KEXP Live at Iceland Airwaves 2016, Day 3: Kate Tempest

Iceland Airwaves
Katy McCourt-Basham
Photos by Jim Bennett

Closing out another unbelievable night of music at KEX Hostel was English rapper and poet Kate Tempest. A “wayward youth” in her early teens, she was later inspired by an english teacher who got her into poetry, and at age 16 began her career as a poet, playwright, rapper, and spoken word artist. She went on to study at the prestigious BRIT School for the Performing Arts and Goldsmith’s, and has played with the likes of Billy Bragg and Scroobius Pip. She released her most recent album Let Them Eat Chaos in early October, and it premiered at #16 in her native UK. In addition to her musical accolades, she has had work commissioned from the Royal Shakespeare Company, and is just as, if not more popular for her work in poetry as she is for her musical work. 

In an absolutely stunning performance, Kate performed the first 25 minutes of the record ("the first part of the story") straight through. "Picture a Vacuum" began with her speaking unaccompanied, and her band slowly joining her throughout—a few chimes here, a lone note there, one low rumbling tone, a few low, pulsing beats. As the tone and pattern of speech intensified, so did the music. A seamless connection, it felt more as if the music was a part of the words themselves. "Lionmouth Door Knocker" told a story of life in London, of sleepless nights, of her days as a "little wretch," the intensity of her beautiful tide of words ebbing and flowing. In "Europe is Lost" She talked of the futility of politics, people not caring about things that matter and ignoring the hell the world is in (to cheers of agreement from the rapt audience). At one point, the band halted completely, deferring to Kate's powerful, passionate torrent of words, and raising goosebumps all over the room.

Each song is totally distinctive, but they meld together beautifully, and with Kate playing the set straight through, the performance felt more like a verbal symphony than a concert. She was spitting rhymes at an incredible pace, with no more than a few seconds to catch her breath, but made the whole thing look totally effortless. She's such an engaging performer, it's easy to become so engrossed in her words that it's almost startling when band starts up again. Her band was fantastic, the music perfectly reflecting the mood of each movement. She finished to thundering applause, a cumulation of the ovations held back by the audience for the entire uninterrupted performance.

KEXP has one more day of amazing music here at Iceland Airwaves. Though it won't be broadcast on air, be sure to tune in to Facebook at 6 AM tomorrow to catch live video of English duo Let's Eat Grandma.


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