Tuesday 20 February, 2018
(4 minute read)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I hadn’t really thought about or listened to Dizzee Rascal since I saw him live 8(!) years ago on a dangerously hot Australia Day in 2010 at the great but ill-fated Big Day Out. I was 17, and able to support two friends on my shoulders jumping to Bonkers with 20,000 other enraptured patrons at Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse. I had just discovered Dizzee through Tongue ‘N Cheek in late 2009. That brilliant album, sometimes derided by implacable reviewers in The Guardian for its commercial detour to Armand Van Helden and Calvin Harris, introduced me and millions of others to Dizzee and the then-flowering genre of London Grime.
By way of further context, Dizzee’s electronically-luscious hits Holiday, Dirtee Cash, Dance Wiv Me, and Bonkers provided the soundtrack to me falling for my first great love at the similarly ill-fated Pyramid Rock Festival in 2009-10. There we revelled in youth, sun, sea and curly hair on Phillip Island, without the tedious and HR-inspired ‘good life partner’ metrics that plague one’s mid-20s. And so it goes.
Thus it was without hesitation that I accepted a last-minute invitation to attend Dizzee’s intimate gig at the stunning Forum Melbourne on a balmy Tuesday summer evening. I spent two full days schooling up on his broader catalogue, and in particular his newest and sixth studio album Raskit (2017), which he was in town to promote.
Immediately returning to his Grimy roots, Mr Rascal opened his set with the lyrically brilliant Space. It is a sparse, bent, and angry anthem which reveals a maturation in Dizzee’s musical oeuvre and his lyrical and poetic development since he blew up in 2002. Here, Rascal cast the semblance of a brooding Prince Hamlet. His icy and staccato speech was fractured and words fired from his mouth like bullets from a machine gun, betraying an almost paranoid and under-siege psyche (perhaps from mixed reviews about The Fifth?): “I’ve been through hell and I’ve swallowed the ashes, / running this ting for so long as it happens, / I’m knackered, / All of my enemies broken and shattered, / sprinkling hate, / they’re all over the shop and they’re scattered”. Listen to the track and find yourself reading the rest of this piece in Dizzee’s irresistible Jafaican (Multicultural London English) accent and trochaic pentameter, with its bouncy glottal stops and juicy vowels.
Following this outstanding, swaggering and brooding opening, the punters were treated to a series of his grimy but unrelatable tracks (at least for Melburnians) – such as Ghost, Wot U Gonna Do and Make It Last. Disappointingly, Dizzee didn’t perform Raskit’s brilliant and relevant opening track Focus. It goes without saying that everyone enjoyed the filthy resounding bass and impressive lyrical dexterity of each track (my ears are still aching four days on), but many songs in the opening half of the gig lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. Fortunately, the punters were thrown a life rope with his exquisite Jus’ A Rascal (2003) about ten tracks deep, a tune which strikes that stunning balance between Grime and broader commercial appeal.
Reeling us in from all corners of the Forum, Dizzee resuscitated us with a barrage of his classic hits that we had all come to see (at least according to my market research at The Duke of Wellington beforehand). Drunk on nostalgia, we were treated to Fix Up, Look Sharp, the great and catchy new hit from Raskit Bop n’ Keep it Dippin, followed by the unbeatable flow of Heavy, Bassline Junkie, Dance Wiv Me, and Holiday. Dizzee then busted out You Got the Dirtee Love - that superb collaboration with Florence and the Machine - before informing the ecstatic crowd that he had breached Melbourne’s curfew regulations and had to leave the stage. This being Australia, half of the crowd (me included) believed him and resigned ourselves to filing out of the venue in an orderly manner. He returned triumphantly moments later, with the smile on his face and the lights illuminating the stage, to inform us that he “was jus’ jokin' wiv ya”.
He then dropped Bonkers, getting the whole crowd at the Forum jumping and heaving together in one final blissful moment of forgetting that life and work would roll around in 8 hours. For me, and I suspect for many others, it was also a blissful moment of remembering. What a time to be alive. ♦