Writer Jasmine Khan / Photographer Ewan Williamson
It’s heavy at the Hare and Hounds on Tuesday 31 January, and freeing my limbs might be just what I need to brush off the end of my January blues.
21 year old Birmingham-based producer and DJ Maya Randle pulls back her DnB beat to run the intro to Rihanna’s ‘Te Amo’. As she releases the bass, a moderate but enthusiastic crowd bop and shuffle, unafraid to take up the centre front of the floor.
I’m glad Brum has listened to Grove’s request to arrive unafraid of being perceived.
The next track draws on some grittier, dutty noises, and Maya smirks as her evolving sound receives the appropriately placed “oi’s” and finger guns from the crowd. I’ve got to pop downstairs because there’s no Attic Brew taps in Venue One, but it’s a small price to pay for what’s set to be an evening of immensely playful, raw, and broad mix of music.
Upon reentering the main room I’m greeted by some old pop classics, which feels a little out of place given the futuristic, punky, dancehall nature of Grove’s sound. But Maya whips out her phone and begins filming her dedicated front row who clearly don’t share my reservations.
Then the bass comes in. And it is filthy, cutting through the track’s initial softness and leaving the melodic vocals warped around the distorted rolling beats. Maya gives us a garage mix with elements of RnB, and as she winds up her set the crowd serenade her with whistles and applause.
I get caught up chatting to a couple of locals who promise me they’ll read the write up later, when I notice Grove setting up. They’re running projected visuals at the back of the stage, currently just featuring ‘GROVE’ in a sinister red fountain pen on a black background.
Grove tests the mic “Yo”, then softer, “yo yo yo.”
In our interview earlier this week, something that struck me about Grove was their gentler, reflective tone, pausing for as long as it took to find the correct words or phrases to articulate their perspective. In setting up for a live gig their focus feels the same.
“Did you know this gig is going out on 6 Music?” says Steve Lamacq. We cheer; it is very exciting.
“It’s my first time in this venue,” he continues, and goes on to praise the Hare and Hounds in abundance. Lamacq also explains the entirety of the gig is going to be filmed, and in a few moments we need to make it look as though he hasn’t said anything yet.
The cameras start rolling. “It’s Grove!” shouts Lamacq and we all oblige, playing up to the drama, screaming, and waving our hands in the air in anticipation.
Grove and EJ:AKIN are revealed, two misty silhouettes rocking backwards and forwards towards the back of the stage, looming over their decks. Grove replaces Lamacq centre stage, bending slightly at the knee so they can look us right in the eyes. It’s both intimidating and very hot.
“Reality is but a dream, let me give you what you need.” The reverb rings back squeaking into space as Grove layers elongated flowing harmonies over the growingly cooking beat.
Their voice is like stained glass windows, and each body movement and glance feels both effortlessly spontaneous and deliberately curated.
“I love being queer and I love dancehall music, so I decided to combine the two in a scandalous way.” And they’re not wrong, their next track is ‘Skin2Skin’ and its…
I can’t say much about the sound because, as instructed by Mx Grove, all I do is wind my waist and thrust my hips as they sing: “Skin to skin, out and in.”
The lights are strobing the atmosphere is electric, Grove walks around owning the space, and posing like a statue of a God in the centre. They talk about their upbringing, their dual heritage, and their feelings about ripping down the “oppressive monument” of Edward Colston in Bristol.
“It made me proud to be…” they pause and run the track, “Black.”
It’s punk and dancehall, empowering and full of pride; you can see it move through Grove as the sound travels from their toes and out of their mouth. Then, Grove treats us to some classic UK garage with a twist and a track they thank Lamacq for playing on his show.
The production is fierce and rumbles through the audience, and yet what really stands out is Grove’s voice.The next track is new and it’s called ‘I Run My Shit’ and we chant it back and forth with Grove entranced.
I feel otherworldly, like the industrial sounds, the zipping, skitting, and tapping has elevated us beyond the earth’s atmosphere.
EJ takes the mic and adds some deep vocals to the already massive sound.
“Even though I came on my period today and I’m annoyed about it, I run. My. Shit.”
Are they allowed to swear on the BBC? Grove doesn’t give a fuck and neither do we. Me and the rest of queers stomp our feet to the beat. ‘Stinking Rich Families’ is a flat out call out, driven by hard beats and resolute vocals.
Grove raps into the audience: “Stinking rich families, you know how they anger me.”
We think the beat’s going to drop, and then EJ’s almost operatic voice rings over the mic in what feels like Arabic scales to me, but I find out after the show it’s a stunning fusion.
You can see the joy in Grove’s face as they wind the track down with immaculate precision.
“You might know this one it’s called ‘Fuck Ur Landlord’,” and roaring like a lion, Grove puffs their chest out and venom bleeds from their eyes: “Off, off, off with your head.”
We scream it back, you can feel the cost of living in the sweat in the air: “Off off off off with their heads!”
Performing their signature move, Grove rushes into the crowd and begins smashing up against the audience. You can tell that we all want to bash up against them, but we’re also very respectful, so it’s hard to get the right balance.
Calling out the regularly homophobic sentiments behind dancehall lyrics, Grove’s political discourse is far reaching and they’re militant about queering it up and queering up rave music too.
We’re under their spell now, when they move we move.
For their remix of the classic Girls Aloud number ‘Sound of the Underground’, Grove splits the room in half and as the beat drops they rejoin the audience, instigating the most polite but poppin’ wall of death I’ve ever been in.
Grove announces this is their last track and they end on ‘Your Boyfriend’s Wack’, a fan favourite. A loud bang emanates from the speaker and the end of the song and Grove doubles over as if they’ve been shot.
It’s over, I’m devastated. Slyly, they look up: “We couldn’t leave you just there Birmingham”. And we get a few more minutes of pure artistry and energy from Grove.
Maybe it’s the adrenaline from all the moshing and screaming, but for me the work this artist puts in is unmatched. They’ve got a stitch, we’ve got a stick; the collective energy that Grove infuses into the crowd is transcendent feels immeasurable.
Regardless of what you’re into, I wholeheartedly recommend you go and see Grove perform live whenever and wherever you can.
For more from Grove go to: www.theyisgrove.bandcamp.com
For Steve Lamacq’s BBC Radio 6 Show go to: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0072lb2