We went to see 22 year old Swedish rapper and black metal aficionado, YUNG LEAN, perform at O2 Academy Brixton.
When you spend a lot of time going to gigs where everyone is a slight iteration of the same person, where personality depends on your ability to grow a beard and or afford to spend £8 on a craft beer, it’s easy to forget the pure, adolescent joy of being part of a subculture. Not so at a Yung Lean gig, where he’s the patron saint of lovelorn tranq-taking teens. Everywhere you look there’s some questionable streetwear coupled with a bleached bowl cut and a definitely soon to be regretted but currently deeply coveted face tattoo. One guy refuses to take his mum’s sunglasses off. A girl on the come up asks us for chewing gum. I see three (3) barely covered butt cheeks. Cyberdog’s continued ability to turn a profit suddenly makes sense. Teens are strewn across pallets and floor space, the toilet cubicles are full, the bars are empty and the limited edition merch is flying. I vaguely wonder how much I could get for my triple-A pass (nbd) and reckon it’d be three figures at least.
It’s invigorating and nostalgic and brilliant to see so many people so heavily into the same thing at once. Years of my own regrettable fashion decisions flash through my mind and I feel a strong urge to make out with a stranger. It seems strange that this obsessive culture has grown up around Yung Lean, the 22 year old Swedish rapper and black metal aficionado at the head of the Sadboys movement, who makes ghostly cloud rap songs about love and loss. No wonder Frank Ocean is a fan. This Brixton “event” has been named Wings of Desire, sold as a mini festival curated by Lean, featuring Warp Records’ industrial noise merchant Yves Tumor (an absolutely astonishing troll), as well as Bladee, Ecco2k and Thaiboy Digital from his Swedish crew Drain Gang – aka a lineup not destined to make much sense to anyone over the age of 25.
“Years of my own regrettable fashion decisions flash through my mind and I feel a strong urge to make out with a stranger.”
The take away from Yung Lean’s live show is that the man loves a smoke machine. You can barely spot him amid the rolling dry ice pumped out consistently across the stage. He pops up from time to time – hanging off the minimal set design (some fences), windmilling at the crowd over here, crouching down over there – but good luck to the masses pointing their phones at him, your insta is just going to be a smokey blur. Which is the idea, obviously, his stage show as obliquely atmospheric as his music. He opens with Friday the 13th from this year’s disappointing Poison Ivy mixtape but this crowd of devotees are into it, swirling and swelling in whatever direction Lean picks, so impatient for their faves that occasionally the floor shakes with anticipatory jumps before the beat even kicks in.
The problem with so completely owning a sound and dedicating your life to a post-spliff BPM is that your songs tend to roll into one another and that’s what happens here. Unless you were in the correct frame of mind to appreciate the psychedelic visuals, the show occasionally verges on the dull. For all the effort on the part of his fans to appear hypercool, Lean himself looks like a dad at the tail end of Britpop in a neon paisley shirt and sensible shoes. After a brief intermission, he’s ramps things up with his most energetic songs – How U Like Me Now? for which he is joined by Thaiboy Digital, and the much-loved Red Bottom Sky – before a mic stand is brought out for the final climbdown. The show ends, as his recently released mixtape Poison Ivy does, with Bender++Girlfriend, an ephemeral Futurama-referencing slow dance. It’s unsatisfying but Yung Lean isn’t interested in tying up loose ends for you. A final blast from the smoke machine and, like the saddest will-o-the-wisp in Sweden, he’s gone.