It’s a little hard to believe that Loyle Carner’s full-length debut, Yesterday’s Gone, was released two years ago. With a neo-jazz infused sound that is still peaking in his native South London and his stock ever-growing within the public’s consciousness, a follow-up record seems like an early gift to fans.
This feeling doesn’t dispel whilst approaching the launch event in celebration of new album Not Waving, But Drowning, with endless queues decanting into Waterloo’s House of Vans to enter a lobby which is decorated with looped videos and merch stands; a tightly-themed fan experience for a thousand die-hards.
With no support artists and Loyle not due on stage until late, the evening’s entertainment commences with a second, 90-minute queue to visit the art exhibition that accompanies the rapper’s 15-track release.
Crowd-control aside, the collection was thoughtfully organised; fans were handed MP3 players which were pre-loaded with the full album, and given free rein to explore the gallery – with each track on the record corresponding to a respective piece of art.
The 15 pieces were nothing if not varied, with a range of mediums including photography and sculpture used to convey each track from Not Waving, But Drowning. The notion of community-spanning collaboration is commonplace in Loyle’s work, with contributing artists ranging from recent MA graduates to Damien Hirst and Laurie Vincent from punk duo Slaves.
This means of presenting an album to its audience did not go underappreciated by fans, with each artefact allowing further contextualisation for long-time followers and an immersive introduction to the world of Loyle Carner to those who are not yet acquainted with the 24-year-old musician.
One piece, entitled ‘Have a Heart’, was produced by the rapper’s mum, Jean, who is an ongoing inspiration to his work. Jean’s sculpture – a clay pillow rested on a child’s wooden chair – is intended to pair with the album’s closing track, Dear Ben; which is a poem from Jean to her son (real name Ben Coyle-Larner).
This syrupy public display of motherly love, although lightyears away from the pantheon of superstar musicians that we are accustomed to, is central to understanding Loyle Carner’s brand; an antidote to the toxic masculinity that is so rife within the industry.
The live set began at half ten, several hours after the keenest fans arrived at the venue. Following a short, typically heartfelt speech, Carner opened the show with Stars and Shards from his Mercury-nominated debut, Yesterday’s Gone.
Rather than shoe-horning a full LP of unheard tracks into the event, the set was short and accessible, coming in at around 50 minutes and being sure to pay homage to the most popular songs from both of the artist’s releases.
The sensible selection of crowd-pleasing songs was gratefully received by fans, who stayed engaged throughout the performance, despite poor sound quality rendering pre-song speeches inaudible.
Jorden Rakei, who shares many fans with Loyle, walked on stage for a performance of their collaboration, Ottolenghi, to an ecstatic fan reception.
Many would have hoped that Tom Misch could have also featured on the evening. The singer/producer collaborated on the new record and completes the trio of ultra-wholesome artists currently making waves in South London.
The evening climaxed with Jorja Smith joining Loyle on stage for a rendition of their recent duet, Loose Ends. This saw the two previous British Breakthrough Act nominees sharing the stage in an encouraging showcase of how the BRIT Awards still occasionally make some great nods.
Loyle has come to represent the very best of a new breed of popular artist; woke and human. Alongside Rakei and Misch, a boyband has been created for a demographic of consumer who feel culturally superior to the allure of boybands, but still which to partake in the tribal ritual of fan-girling.
These softboy stars of South London won’t be caught launching utilities from a hotel window, but are instead personifying the changing face of a more enlightened youth culture.
Far from this new mould of artist being a forcibly post-modern example of style over substance, Carner’s tracks carry as much lyrical weight as any peers currently on the scene, with a tone of honesty and vulnerability that is hard to find elsewhere.
Charity and community are central facets to Loyle Carner’s off-stage persona and seeing a rapper approach music with so little bravado demands attention in 2019.
Loyle Carner’s sophomore album – Not Waving, But Drowning – is available to stream now.