Apparently, I’m so unfit even walking down the steep banks from Newcastle city centre made me tired – never mind the walk back up them. For me to attend an event at Riverside these days, I have to know I’m going to enjoy it enough for that walk back to Monument to be worth it. Not everything promises to be worth the risk of a heart attack. That being said, my expectations for The Summer Punch Ball were high.
The Summer Punch Ball had one of the best line-up’s of the summer. As hip-hop and grime in the North East begins to grow in popularity, it was good to see a range of local acts on a stage for the Summer Punch Ball. Even with Jister dropping out, the ‘urban’ acts on the bill were some of the more exciting artists from the region right now – Kay Greyson, Xaatu and Sagaboi.
Even beyond the line-up, which also included some bands on the main stage, everything about this event signally it was to be a good one. The social media presence, particularly on Facebook, and the constant addition of new novelty attractions meant that even without the music – it could have been a good event. Yet, it seemed I might have been one of only few who got the message?
Walking into Riverside part way through a Kay Greyson set I’ve probably seen live seventy times this year – the crowd was modest. Perhaps the rain put people off from the idea of ‘The Garden Stage.’ It wasn’t outside as expected, but in the back corner of the venue usually reserved as a merch stand. For her performance, Kay was flanked by new-found regular collaborators on stage and in studio, J Smirk and Kema Kay. The trio struggled to fit together onto the small platform.
Whilst the stage production was alike an intimate open mic sessions akin to ObSceNE, the performance from the North East’s answer to Migos warranted so much more. Kay, J Smirk and Kema’s energy together was infectious, ringing off each others ad-libs and getting involved with call-and-responses alongside the audiences for Kema’s ‘Not Today’ and Kay’s ‘Up.’ With bonus versions of Kema and J Smirk’s ‘Superman’ with an added Kay Greyson verse and a remix of Kay and J Smirk’s ‘Won’t Get That’ collaboration with Smooth Jezza, now featuring Kema Kay – the trio are a natural fit together and bring a lot of energy to their performances.
Following on from Kay, after a 45 minute interlude in which a band played on the main stage, it was Xaatu’s turn to get us turned up. Having first seen Xaatu play live at 2017’s Evolution Emerging afterparty with Kay freestyling over his genius compositions. I’ve jokingly said Kay didn’t deserve them beats – but its partly true. I wouldn’t even want to hear Joe Budden over those beats and I never don’t want to hear Joe Budden. More often than not, I’m all about lyrics in music. Whether its witty wordplay or deep introspection, lyricism is usually what I connect to within a song. Xaatu’s production is a rare breed that left me screwfacing in less than a minute at the Summer Punch Ball.
Its a shame then that at one point I was the only person stood in a place where I could see Xaatu. Following the band on the mainstage, the crowd seemingly disappeared. I think that was the worst part about Summer Punch Ball – the audience. I’ll admit to caring little about the bands on the mainstage, but I at least showed them the deserved respect of standing in an already small crowd. Leaving an artist to perform to a handful of people is absolute madness to me, but maybe it wasn’t entirely the crowds fault?
Beyond the fact the speakers were definitely peaking and distorting and the sound engineer disappeared for half the set, more than a few of those in the crowd mumbled about the second stage. What was the point? The way stage times worked out, we could have just had an endless stream of performances on the main stage. I’d imagine more would have stuck around for Xaatu if all they had to do was stand in the same spot. Sure, having to move to the other side of the venue shouldn’t have been such a chore for them – but I can’t help but feel the event would have been better off with just the one stage.
I’m pretty sure Sagaboi would agree. Headlining The Garden Stage, on a couple of occasions Sagaboi took time out of his set to address the crowd. He did well in encouraging the crowd to come closer to the stage, and whilst his performance was great, it was obvious he could have done with a more receptacle audience. At Evolution Emerging 2017, Sagaboi was jumping on The Tanners Arms’ pool table and jumping into the crowd. At Summer Punch ball, there was none of that. Maybe, once again, he’d have been better off on the main stage.
I can’t fault any of the artists who performed at the Summer Punch Ball Garden Stage. They each did very well under some unfortunate circumstances. A small stage in a corner, inconsistent sound engineering and a crowd (or lack thereof) that were probably more so excited for Avalanche Party than various alternative urban acts. Kay Greyson (backed by J Smirk and Kema Kay), Xaatu and Sagaboi with his DJ/producer Eljai are all very well worth checking out.
Whilst it would appear this first event hasn’t been as successful as my personal expectations were for it, I am hoping to see more Punch Ball events in the future. Its not often a local event puts on more than one hip-hop artist, and I’ve got my fingers crossed for more diversity in the future. Hip-hop in the North East is growing in ability and popularity, there may have been a few hiccups but its good to see at least one multi-genre event acknowledge that there is more than just indie-rock in the region.
With the small, easy-to-fix issues ironed out, The next (Autumn?) Punch Ball event could be a highlight of 2017. I’m already looking forward to it.