At the O2 Academy on the 28th of October I finally find myself in attendance of Immortal Technique, the hip hop artist, humanitarian and political activist. Born in a Peruvian military hospital and raised in Harlem, New York, he spent a year incarcerated as a young adult which affected his lifestyle and musical direction. He has most recently built an orphanage in Afghanistan from the proceeds of his album ‘The Third World‘.
We head to the bar and wait as the two Union bar staff try and cater to about five hundred thirsty attendees which means there’s plenty of time to absorb some differences in the environment. The crowd present isn’t the usual sea of black t shirts, long hair and misery that I usually find myself a part of when waiting around for metal bands. There’s wide diversity, though true to the vision in my head many of the crowd are wearing baseball caps, baggy gaudy t-shirts and those shiny denim pants. Grating, thick Manchester accents cut through the air as well as over generously applied after shave, the perpetrator of which brushes at the lingering white powder on an inner nostril . While a few things like this stand out to someone like me, apprehensions are quickly forgotten as we enter the venue.
Having heard the support prior at some point I wasn’t really interested but caught 20 minutes of Poison Pen anyway. About 5 minutes into which, I started wishing we’d somehow delayed ourselves further. The songs were mainly unintelligible but the parts I could make out made my guts try to eat themselves. I don’t mind some of the collaborations done with Immortal Technique and I have to presume these guys must have some qualities off stage. The lack of flow, pointless bravado and chanting “I’ll break your face” repeatedly only made me contemptuous of them and anyone nodding along in some Grand Theft Auto inspired fantasy world.
Immortal Technique introduces himself to the crowd, building atmosphere and saying that he wanted energy despite us being “really high or drunk out our minds”. ‘The Martyr’, title track of the new album opens and Technique’s passion is projected to the crowd in his distinct gravelly but coherent tone with ease. The track has likely been inspired by his recent trip to Afghanistan, the lyrics speak of the histories and contributing factors behind what might be mistaken as recently problematic scenarios.
Technique is naturally at ease with the crowd; there’s a lack of pretence that’s inclusive and brings about a general comradery and positive atmosphere. The use of humour is consistent, intertwined with serious elements keeping things laid back. “Raise your shitty phone in the air for this one, don’t be ashamed of your cheap ass fuckin’ phone”, is the introduction for ‘Toast to the Dead’, a tribute to a dead friend. The Spanish ‘Golpe De Estado’ has a backing track that would move a corpse, the Spanish lyrics fitting with a powerful rhythm. The issue that it’s unlikely anyone knows what’s being said in this one is raised by Technique who goes on to talk about the indifference of race, religion and nationality, saying that most of us spoke English he didn’t understand anyway.
Immortal Technique’s strong political views play a main part in the music he writes, even more evidently so that what is said live. While you might not agree with everything said, it wouldn’t be nearly as appealing without his razor sharp and often dark use of humour . “When I was approached by a major label (undisclosed) this idiot said to me”, “you’re a very intelligent and talented young man but some of what you say goes too far. “If you take this song of the album, we will put it out”. Technique goes on to say that he offered to take it off providing he could fuck the man’s wife. The song in question was ‘The 4th Branch’ which deals with the lack of independent and objective media.
The greatest feeling comes with songs from the second album ‘Revolutionary Volume 2‘, with Technique using the crowd for backings and chants, “I don’t care if you’ve been at the fuckin’ pub all day watching the game (Chelsea-United), stop standing there like your on fuckin’ heroin and get live”, “I need to hear the England that stole 2/3rd’s of the world from its rightful owners”.
Technique builds a heavy momentum as the show goes on through well known tracks, speaking of his appreciation of support and challenging the crowd on their familiarity with the first album. The emotional wrench that’s ‘Dance with the Devil’, in which a gang rape one of their peers mothers only to find out after, is sheer poetic brilliance. “People ask me all the time whether that actually happened.” “I reply it happens every day in every city”.
Things lighten up to round off and the night closes with the catchy and aptly named ‘Obnoxious’, before some realistic advice for any wannabe Che Guevara.“Before you go home and look in the mirror and think your some sort of rebel commando for coming to the show, you make the changes you want to see in life first, not when you’re at the pub drunk or high at some party”. He calls for the liberation of Palestine, the sending home of British troops from Afghanistan and the persecution of Tony Blair before leaving.