LIVE: Dummy Live by On Air presents Octavian

Bopping about on a bare, Robot Wars-resembling set, the still atmosphere throughout emphasised the need for Octavian's melodic bars and often instrumental-focused tunes to be bounced off of a baying crowd with a huge sound system.
Posted: 13 October 2020 Words: Tom Cramp

While Rishi Sunak advises creatives up and down the country to look into other fields of work, labels, clubs, magazines and artists find themselves desperately searching for ways of staying relevant and generating income in these unprecedented times for the industry. The weekend of October 9-11 saw DUMMY magazine collaborate with No Merci and streaming platform On Air to give us three headline shows from Skepta, Octavian, and Arlo Parks (who we also reviewed) straight from London's The Steelyard. It’s a valiant attempt at giving the people what they want, but seeing Octavian on Saturday evening pace around what looked like the set of Robot Wars, urging the invisible online viewers “you already know what it is” was an ironic reminder of the sticky situation artists find themselves in at the moment.

The rapper from South East London emerged from behind some scaffolding, looking the part in shades and a white pinstriped Patta polo. ‘Lit’ with A$AP Ferg was followed by ‘Little’ - both excellent songs, but having them playing in the background while Octavian rapped over his own voice in an echoey hall sounded messy at times. He seemed calm though, with his brow dry and his body language relaxed, stating in between songs that “technocracy is the new policy”. Perhaps his demeanour is a symptom of not having an audience – baying crowds not only create atmosphere for the artist to bounce off, but also provide pressure to put on a show. At times it felt like this could have been a sound check.

The set contained a blend of the biggest hits from his two critically acclaimed mixtapes, plus a couple from his upcoming debut album ALPHA, scheduled for release in mid-October. ‘Take It Easy’, ‘Move Me’ and ‘Famous’ featured, but Octavian’s delivery seemed patchy when not using auto-tune and, to be honest, after watching Skepta the night before, a little amateur. They have two very different styles of course and one has many more years of experience than the other, but the contrast in rapping ability was nonetheless stark.

Songs like ‘Party Here’, ‘Rari’ with Future and ‘Lightening’ were accompanied by impressive light shows but begged to be heard live. At times it felt more like watching karaoke than an expensive live performance. ‘Pattern Chanel’ saw Michael Phantom, J-Rick and L3 join Essie Gang’s head honcho on the scaffolding. Again, compared to ‘Red Card’ by Boy Better Know performed the night before, this lacked cohesion. Live bars and ad-libs became tangled with the recording of the song in the background and they all looked a bit confused. L3 and J-Rick quickly disappeared at the end of the song, but Michael Phantom reappeared later for the show’s finale - ‘Bet’. After 45 minutes, the stream had ended.

The production team behind the scenes can be commended and although they have to generate income, the ticket price to duration ratio could've been more favourable. Furthermore, this doesn’t seem like the most suitable platform for Octavian. His melodic bars and often instrumental-focused tunes deserve to be in front of a crowd with a huge sound system behind him and a euphoric light show. Skepta has had years of practice in front of little or no crowds on radio and social media, which allowed him to exploit this platform more effectively, but even for him, it was a bit of a stretch. Essentially, the sooner Octavian is back in front of people again, the better.

To hear more from Octavian, click here.

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