Hellfyre Club heats up the Barn

Richard Lin/HIGHLANDER
Richard Lin/HIGHLANDER

As a self-declared rap connoisseur, I have seen my share of rap concerts — so when I first arrived at the Barn last Wednesday night for LA-based Hellfyre Club’s performance, I walked in expecting to see a performance similar to the shows I’ve seen before: a DJ-based set, with the rapper(s) rhyming over instrumental tracks. Hellfyre Club completely dismantled my expectations, setting the bar for what a rap performance at the Barn should be.

Prior to the show, I had only heard a couple of songs from Hellfyre Club and its individual members, Busdriver, Nocando, Open Mike Eagle and Milo. As a result of Hellfyre Club’s relative obscurity, not many people were in attendance — just a few diehard fans who knew every lyric word for word, and college kids looking for a great show. That is exactly what everybody in attendance received, as the group covered almost every subgenre of rap, from poetic lyricism to the ever-famous rapping-singing combination that Drake made famous. Hellfyre Club even pushed against rap’s boundaries, performing everything from fast rhymes over breakbeat drum and bass instrumentals to spoken word, and introspective raps over atmospheric and psychedelic beats. It’s easy to say that every member of the audience walked out of the Barn a new fan of Hellfyre Club’s music.

Right as I approached the stage, I could tell that Hellfyre Club’s performance was not going to be a typical rap show. Due to their use of pre-recorded vocal tracks, most rap shows really lack that “live” feeling that you get from a concert. But for Hellfyre Club, the stage was filled with many different production setups, varying from Roland SP-404 samplers and an M-Audio keyboard to two Native Instruments Maschines. Hellfyre Club took a route less traveled and did something that not many rap artists do by recreating their instrumental tracks live. The effect that recreating each track had on each individual member’s set was substantial, as it gave every set that lively feeling that all great rap performances should have.

The group’s first performer, Milo, began the night on a powerful note, pulling in the audience with his signature style of introspective lyricism. Walking onto the stage without saying a single word to the audience, Milo went right into his performance, backed by instrumental tracks on his Roland SP-404. Between songs, the lyricist remained quiet and soft-spoken when talking to the audience. As soon as Milo began to rap, it became clear why he said little to the audience: His lyricism did the talking for him. “Built a secure fortress around / All my insecurities / And bought a Brita filter / To strip water of impurities,” Milo crooned, bringing the crowd into his state of mind with clever wordplay and emotional lyrics. His performance felt as intimate and powerful as spoken word or poetry reciting, as Milo’s passionate delivery made attendees feel as if he was speaking directly to the audience. The stripped-down, atmospheric synths and cloudy pads added to the raw mood of Milo’s performance.

If Milo’s passionate and emotional set wasn’t powerful enough, then Nocando caused jaws to drop as soon as it came his turn to perform. The 30-year-old rapper and founder of Hellfyre Club began with an extraordinary a capella freestyle that caught everyone’s attention. As he delved into his set, the crowd began to loosen up and move to the music. Nocando’s traditional style of rapping provided many infectious rhythms and upbeat drum patterns for the crowd to nod along to. The crowd’s energy reached an all-time high once Nocando brought out Busdriver to perform “Little Green Monsters.” You could feel the high-octane energy coming off of both Nocando and Busdriver’s dynamic back-and-forth and through the Barn’s sound system. The music’s magnetic presence filled the entire venue, and not one single person was standing still.

The evening’s pace was taken down a notch or two when Open Mike Eagle took to the stage. Utilizing just a keyboard and his Macbook, Open Mike Eagle rapped amongst much slower and unique instrumentals, utilizing distorted samples and ambient synth loops to accompany his unorthodox style. Transitioning from rapping to singing and vice-versa, he delivered an interesting set comprised of slow melodic raps ranging from the trials and tribulations of life to cleaning the dishes. The most endearing part of his set was Eagle’s live sampling and chopping of beats while rhyming, showing the rapper’s production talent. While it was a unique set, the crowd’s energy began to die down, and before you knew it, the audience became almost still.

Busdriver, the last performer of the night, gave the Barn a much-needed jolt of energy — and craziness. From the moment he took the stage, Busdriver’s eccentric personality took over the show. His entire set was unpredictable, as his songs ranged from slow and atmospheric, to drum-n-bass-breakbeat type songs, to even his own rendition of Drake’s “Worst Behavior.” His Busta-Rhymes-type delivery meshed perfectly with the upbeat nature of most of his songs, bringing the crowd to its feet. What really pulled the audience into his set was his stage presence. Busdriver’s explosive energy nearly had him moving like a contortionist, as he played the show away on his Roland SP-404 sampler.

Out of every rap show I have seen at the Barn, there has never been one quite like Hellfyre Club’s performance. The talented rap collective pulled out all the stops, whether it was their on-the-fly production or their genre variety. The show offered something for every rap fan, and Hellfyre Club’s performance is definitely one that the Barn should take note of when scheduling rap artists for the upcoming quarter and school year.

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