For Brits Week and War Child
Dale Maplethorpe
17:13 7th February 2023

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Walking into XOYO feels odd when you’re not off your trolley and surrounded by wankers. My steps are a lot surer of themselves as I hand over my ID, head up the stairs and pass a neon sex sign. There are drinks flowing sure, but it’s more a tipsy haze which fills the room as opposed to the regular lashed atmosphere. It’s packed and warm. Sweat drips from the brow and lands in overpriced vodka lemonades as chatter rings true and the crowd await Luther Van Kojey. 

Lights dim and breath held, a group of people walk on to the stage. It’s not a band though. The reason everyone is here tonight is in support of the charity War Child. Proceeds of the show are going towards helping children in war torn countries and give them a chance at normality. It’s introduced by an advocate / hype man before the mic is passed to Abigail, who talks of harsh realities, the charity and the difference nights like tonight can make. They leave the stage to roaring applause and once they’re gone, the show begins. 

The noise that kick starts the set is almost dream-like. “So what do we do next?” The familiar introduction to ‘Reason To Smile’ smothers every corner of the room, the crowd move in closer and there are cheers as members of the band make their way to the stage. Dream-like sound keeps building and a recording of Kojey’s Mum’s voice rides the top of it creating memories of home. A reflection of a childhood you never had makes you think of your own and caught up in that reminiscence, here he comes, “looking at a brave face like which one should I choose?” 

The stage is small but he owns every corner of it, and when it’s not enough he takes to the crowd. Wearing a grey silk shirt and white crotched vest, Kojey bounces off every word in tracks new and old. The crowd swelter at modern bangers from his most recent acclaimed album like ‘Silk’ and ‘Nappy’, before becoming hysterical at some of the older tunes such as ‘97’ and ‘2020’, all of which Kojey and the band perform like they were only written a couple of weeks ago. 

The whole ensemble bring a positive atmosphere which tops most live acts out there. The chemistry on stage seems genuine and as Kojey reels off accolades and thanks the crowd for support, he means it. People cheer at mentions of his Mercury Nomination, the MOBO’s and now the Brits, whilst a voice in the background chirps in every so often, “do your ting!” 

Towards the end of the set, Kojey tires of the stage and makes his way to a raised platform in the crowd. Holding on to the same air duct he first banged his head on, he performs one of the most energised performances of ‘Talkin’ I’ve ever seen. Jumping on every other syllable, distorted guitars fill hooks and everyone in the room screams along, “one, two, tell em what you think?!”

No one wants the gig to end but it does with two performances of hit single ‘Payback’. One which was planned and the other the result of a stubborn crowd with no regard for XOYO’s opening times that demanded an encore. It’s spilled drinks and sweat and energy as people jump and are press up against strangers during that hard hitting drum beat and catchy chorus. Kojey holds the mic out and a roar of “dress code black” comes back at him. For the last verse he even brings a friend on stage who takes the mic and confesses he doesn’t know the words. It all just adds to the positive energy that this set brings, despite it being a night which is the result of darkness in the world. 

Kojey’s music is a pretty accurate representation of this. The same way he does in the likes of ‘Can’t Go Back’ ‘War Outside’ and ‘Pusher Man: BWI’, Kojey manages to reach into dark times, acknowledge them, and then focus on the positives to create tunes and a positive outlook moving forward. He even acknowledged during his set that we likely won’t ourselves see the positives that come from those kinds of nights, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t enjoy ourselves in the process. The room is packed and hot, the drinks cost too much and the guy on stage doesn’t know the lyrics, but we’re here, so let’s do our ting.

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Photo: Yasmin Cowan