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Sampha/DELS live review

@ The Roundhouse, 26th February

Downstairs in the bowels of London’s prestigious Roundhouse, history is being made before our very eyes. In direct counterpoint to the bedwetting indie drivel echoing from the central venue upstairs, in the more intimate, smaller confines of the venue’s second room, eccentric soul man Sampha is regaling a rapt crowd with his singular brand of electronic rhythms.

Part of the Roundhouse Rising series of events at the historic venue, the ancillary stage has been corralled by fresh-faced promoters EKO, whose mission statement is to bang the drum for the best in electronic music and visual arts. Sampha, a young, stocky black dude tonight decked out in casual street-wear chic — Supreme cap, grey sweater — is the perfect expression of the EKO ethos.  Original, forward-thinking, on the fringes of the dubstep scene, he sings as well as produces; far more interesting than your typical faceless bass producer.

Considering Sampha’s signed to XL’s uber-cool Young Turks imprint, also home of The xx, it can only be a matter of time before he blows up, and quite rightly so, especially on the evidence of tonight’s show. In front of a screen projecting Salvador Dali/Man Ray surrealist films, he hunches over a keyboard, mic stand perched atop it, cranking out wondrous leftfield electronic rhythms and great lush synth melodies, accompanied by a drummer slamming out beats on a set of pads.

With a voice reminiscent of cult Detroit r&b don Dwele, Sampha has truly angelic pipes, and in the live environment they don’t waver in the least; despite him only releasing a handful of singles on labels like Ramp, there’s already a confidence to his songwriting and electronic manipulation. The final track is bathed in aerial, skywriting pads reminiscent of prime Good Looking Records, but the beat is a slow, downbeat plod, augmented by chattering polyrhythms. Signing off with humble thanks to the audience, his short performance has been the mark of an artist with bags of potential, about to fully realise it. Indeed, his single alongside Jessie Ware, ‘Valentine’, should expose him to a far wider audience, now that ears are open and receptive to the likes of Jamie Woon and James Blake.

DELS — no relation to Del the Funky Homosapien, fact fans — is a UK MC (hailing from Ipswich), freshly signed to leftfield hip-hop powerhouse Big Dada. Much hoo-ha has been made about his collaborations with Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard, as much chip music or skweee as they are rap, insane 8-bit mal-funk-tions augmented by fierce spitting from DELS himself and abstract lyricism.  But his forthcoming album ‘GOB’ has been mostly produced by another Young Turks affiliate, Kwes, and it’s his musical influence that looms far larger over DELS live show.

A live drummer, bassist and keyboard orbit the light-skinned, broad MC as he steps onstage, and commands us to step closer. Rattling and railing through the deranged Super Mario electrofunk of ‘Trumpalump’ and awesome album highlight ‘Moonshining’, it’s a powerful, nerve-jangling showcase, DELS spitting his recondite lyrics like a man possessed. His surprise cover version of Bonobo’s ‘Eyesdown’, with the female keyboardist taking Andreya Triana’s vocal, is a sureshot highlight. But his mic is low in the mix, and in this context, it’s the buzzing, dark, apocalyptic electronic post punk vibe of the band that impresses the most, the deranged drumming, stark, spare bass and angry bee synth cutting deep into our medullas.

While DELS is clearly a gifted rapper, it’s the hypermodern music that accompanies him that sounds most of now, and at times, his voice is a little lost. Still, it’s powerful, and bodes well for an artist who is already very promising. Both DELS and Sampha are the sound of tomorrow, and DJmag for one can’t wait for that new dawn…

Ben Murphy