Shabazz Palaces’ only mission tonight was to teleport onlookers to their self-constructed other-worldly universe.
The show begins in total darkness, gradually edging to a light blue dim which shines directly on each group member’s station. An array of intricate electronic music equipment lie on one station including a drum machine and small keyboard. Traditional African drums lie still on another. Both stations are draped in colourful silk tapestry.
The group latest offerings Quazarz: Born On a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs the Jealous Machines intertwine the cosmic tale of a sentient being named Quazarz who visits a universe parallel to contemporary America (Amurderca). The show truly hits form when Butler’s alter-ego is heard clearly: “I’m from the United States of Amurderca myself/We post-language, baby,/We talk with guns man, guns keep us safe”.
Quazarz vs the Jealous Machines’s opener ‘Welcome to Quazarz’ is a simple spacey-synth driven track that sees itself reinvigorated in a live setting and flocks of seated audience members join the growing crowd head-banging in front of the stage.
Ishmael Butler, the group’s mastermind and MC, gives the sometimes dreary album tracks life. His animation onstage ignite the often broad-referencing and esoteric lyrics he yields. As with most of Palaces’ music, Butler’s vocals are often foggy within ethereal soundscapes.
Butler and multi-instrumentalist Maraire even venture into simple choreographed dance routines between songs and during choruses. Simple two-steps and mirrored hand gestures are sprinkled throughout, often mimicking the track’s lyrics. They also wear futuristic-rave sunglasses. Their space-rap sentiments are not in vain; they take it very seriously and pull off their aesthetics as well as their sonic experiments.
Sitting through abstraction and distorted space-rap in a private setting might prove to be a testing exercise for many. Many critics have even admonished the group for lurking too far into percussion-less depths, losing attention of listeners through muteness – the live versions of many of these types of sounds are much more accessible and tangible.
Individual album cuts from all of their full-lengths including the already classic Black Up. This LP’s captivating epicentre ‘Are You…Can You…Were you? (Felt)’ sounds equally intoxicating in the flesh, the eerie piano loop pulsates until the track transitions into full hip-hop mode which sees Butler raw rapping skills centre-stage. His voice inflections and flow change-ups between different bars mesmerise.
Drone-inflected, percussion-driven techno beats programmed live by Butler and Maraire help see the night out. It eventually felt more like a sweaty night at District 8 than seeing one of hip-hop’s most creative acts in the typically subdued Sugar Club.
Almost two hours of relentless fusions of hip-hop, techno and afrobeat grew somewhat tiresome but their performances were impactful and decidedly more engrossing versions of album-tracks emerged.
If you like your hip-hop futuristic, experimental, socially conscious or even just plain weird, a Shabazz Palaces show is what you need in your life. An unruly space-opera that creeps late into the night.