The Borderline seems aptly named to be the only place a band like Gangstagrass could play their first London gig and show that when music is this good it smashes every borderline, every genre, every preconceived idea of what a bluegrass hip-hop fusion might sound like. Rench, the mastermind and creator of this genre defying band, promised at the outset the best hip-hop bluegrass we would ever hear and over the course of the next ninety minutes proved why this band has garnered such critical acclaim and blows live audiences away wherever they play.
Back in 2006, Rench was an in demand Brooklyn country and hip-hop producer and solo artist, but wanted to experiment with his theory that there were lots of people out there with Johnny Cash and Jay-Z on their playlists looking for common ground and innovation and so he set about releasing free music on the internet that fused hip-hop MCs and beats with banjos, fiddles, guitars and dobros that received hundreds of thousands of downloads and created a demand for more. One such interested party turned out to be the FX network that was busy creating the excellent ‘Justified’ show and needed a new kind of theme music that reflected the lead character and the show they were making. Gangstagrass’s ‘Long Hard Times to Come’ was born and went on to receive an Emmy nomination.
This was how I discovered the music of Gangstagrass and I’ve been hooked ever since. Since then, Gangstagrass have released four studio albums and they have all received not only critical acclaim but have built a loyal fan base in the US and worldwide. There has been a real demand for them to bring their “barnburning” live act to the UK and anyone at the Borderline last night could not have been disappointed!
The touring band is made up of Rench himself on guitar and beats; Dan Whitener on banjo; Landry McMeans on dobro and Melody Allegra Berger on fiddle. They all take a turn on vocals and are joined on stage by the excellent MC’s Dolio the Sleuth and R-Son bringing the hip-hop to the party. Each and every band member were on the top of their game from the mesmerising dobro of Landry, the axe wielding banjo play of Dan, the foot stamping excitement of truly excellent fiddle playing, the excitement of live hip-hop all the way to Rench himself who seems to tie it all together. At the end of the performance the masterful Dolio the Sleuth and R-Son were in the crowd high fiving and hugging their adoring public. We were truly “All for one”.
There have been rave reviews of their live performances at home where they have played everything from major festivals to highway rest stops and after last night’s party like performance that had the crowd bouncing around screaming for more, their international stature can only grow.
The fans at the Borderline were treated to all of their favourites ranging from where it all began with ‘Long Hard Times’ all the way through to more recent offerings like ‘You Can Never Go Home Again’, every song was another excuse to sing along, dance and cheer. The genre defying freedom of the music seems to create a feeling of open enjoyment and the hugely diverse demographic of the crowd were as one with their positive reaction to this cultural phenomenon.
I was trying to think of a way to sum up exactly how good the evening was. Then, when I was looking at Twitter someone summed it up perfectly and so I hope she doesn’t mind that I borrow her tweet. @delilablack said “if you weren’t there you missed a heap of awesome”. Nailed in ten words!