The day after Halloween and in the wake of hurricane Sandy, New York rapper-producer Le1f’s first, free appearance at London’s Birthday’s is teeming with implication. It’s as if, with only a month to go before Apolcalypse, weird things are happening. Weather patterns, government and public opinion is changing. It’s as if the world as we know is in a state of transition that is equal parts liberating and disconcerting.
Enter Le1f: dressed in vivid floor-length tunic and tights he growls like a ballet dancer and raps like a ‘bitch’. And no, the similes aren’t all wrong. It just depends on how you look at them. Because Le1f is a performer whose masculinity leaves all the crotch-grabbing, chest puffing braggadacio of his more conventional hip hop contemporaries to shame; his catty, snarling rhymes infinitely more cunning.
Because this is a physicality of the Gestalt kind, where head and hips are indivisible, words and rhythm one, as Le1f stirs his crowd into a frenzy over the repetitious motion of “Mind body. Mind Body. Body Mind.” A grimy sub bass from live-producer Boody’s desk pulses through the heaving pack of pure flesh; girl-on-girl crunking, a braided dutty wine and an educated super fan dressed in Pikachu-themed pyjamas. Le1f himself is delivering the brilliantly tongue-twisting “It’s my bubble” over and over again under the popping Nguzunguzu-produced ‘Bubbles’. His long, lithe body is swathed across a fallen speaker, cheek-to-cheek with a reveler. But it’s not until he sneers, “I’m super fit, super toned, so leave me alone. It’s my bubble,” that you realise this is pure escapism. Where, beyond the hideous media buzz around the quickly exhausted novelty of being an openly gay rapper, Le1f’s space is one submerged by rhythm, noise and coquetry, as he asks “Are there any hot boys here? And what about hot girls? I’m feeling bisexual these days.”
It’s a visceral energy you could easily miss if your only experience of Le1f is through his Dark York mixtape. With it’s oddly muted vocals, obscured beneath a riptide of frenetic, fragmented electronic arrangements, akin to the malfunctioning aesthetic of blipster forebear M.I.A., the recording lacks the tangibility and, I daresay, ‘swag’ of Le1f’s live show. Rapidly advancing from his shaky, nervous beginnings into a seething pit of limbs, spit and sweat there’s an incredible sense of release as Le1f’s emotional walls fall with every layer of clothing. That very tunic –part maxi-dress, part South Asian kameez –becomes a symbol of the very vortex of change that he represents. All garbled corporate logos and menacing futurist aesthetic, that outfit is an image of the post-modern orgy of Le1f’s own ‘&Gomorrah’, the body beneath being just as much fun.
Le1f played Birthdays in Stoke Newington, November 1. His collaboration with producer Boody, Liquid, is due on Boysnoize Records December 8, 2012.