Kioko at O2 Institute, Birmingham, UK – 28th November 2018

Posted by Bianca on Wednesday Nov 28, 2018 Under Pop, Reggae

Review + Photography by Nikki Rodgers

The Midlands has a rich and prominent history revolving around reggae and ska, and tonight at the o2 institute, Birmingham’s very own Kioko are out to prove that their deadly roots have inspired an auspicious legacy.

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There is a tremendous amount of responsibility involved in being a member of Kioko. Each of these six young men have the weight of history on their shoulders; Steel Pulse, The Selecter, The Beat, The Specials, UB40… the list of midlands reggae roots royalty goes on and on, with the latter even being recently recruited as a kind of surrogate mentor, sharing stages, studios and no doubt invaluable amounts of advice with the new kids on the block.

Don’t be mistaken, though, every member of this band attacks that responsibility with the exact amount of respect it demands. Each person on stage adds their own unique and irreplaceable dimension to the live experience, whilst being able to shine miraculously in their own distinctive way.

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Kioko’s live shows have a reputation for being high energy, but shows in their home town regularly descend into chaos, and in a year which has seen them play venues ranging from The Hare & Hounds to the Royal Albert Hall, it’s clear from the off that they’re keen to show the folks back home that they haven’t forgotten where they’re from.

The band explode onto the stage riding opening number ‘little sister’ like a magic carpet. There’s no lingering between songs; they just keep hitting you. Songs new and old are flooding the room with energy, with fan favourites ‘Mercy’ and ‘Kiss Away’ making early appearances. Matt Doyle takes care of his vocal duties with an undeniable degree of swagger and style, but In a beautiful act of unity, he serves as one of three extremely polarising mouthpieces. Trumpet players Ewan Whyte and Laurence Taylor excel in their capacity as hype men for their own act, taking it in turns to shock the audience into fixation and then defibrillate them back into a skank trance.

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Laurence’s role is fascinatingly important in continuing the lineage of this music. He is as important to Kioko’s live show as Neville Staple ever was to The Specials, and his ability to rewind the band, drop 500 people onto their arses and literally demand that mobile phones get returned to pockets is terrifying and inspiring in equal measures.

Some of the most refreshing and interesting offerings of the evening arrive courtesy of brand new EP ‘Covers Vol. 1’, maybe akin to the ‘labour of love’ series of albums by the aforementioned UB40. This genre is famed for its use of cover versions and rather than stick to the reggae and ska standards that have become so popular on the revival dancefloors of the country, Kioko are choosing to lend a skank to some of the UK chart’s more recent offerings.

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A stand out from the EP is ‘One Kiss’, the Dua Lipa/Calvin Harris smash hit from the summer of this year. Already dominating playlists around the world, the Kioko reimagining of this ditty is as scintillating on stage as it was in the studio, if not surpassing expectations.

The take home from this gig is simple. It’s not a gig, it’s a show. Nobody has a position on stage, they all inhabit every corner of the space and make 8 people look like 30. This is a party every night and Kioko are happy to double their efforts when they’re faced with a home crowd. People young and old unite in their hatred of xenophobia and their affinity for happiness, love and very, very good music.

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For the encore, Kioko wheel out the hits. ‘Queen of the Dancefloor’ has all the makings of an 80s ska classic. Dissonant horns meet tight drum breaks and the audience are bouncing like space hoppers. This might be the dirtiest and grimiest jam of the night and the filth feels amazing.

Ending on ‘Deadly Roots’ is both predictable and necessary, and wailing the lyric “you don’t know where I’m from” in a room full of their own kind is as ludicrous as it is poignant. The football terrace chants of the band’s name are still audible 10 minutes after the house lights have reared their ugly heads and the chorus of revellers behind them are clearly not going straight home. If you ever wake up in a bad mood, do yourself a favour, go to a Kioko show. You’ll go to bed in a great mood, if you end up going to bed at all.

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