Review: Awful Records Showcase @ Village Underground

Art & Culture

“Hush little shorty, don’t say a word / Father’s gonna buy you a fat sack of herb”

I like to think of Village Underground as a cathedral, though to be honest I’m not entirely sure why. I guess it’s the unusual space – a long, tall room with a slanted roof and a side chapel. That, and being briefly convinced of a higher power while watching Slowdive there last year.

This silly preamble is just a way of suggesting that perhaps a better venue could have been found for tonight’s Awful Records showcase. The Atlanta hip-hop collective are here for their first group show in London, but during head honcho Father’s set, I’m left pining for a dark, low-ceilinged, claustrophobia-inducing basement.

After a small delay (read: a couple of hours dancing to Drake songs in a near-empty room) everything kicks off with the first Awful performance of the night. It’s a bit of a non-starter – after being so slow to enter, KeithCharles Spacebar rather abruptly presses ESC after just a few songs. A shift in gear is required.

When Abra hits the stage the venue has filled out considerably. She has a relaxed, endearing stage presence, and delivers a great set of R&B jams. If Father has understandably been the focal point of Awful, with Makonnen the breakout act and Ethereal the crate-diggers’ choice, then Abra is their potential superstar in the making. She even goes for an unexpected cover of ‘Seven Nation Army’ – you wouldn’t have thought it was possible to bring anything new to the song after all these years, but Abra reclaims it from the terraces and transforms it into a sensual slow jam.

Father delivers a great headline performance – deliciously debauched and salaciously sleazy. If you’re going in over such minimal beats, you’ve got to be an engaging performer, and thankfully he doesn’t disappoint. ‘On Me’ is an early highlight, wherein Father compares himself to Cam’ron and provides us with a mission statement of sorts (“I’m trying to get me a pearlescent white Lamb / without signing 360 deal to white man”).

He runs through a clutch of his best hits – ‘Young Hot Ebony’, ‘Please Stop Making Fake Versace’ – but the inevitable highlight of his set, and indeed the whole night, is ‘Look At Wrist’. It’s likely this slurred, low-key anthem that put a lot of people on to Awful in the first place.

Overall a good night, but maybe something of a missed opportunity, due in part to the thin crowd. It certainly didn’t feel like the grand arrival that I had been hoping for. A fair amount of buzz has been building around Awful, and while Father has done a London show before, this was the first time they'd come here as a group. Thankfully, the hardcore fans down the front set the tone for the rest of the crowd, and helped turn a potential anti-climax into a success. Hopefully the group will be back soon, in a venue more suited to their particular charms.