MARXMAN (Sheffield Arena)

MARXMAN (Sheffield Arena)

RAP IS seriously diseased, choking on a homophobic bile of tired homeboy clichés, guns and misogyny.

Then along comes US3’s felonious Thelonius Monk-eying around with Blue Note-oriety. And then there’s the positive Rap of Marxman, mixing “a Celtic bass drum with a sample to match”, gospel steals and bodhran, the sound of Uillean Pipes and 33 revolutions per minute plugged directly into hard political angst.

MC Hollis, Phrase and Oisin Lunny fuse Marx with sparks into a dour celebration of dangerous potential that confuses preconceptions and leaves stereo-types as just varieties of sound Centre Speakers.

The Arena is an aircraft-hangar with monotonous pulses of rhythm lost in a vastness of echoes. The intimacy of small-Club venues with their bonus of easily decipherable facial expressions and lyrical clarity here gets traded for epic scale. Stereo MC’s faced similar problems downbilling for U2’s Zooropa stadium gigs. But the sheer energy of Marxman overcomes the chill, and when the Rap strikes home it does so with minds-eye explosions of lethal effect.

They open with ‘Sad Affair’ – “I had a dream of days to come . . ” exploring the intricacies of ‘Irish ways and Irish laws’ with growing confidence. ‘Dark Are The Days’ twists familiar lines skewed through 360° of irony with ‘Marxman to the fore’. ‘Revolution Will Be Love, Not Televised’ re-arranges the Last Poets dread warnings into new configurations, then knocks obvious targets – Lady Di and ‘religion an illusion’ (quoting Engels), but ignites it with sharp new barbs. Talkin’ Loud.

A girl vocalist stands in for the CD’s Sinead O’Connor, exhorting “find out what’s going on, find out what it’s all about”, attacking ‘fascist my name’, and the response is already positive. The heavy thud of rhythm comes laced with the lightness of low tin whistle as they accelerate into ‘Ship Ahoy’ (about native American genocide), ‘All About Eve’ (anti-Sexism) and ‘Father And Son’ (advocating contraception) – a finale of sorts till they explode back on stage wearing white straight-jackets. The lunatics have taken over the asylum. And the answering roar confirms they’ve won.

But the strongest moment comes when James and Tom – you know James and Tom? – rejoin the band for ‘Do You Crave Mystique?’, MC Hollis prefacing the Rap with a direct “drugs are OK in the right context, but they can also wreck whole communities”, before launching into ‘another dimension’ of narcotics. Be careful of your speed; you might be going faster than you think!

This level of attack and honesty could just about be the salvation of Rap.

Marxman: just say Yes.

• Andrew Darlington


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