Some of my best memories of Europe will be the gigs that I have been lucky enough to go to. This trend continued last night at Ekko, where I was blown away by the ferocity of Gonjasufi’s psychedelic hip hop.
Ekko is a great little venue not far from the centre of Utrecht. An open bar and collection of tables fill out the spacious room, with bright graffiti bringing a modern edge to this converted house. Beyond the bar is a door through to the dark stage, and as we arrive people are shuffling in.
I don’t know much about Gonjasufi: He is a yoga teacher (no idea how I know this-but wiki confirms it…); I have his first album; and am aware of his loose affiliations with Flying Lotus and the other members of the Low End Theory. This is certainly enough to get me in the door but as we stand nodding to the opening act I realise that I’m not actually sure what he looks like.
The stupidly early start-time of half-nine and Gonjasufi’s haunting vocals suggested it was going to be a fairly languid set and we had medicated accordingly. Was this guy playing now who we had come to see? He certainly looked alternative enough, with one dread hanging down the front of his face and rest of his head shaved to shiny black. Perhaps Gonjasufi had shaved his famous dreads off?
As the other musicians come on stage the fog clears and I click that this isn’t him at all. That lurking suspicion was right: he is hairier and lighter skinned than the pretender who had warmed us up and when he arrives the swagger is palpable.
The shifting electronic wall of sound is brought into focus by a heavy bass beat and Gonjasufi amps the crowd like no other. His appearance is enigmatic: Indian holy man and skateboarding aesthetics mixed with the ‘in your face’ attitude that makes live hip-hop so compelling. He is heavily bearded and yells into the mike with religious fervour, his dreads snapping to the floor then back up, headbanging while his entourage cuts loose behind him.
The Dutch crowd is stereotypically static, observing rather than partaking in the experience. Gonjasufi has no bars of this, and cuts the music out completely to rile them into action, standing still and pointing at the main offenders near the front. Over the course of the set he eventually goads the entire crowd into a mesmerising, shifting two-step that echoes the writhing bass filling the room.
The performance is incredibly dynamic, with Gonjasufi switching between aggressive hip-hop hype and his haunting sitar-tinged psychedlia. His requests for more volume fail to have the desired effect and he comes through the crowd several times to speak directly to the sound guy.
Eventually it gets to the level he wants, and the manic energy steps up a notch as we delve the depths of his full psychedelic spectrum. Gonjasufi toes a delicate line between the charisma of Mick Jagger and the unadulterated rage of Zach de la Rocha. Every movement is deliberate and full of confidence – it is a compelling performance.
The concert comes to an early end when a staff member goes on stage to tell them that it is 11 and they are in breach of the sound curfew. Gonjasufi is just as surprised as I am.
“What the fuck is this? Takes us 45 minutes to just warm up … And now you want us to fucking stop?”
If this has been the warm up then I am not sure I can handle the full show: it has been a performance in every sense of the word and the combination of the haunting treble tones and unchecked energy of the performers has the whole crowd, finally, getting down.
They play one last intoxicating song and then we are left to piece it together in the late twilight. It is still early and there is plenty more mischief to be had. We bike back to the dorms, and commence reintoxication.