Review: Egyptian Hip Hop

Egyptian Hip Hop
The Fleece, Bristol
Tuesday March 5th

For a band defined by a narcotic shimmer, a Ketamine skewing of shapes and fraying of sonic edges, Egyptian Hip Hop are a surprisingly tight live band, impressively so. But as it transpires, this may not be an entirely good thing.

It’s important to point out that Egyptian Hip Hop have undergone a metamorphosis: they are no longer the Day-Glo NME-hyped saviours of music but instead a proper grown-up band. Their debut album Good Don’t Sleep is a complex, sophisticated, and challenging work. The problem tonight lies with how the album translates into the live environment.

The shifting synth soundscapes are not sufficiently transcendental to lose yourself in, they are too busy and too rhythmical, and conversely, their grooves are shrouded in too much warped texture. Despite falling in between these two modes of live success, Egyptian Hip Hop want the audience to dance like it’s 2010, forgetting perhaps that their music has evolved.

Frontman Alex Hewett flaps his silk dressing gown with all the camp theatricality of a squat-dwelling Liberace, trying to stoke some flames into a hearth of mid-week apathy. But when his attempts fail, he descends into aloofness and surreal, detached mockery. Part of the problem though lies in Hewett’s distorted beyond-the-grave vocals. They may provide another layer but do little melodically, always a woozy counterpoint rather than a catalyst.

The rhythm section of Alex Pierce and Nick Delap, however, operate with a near metronomic precision, acting as an anchor to allow the rest of the band to busy themselves in the frothing surface textures of the album. This works most impressively on the lunar bounce of Yoro Diallo and Tobago where the hook is sufficient to match the groove. Hewett celebrates by jumping down into the modest crowd and forcing them to dance by bouncing up and down around them. This isn’t one of those nights, people aren’t going to lose their shit, but his spasmodic shape-throwing and calamitous piggy-backing is certainly an entertaining spectacle.

Ultimately, the audience spend most of the night stuck in a relatively merry sway, arms like pendulums, cerebral synapses slowly firing. Not everyone’s dancing but that does not mean that Egyptian Hip Hop have failed. Far from it.

Words: Tom Spooner