiven sees them hit their jazz-funk stride, finger snapping rhythms and sharp backing vocals a perfect counterpoint to Woon’s velvety croon.

Latest album Making Time is well represented, the chilled, summery vibe of Celebration and the late night groove of Sharpness are standouts. Woon looks to be enjoying the vibe and the surroundings. The crowd respond, unable to as insistent drum and bass rhythms push the songs forward while jazzy keys weave complex, elaborate patterns and Woon’s voice rises and falls in a light, soulful cadence. Woon and his band are, as football pundit Mickey Thomas once remarked after a particularly memorable passage of Welsh forward play, “quality of the highest quality”.

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