Sean Toohey was on hand to catch the antics of Mancunian outfit Levelz as they graced the stage of one of Leeds' most intimate venues, HiFi.
Thursday 11th Feb
The HiFi Club, Leeds
Back in December, Levelz made headlines with a truly entertaining commentary on the failings of Elastic Artists. The agency had been responsible for their recent tour, though wasn’t entirely transparent with the handling of finances. In true Manc fashion, Rich Reason, a former Elastic employee, hijacked the company's social media accounts posting, amongst other things, a video of its creative director supposedly hog-tied and held for ransom.
This whole charade may have been orchestrated to draw attention to a serious matter, but to me it also helps illustrate how this group stands apart from its peers. In a musical landscape so over-saturated with names yet under-populated with characters, Levelz are something entirely fresh. The animated adventures of Madchester, though 20 years late and with much better beats. Fresh off the back of their monster 13 track debut that dropped last month, Levelz took to Leed's HiFi Club as part of the LVL 14 tour.
HiFi may be the perfect venue for this breed of event, a stirringly ambient underground bunker, lurking beyond a winding staircase. A fact welcomed in this bitter February air. Rich Reason's mind isn't on the cold though, bouncing towards me, adorned in a giant faux-fur robe, I ask him if it holds any significance, he laughs and says he forgot he was even wearing it. Hes closely followed by an ever-growing column of faces who instantly make themselves at home behind the decks with a case of Red Stripe. An element I've always admired in this set of artists is the complete lack of a boundary between performer and audience. No hiding backstage, they're on the floor, they're making friends, they're dancing and laughing, I can't see any amount of success changing that.
For a cold Thursday night there's an impressive amount of bodies swarming the floor, Levelz's reach has clearly expanded far past Manchester at this point. Recent killer sessions at Rinse FM and 1Xtra clearly acting as intended, and as deserved. Stuttering beats cascade across the low-hung ceiling as the air becomes decidedly sharper. The immistakable, energetic production, largely accredited to Manchester dubstep veterans Metrodome and Biome, forms a venomous and dynamic backbone in Levelz's studio tracks. Crystal spines of metallic percussion, broken by crisp, bone-snapping snares. An electrical twitch in your nervous system, a magnetism that flings limbs toward speakers. Raucous layers of jagged synths, accentuated by laser fire and distant, robotic howls. It’s a painting of a volatile nightlife.
Live though, it’s the truly awe-inspiring lyrical ability from the group's MCs. The unruly, machine-gun bursts from Skittles leaving jaws cemented to the floor, it's like someone's stuck him on fast-forward, snapping verses into place like joints into sockets. The expression and integrity that flows from Truthos, his training as an actor really shines through on stage. Eyes wide, scanning the room for the bigger picture, facial expressions twisting with the intonation of words as the beats fall. Chunky's off-beat rhythms, cascading perfectly into spaces you didn’t realize existed. The Monkey Man himself, Chimpo, his deep, baritone, manc bars rattling loose your bones. Its tracks like last year's LVL 07, each personality bleeding into the next at breakneck speed, that really questions how to approach bass music in the modern scene. In flashes, grime becomes trip-hop, becomes dancehall.
It was a year ago, catching Novelist's set at Parklife that I said grime is the UK's new punk revolution. A genre despised by the establishment, demonized by the media, though so full of expression, equal parts anger and ecstasy. Witnessing the sheer magic in the air on nights like this, I can't help but believe this is exactly what we need.
Words by Sean Toohey
Photos coutesy of Levelz