Burning CDs on my raptop on the tube felt like being on tour again. I’d just slept for close to a day, the culmination of my post tour super funk that had gone mainly unseen or heard, buried beneath a ton of work, catching up, last-minute-mixtape, team-changing lunacy, and pre-wedding excitement.
Team wise, I was back where I started – no radio, no press, no manager, just me and my awesome records, friends, family. You. It felt good, for no good reason I could grasp.
I was on my way to play Manga Entertainment’s 20th anniversary party. It was twenty years since Island Records Chris Blackwell set up that company and imported Akira to these shores, changing many lives in the process, including, quite obviously, mine. And now, 20 years since I cut out the first advert for Akira from the back of Vox and stuck it to my bedroom wall, I was on my way to play its birthday party.
So it goes.
I noticed my fly was undone looking at twitter on the escalator. I was nervous about the show. Playing a gig that’s yours is one thing – even if seven people show up, they’re there to see YOU, and will know some of your material, and want to have a good time during your performance. Playing the Manga 20th Anniversary party all I knew was that there’d be 300 people there, and that a good percentage of them were likely to be pissed, what with the free bar and all. Whether they would cared for my particularly unique line in rap pop remained to be seen.
The venue was pretty amazing. Empty of the expected 300 people it was vast, white, cavernous, like the beginnings of film set, or the inside of a space ship. Anime projected onto every spare area of wall. Men ran around constructing elaborate dangling shelves in which to house “the sushi wall”. Beermatts adorned with the iconic Manga logo papered very available surface. I met the folks I’d been liaising with, who seemed distinctly jolly, if a little manic, as might be expected, and sat down with my laptop, to finalise the set, or at least the relative confines of the set, which I then burnt to disc whilst listening to the Paranoia Agent remix of Big Iron, as the early echoes of the butterfly storm approaching fluttered around in my bely. I told you I was nervous.
The soundman was a tall, gentlemanly North American called John, and a very nice man. He was the king of our castle in the corner of the room – a small stage, with some decks on it, framed by a pair of speakers. There were no monitors, which filled me with a small ball of dread – monitors are those big wedge shaped speaker’s you see on stages pointing at the band, that allow the band to hear what the fudge is going on, unless they have those in ear things, which are very expensive, and I aspire to. A further oddity was that the mixing desk, such as it was, was on the stage next to the DJ equipment, behind the speakers, where the soundman would not be able to hear what the rest of the venue was hearing and thus would not be able to mix accordingly.
Well, I thought, he is a professional. It will be fine.
Presently Jacked showed up. Jack came off tour and was throw into a world of pain, and he looked tired and harassed. It was good to see him. We soundchecked, a long, queer process that involved us performing four songs in a row and the soundman running on and offstage repeatedly trying to fathom how it was all gelling together, the little stage with the twin speakers in the corner of the vast echoey aircraft hangar. I made sure my mike lead was good and long, so I could wander out in the venue space, and hear the actual sound. It was variable. Some of the cloakroom attendants gathered to watch the proceedings. Their evident enjoyment gave me hope.
After that, all we had to do was drink amusingly-named Manga-themed cocktails, soak up the atmosphere, steal beermatts and wait for stage time. A bunch people I know, and like, turned up, and we hung, and ate fine sushi bundles and drained the amusingly-named Manga-themed cocktails, and watched street-art hero Aerosol Jim paint an Akira-themed mural outside the venue. A clutch of Cosplayers, or rather, one might say a manga of cosplayers showed up, and posed in front of Aerosol Jim’s mighty artwork for a while, resplendent and joyful in their home-made cartoon garb.
Downstairs the DJ DJed. The effect was something like Tetsuo’s energy blasts in Akira. People seemed to occupy every space in the building that wasn’t within the immediate sonic reaches of those twin speakers. The sound was simultaneously very loud, very top-heavy, and very indistinct. One couldn’t really make out what was being played, yet one could hardly carry out a conversation either. I realized that I was the only person in the room with such concerns. Everyone seemed to be having a lovely time.
At 8:55 I changed into my Run DMC lounge parts and the T-Shirts (plural) the kind bawse of Manga UK had gifted me with, and at 9pm we took to the stage. It was entertainment as war, as Chilly would have it. We had interrupted the chatter of gang of people, many of them industry folk, and attacked them with high end fuzzy sonics from the far corner of the aircraft hangar. Some of them appeared visibly annoyed. Some of them seemed very pleased. I played for both. I worked hard. I utilized the full length of my mike cord, exploring the furthest reaches its fullness allowed me. I high fived. I climbed. I encouraged audience participation.
A performer really does feed off the energy of the crowd. A show can only be as good as the audience allows. Quantum theory applies here, as with everywhere else. The act of observation changes the observ-ed. When the crowd’s energies are mainly focused on their conversations, it is hard to syphon those energies into one’s performance, and to give it back, amplified, as is the righteous path, and the way of the ages. But there were enough active participants, enough open hearts that I was able to do what I came to do. I was thankful to those people. I looked into each and every one of their eye-pairs. My soul thanked them. I was acutely aware of the unspoken conversation. I was certain they felt it.
I decided we wouldn’t play Oh! What A Glorious Thing. It seemed inappropriate. That would be one of perhaps four shows I have done where I have not played that song. Each of them important, legendary occasions, for entirely different reasons.
Marvin appeared, right at the end. It was just the adrenaline dart to the chestplate I needed. He bounded onstage, blur of red, and my powers quadrupled. We romped through BOOM as if we were at Madison Square garden, and it didn’t matter that Marvin’s mike made him sound like he was broadcasting via wireless in 1913. We closed to a springtime precipitation of applause. I thanked my witnesses and my spiritual benefactors from the bottom of my heart. I was grateful, and exhausted.
At the (still free) bar I met lots of wonderful people who were having wonderful times. I left with their enthusiasm ringing in my ears.
Jack and Marvin were waiting outside. We shared a spliff as we wandered transport-ward in the English summer drizzle, dripping with goodie bags of Manga Swag. London looked a hell of a lot like Neo Tokyo. I wondered what it would have looked like had there never been a Manga Entertainment. Had I never seen Akira.