High Focus Records is currently the significant force to be reckoned with in the UK hip hop scene. It’s that simple. Starting as the brainchild of label head honcho, emcee and herb enthusiast, Fliptrix, High Focus began in 2010 as a platform to resurrect hip hop in the UK and showcase the multitude of talent on offer. High Focus Records now boasts a roster bulging with the crème de la crème of artists comfortably enjoying their prime, with an accumulative slew of releases each worthy of critical appraisal. Lucky for us, they felt the need to bring a fair chunk of said roster down under for SMOKE MY TOUR, a tour so hyped that the Facebook promotional page was brimming on 4k ‘likes’ prior to the final show of the tour, Sunday November 24, at the sonically desolate sludge pit known as Metropolis Fremantle.
In the months leading up to the tour, the High Focus crew allowed the cities to effectively pick the support slots to represent their city, chosen on the basis of namedropping you pick, and whoever gets the most likes is the support act for that city. In theory, this is a dope idea. In practice, careful what you wish for. Jaded I missed Soma’s support slot, as I know that the well-seasoned UK ex-pat would’ve been well and truly in his element (proof being his getting shout-outs from the HF crew later on); Rather, I was treated to a young group seemingly intent on trotting out hip hop’s unwanted cliches (alas, no shout out later on). But they were having fun in the train wreckage, and the crowd seemed to dig it, so I suppose that that’s a redeeming feature.
Soon enough, High Focus resident DJ Sammy B-Side took the reins for what will be remembered as the high-water mark for all hectic gigs to come. First up in the High Focus showcase was Edward Scissortongue: the more off-kilter member of the crew. I hadn’t heard much from Scissortongue, though he came as highly recommended by a bunch of people. Treading a stylistic line somewhere between Homeboy Sandman and Elf Tranzporter, Scissortongue took to the stage with an inspired energy that resonated with and was reciprocated by the now giddily-hyped up assortment of rat-tails and Air Maxes in the crowd. Scissortongue’s taste in beats was astounding; despite the rankness of Metros’ sound system, managing to find the depth and breadth necessary to convey the vivid imagery of his material – case in point being the reflective narrative of Spastic Max, from his 2012 Better.Luck.Next.Life album. The absolute standout for me, and also from that album, is the dystopian excursion RoseGarden, all the more enhanced by the 4-person hypeman squadron. Without further ado, Scissortongue introduced the next emcee off the ranks, Jam Baxter.
Being the crew member that I was most familiar with, I had the highest hopes for Baxter’s set despite the standard set by Scissortongue. Small in stature, and wielding a broken arm, Baxter’s presence embodied the crowd’s energy as he flawlessly worked his way through a set list drawing from all sorts of his back catalogue, including the incredible Gruesome Features. The ability to recite his beyond-intricate bars in a live setting, whilst maintaining the hectic live show demanded by the rowdy audience is no easy feat, yet he persevered and was rewarded generously. By the time Jam Baxter ushered in the High Focus head honcho, the crowd was literally gagging for more.
Despite addressing the soundman several times during the show, the sound was still woeful by the time Fliptrix took the stage. Although his presence was comparatively subdued compared to his preceding compadres, this was unjustly compounded by a microphone that sounded like it was intentionally quietened. Whether it was this, or exhaustion from the earlier sets, people’s attention seemed to wander and waiver. That was, however, until Fliptrix entered beast mode on an acapella which recaptured attention, and then solidified the crowd’s enthusiasm with an all too familiar ode to smoking herb.
Finally, the crew’s favourite drunken shithead stormed the stage. Dirty Dike seems to polarize audiences with his crass style and delinquent antics, yet in a live format I couldn’t fathom anyone not being captivated by his antisocial charisma. Bass heavy, boom bap-driven beats drenched the audience as he worked through an energetic set list and a bottle of Smirnoff concurrently. Effortlessly chanting crowd favourites Pork Pie, Return of the Twat, and 10 Dike Commandments, Dike kept the crowd thirsty for more well after the bar had closed.
As an indication of just how hyped shit got, by the second song Scissortongue had his shirt off; some time during Jam Baxter’s set, some girls started punching on; during Fliptrix’s set, Dike somehow acquired a low-rider and was doing onstage laps simultaneously singing the hooks and drinking at the same time; during Dirty Dike’s set, security were overrun, the stage was well and truly bum rushed and played home to 40-odd fanatics for the finale of the show. Amidst the chaos, some thieving moron thought it appropriate to steal Dike’s hat and officially kill everyone’s vibe as the HF Crew initiated a witch-hunt to find the culprit. Once returned, the night was done. Outside the venue played host to the most embarrassingly ramshackle rap cipher that I’ve seen. Unskilled tracksuits screeching last decade’s punchlines at each other as a ritual precedent to an obligatory fist fight is a blemish on the face of hip hop. ‘nuff said.
That said, massive props to all who played a part in one of the most memorable hip hop gigs in years. Launch Australia brings the goods, once again.
By Ollie Read