A couple of weeks ago the High Focus squad rolled into Bristol en masse, for what looked set to be a day of good vibes, good people and good BBQ. Taking over the legendary Lakota club for a seven hour rampage, the bill boasted a weighty line-up including Dabbla, Ocean Wisdom, Fliptrix and Dirty Dike.
The kick-off was at 2pm, so I bowled down about 3pm and caught the tail end of a set from Bristol crew WMD. It might only have been a small gathering then, but the early birds that were there were definitely feeling the vibe. Their Blueberry track went down particularly well, as the hype started to build for what was to follow.
Next came the Real Life Drama squad, with Smellington Piff, Illinformed, Eric the Red and Sean Peng hitting the stage for a suitable rowdy set, tinged with salutes to the traveller lifestyle and the benefits of blazing zoots. There was even a cameo from Croydon’s next mayor Cracker Jon, as he joined them on stage to drop a verse. Mic problems meant Peng was unusually quiet for a portion of the set, until various hollers from the crown sorted the problem and he came back full throttle. Keep an eye out for the Creatures of Habit (aka Sean Peng, Eric the Red and Illinformed) album coming next month.
Local boy Datkid was supposed to be on stage next, but in scenes fairly common in UK rap, he was running late thanks some free party madness the night before. So a quick set change saw the recently abbreviated Ed Scissor step up to do his thing. I am a big fan of Scissor, but I just don’t know if his music was the right mood for the setting. It was outdoors, nearing the end of summer and people wanted a party. At least that’s what a few people I spoke to in the crowd told me, as Ed delivered a undeniably solid set, but one that might have been better suited to a different time and place.
Datkid arrived and headed straight to the stage, where he was joined by fellow SP MC Bil Next – fresh from his recent viral fame – and greeted by a suitably enthusiastic home town crowd. The pair knocked out a few bangers, including 6 Rizla Spliff, as the crowd got undeniably livelier (and messier).
Next up was Dabbla, who was a guaranteed crowd pleaser before he’d even set foot on stage. The hype had been steadily building for the release of his debut album and this set only added to it, as the LDZ OG dropped new and old material, including Randeer from his new LP and Premium Murkage from the first Dead Players album. He was backed up on the decks by fellow LDZ OG & Potent Funk representative, DJ Jon E Kay. This was no doubt the most energised set so far, thanks largely to his crowd participation and his double time antics. Dropping seminal grime satire/homage Lips 2 da Floor as a finale was definitely a wise move, which is probably why that’s how he’s finished every set for the past 10 years. There is a video of the crowd’s reaction on Dabbla’s Instagram (@bigabbla), if you want to get a feel for the madness.
Next up was the man without whom, none of this would have been possible, Fliptrix. He was joined on stage by Leaf Dog and they did a combined set, with the ever faithful Molotov on the decks. They were joined on stage at one point by that staple of many a rap show: a drunk girl who thinks everyone wants to hear them freestyle. Someone passed her a mic that wasn’t even switched on and we all laughed. Fliptrix and Leaf are such heroes of the youth that they could probably have rolled on stage, read a chapter of War & Peace and fucked off to rapturous applause. As it was they banged out another solid set and kept the good vibe going.
Dike was on next and he brought his usual brand of rowdiness with him, even dropping a bit of jungle in a nod to the Bristol sound systems that dominated the local scene for years. My personal highlight was his Beyonce shirt, adorned with all your favourite words like ‘apathy’ and ‘forgiveness’.
If I thought the crowd were responsive for Flip and Leaf, that was nothing compared to the reaction to the final act on the bill, Ocean Wisdom. Fresh from burning down Charlie’s booth and arguably one of the most explosive entries into UK hip hop, he hit the stage with hood up, in scenes reminiscent of Klashnekoff’s old stage appearances. I was in another part of the courtyard when he started his set and the surge of people heading to the stage was insane. But with good reason as Wizzy tore through a selection of tracks from his album, including the crowd favourite and touch paper for his recent successes, Walkin’.
All in all the day was a big success and another win for High Focus. They might have their critics – an inevitable by-product of success – but their engagement with the next generation of hip hop fans is undeniable. I spoke to people who had travelled from places as far away as Sheffield and Norfolk just to be a part of the event. The crowd was young and passionate, lapping up every morsel of music put in front of them and that is something which is ultimately beneficial for the UK scene as a whole. The next big High Focus event is in Brighton on 7 October and features a ridiculous line-up, including a set by some dues who go by the name of TASK FORCE. Unmissable basically. Full details can be found here.
Photos by Jacob Crow