Birmingham’s O2 Academy is the ninth stop on Stormzy’s sold out 17 date U.K. and Ireland tour, following the release of his smash hit debut album “Gang Signs & Prayer” in late February. The young London-based grime artist can best be described as nothing other than a sensation, shooting from success to success after the release of early single, “ Shut Up”.
Consistently at the forefront of the U.K. music scene for the last two years, alongside the likes of his Mercury-winning grime pal, Skepta, as well as breaching international waters. Just yesterday it was announced he is collaborating with U.S. nu-metal band Linkin Park, and at the end of this tour he will perform at the giant Coachella festival in California. Recently featuring on a single with Ed Sheeran and on the re-mix of Jon Bellion’s “All Time Low” hit.
It’s no secret that Stormzy is influential, but his influence goes much further than guaranteed airtime at every young person’s house party. In fact; some quite weird influences have been popping up. At Nandos in Birmingham’s Mailbox, neighbouring the O2 Academy, they offered diners a 20% discount when a Stormzy ticket was shown.
On the way to the venue, the aftermath of the huge queues was apparent; Parklife Festival leaflets, cigarette butts and cans of Strongbow Dark Fruit littered the pavement all the way up to the venue. Not only does this show the dedication of the fans waiting for hours to grab a front row spot, but it also says a lot about the demographic of the audience (Strongbow Dark Fruit is like liquid gold in any university house-share)! Despite arriving an hour after doors opened, the queues still stretched down the road.
Stormzy tour support A2 in action in Birmingham
UK hip hop artist A2 had begun his set by the time I got in and, having been tipped as ‘the next big thing’, I was excited to see him perform. His voice sounds a little like Lil Wayne, just less whiny, as he paces across the stage quite ominously. Very calm and collected throughout the performance, despite rapping so fast his words become a blur. Although the venue was reaching its 3000 capacity by this point, the audience didn’t seem overly excited or engaged with his set, and disappointedly, neither was I.
It all ended rather suddenly and without me even realising he had finished, two DJs were on stage performing. Unfortunately for A2, these DJs completely eclipsed his set. The DJs open with throwback nineties classics, including the Prince of Bel-Air theme song, before becoming specifically tailored, with Birmingham ladies Safone’s “Man From Brum” featured.
Towards the end of the set, the DJ pairing tell the audience to calm down, but go on to play the ultimate hype-up tune, Solo 45’s “Feed ‘em to the Lions”. This is definitely the way forward for gigs; the physical presence and interaction of two DJs on stage in the changeover period to work up the audience – tonight, many in the front half of the crowd went out to the rear of the hall dripping with sweat. The energy in the crowd pretty contagious.
Just after nine, the stage filled with smoke and a flickering single white light, like a camera flash. The man himself sprang onto the stage, opening his set with “First Things First”, the opening cut song on his number one album. The lyrical content tackles hard-hitting themes, such as depression, family and the inner-city struggles young people face.
Although this track didn’t get the most excitable reaction from the crowd, it does encapsulate the refreshingly direct nature of Stormzy’s lyrics. In fact, many of the songs on the setlist didn’t get as big of a reaction as I had expected.
From reading other reviews and knowing full well about the hype surrounding Stormzy, my pre-conceived idea was the whole show would be electric from start to finish. With Birmingham, I didn’t find this to be the case.
While the setlist had some highlights: “Cigarettes and Cush”, “Return of the Rucksack” and “Know Me From”, to name a few, for the most part the crowd were more interested in filming the first thirty seconds for their Snapchat story – at which point the ‘hype’ completely died down. I spent the majority of the night watching the set through somebody else’s ‘phone screen.
Regardless, Stormzy claimed that last night was the “biggest headline show I have ever done in my life to date”, and spit every beat and bar with perfect timing and accuracy. Testament to why this talented young lyricist has garnered such critical acclaim.
Almost alone on stage, apart from a DJ at the decks, mostly hidden in smoke at the back of the stage, Stormzy relied solely on his own energy, and the energy which the young crowd feed back to him. Stripping off his shirt and leaping into the pit to greet the fans on the barrier during his red hot set.
The lighting rig created exactly right atmosphere; Stormzy himself appeared as a silhouette for most of the show, hidden in smoke and behind neon beams of light which span out into the crowd, making the venue feel more like a warehouse rave. Relatively simple lighting, proving that he doesn’t need to rely on extras such as CO2 cannons, confetti or pyrotechnics to put on a great show.
Fans go straight to Twitter after the gig, to praise the young artist for a “mad night” with “unreal energy”. One fan claiming that videos do it no justice, and unfortunately, neither does my review here. While I found the energy of the room waned at points, there is absolutely no question that Stormzy is an incredible artist with a very dedicated fanbase, who spit back at him even his most obscure lyrics.
Words: Maddie Flower
Stormzy photos: Mohamed Abdulle
A2 photo: Andy Watson