Mura Masa returns with a new band and a new sound, but a lack of a sell-out audience threatens to derail an energetic and enjoyable performance.
Intimate album launch shows are a unique and exciting opportunity for both a music artist and their fans. For the latter it provides a chance to view their favourite artist up-close and personal in a small venue and as for the former, it allows them to try new things with their sound and also perform brand new music for the first time in the wake of a new album. In the case of Guernsey-born Alex Crossan, A.K.A. multi-instrumentalist Mura Masa, this launch show for his sophomore record Raw Youth College (titled R.Y.C.) gave fans a sneak peak of a significant departure from his usual style of blending tropical beats with alternative electronic music to a more guitar-heavy timbre that still retains the roots of his sound. However, despite a lively set performed by Alex and co, a noticeable lack of a sell-out crowd created an atmosphere that felt hollow for newcomers in attendance.
Walking into the venue at around 30 minutes before the show, I was surprised but feared for Alex by how the standing area was only half full given his fanbase and status as one of the UK’s top electronic artists. In comparison to recent upcoming ones who’ve graced The 1865 stage including Easy Life and Fontaines D.C. which both sold out, there was none of the excitement or energy from fans (except for a few die-hards at the front) during the buildup that you would expect from an artist who successfully headlined the BBC Radio 1 stage at Reading & Leeds last year. Despite this pre-conceived worry, the venue slowly began to fill during this time but even as the show began, from where I stood in the middle you could clearly see the front and the back of the standing area during their 50 minute set and that is very rare for artists like Mura Masa.
As the lights suddenly went out with a loud cheer from the audience, the band (including Alex) quickly entered before blitzing into the new album’s lead single, ‘I Don’t Think I Can Do This Again’ that is a vigorous combination of 90s punk infused with a heavy four-on-the-floor kick-drum beat. It’s catchy and euphoric chorus enthusiastically sung by Mura Masa’s residential singer Fliss who bounced around the stage and made sure the crowd were pumped up (‘Southampton how are we feeling?!’), which was the perfect start to get everyone in the mood. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long and attention spans waned as the band played three songs from his debut album (‘Nuggets’, ‘1 Night’ and ‘Complicated’) which alienated a majority of the audience, apart from the front row, who were there for new music. It felt detached from the rest of the setlist because the sound felt refined and bright like your average chart hit rather than the raw punk aesthetic that the band were hoping to achieve.
However, as tracks from the new album were played, the gig finally had lift off – ‘No Hope Generation’ contained sparkles of shoegazing in similar vein to Slowdive with the repeating guitar loops, while ‘vicarious living anthem’ brought back a ferocious 00s post-punk attitude with its distorted vocals and growling bass lines that got everyone jumping and head banging. Although ‘Deal Wiv It’s vocals were performed by Fliss instead of featured artist Slowthai, her charisma was enough to carry the song’s rebellious message of dealing with change that got the crowd screaming and bopping along to its infectious chorus and groovy guitar riffs. A surprising highlight was ‘In My Mind’, a slow warped banger with glittering synth lines and jittery bass which was beautifully translated through the strobe effects onstage.
But even though the tracks performed from R.Y.C. were interesting and transitioned well from the studio into a live show, I doubt if this set won over any new fans. At the moment, the new tracks don’t seem to blend well with his previous discography (but this is normal during this stage of an album release) and it will be interesting to see if Alex decides to plunge with this new sound in the future or retreat from it. Nonetheless, an encore of ‘Love$ick’ and ‘Firefly’ was greeted with rapturous applause from the front but not so enthusiastically at the back, and it summed up the gig perfectly: an energetic and enjoyable show that satisfied the appetite of fans but left newcomers plenty to desire from.
Dates and tickets for Mura Masa’s upcoming tour can be found here.