Writer Jasmine Khan / Photographer Joe Marchant
Following our interview, the >THEM. collective have set expectations high for their first event, Episode 1. It’s set to a mix of DJ’s with a sprinkling of live acts, and filling up Mama Roux’s for a dance event on a Wednesday, especially in this weather, isn’t going to be easy.
As I walk in from the rain, Ishy’s running up on stage to shout out Manchester based DJ Jasmine, who’s been spinning a sweet collection of RnB classics and modern femme hip-hop over trap beats.
The >THEM. logo stands out projected behind the stage and a tasteful neon light repeats this imagery at the front of the decks. At the door I receive some hip-hop trump cards, a handwritten note from the collective, and a >THEM. sticker.
Small efforts like this make you feel like you’re part of the experience, rather than just another punter at a gig.
Getting caught up in friendly chatter, I don’t return to the main room until quarter-to-ten when it’s properly grooving.
Yonko Leck spins some Frank Ocean and then old skool hip hop to a hyped-up crowd. Ishy’s MCing, keeping the energy high, is demanding we dance. “Louder,” he shouts over a remix of TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’ and the crowd responds to his demand.
“Step the fuck forward and give it up for Yonko Leck.”
We again oblige, crowding the stage, and Leck plays King Kunta, then pulls it back and stops the track. It’s clear we’re not giving enough, and Ishy teases us, asking if that’s all we’ve got. The crowd gives in, screaming the lyrics until Leck lets the track rip.
His set is a real mix of hip hop and RnB through the ages alongside some tight bassy production, which turns even the most soulful of Sunday rhythms into foot-stomping bangers.
Every now and then he switches it up with some trap or Afro beats, and all the while Ishy’s curating the crowd, rapping, dancing. The lights are flashing and Ishy windes his waist, swinging the mic in white dungarees, and calling us out when we don’t match the intensity of the music.
There’s a little dance battle breaking out to my left and it’s barely 10pm.
The >THEM. collective knows how to get a party going, that’s for sure. But can they keep it going until 2am?
On the second floor there’s art, and on the 3rd floor there’s an Xbox – which adds some fun, interactive elements to the already well thought out night.
Leck continues to roll out a spicy arrangement of beats and lyrics until singer Mellow Solis takes to the stage. And whilst there wasn’t really the need for a switch up, Mellow’s presence elevates the room’s mood significantly.
The environment’s so supportive, with Mellow receiving applause before she even starts singing. But she deserves them as she delivers her first crystal clear note over the exceptionally loud backing track.
Mellow’s resonant voice pierces through her somewhat shy exterior as she smiles down the mic, flexing a fierce range and her namesake (I assume) mellow tones. She enjoys the appreciation, wiggling about the stage.
Although Mellow only stays to perform one track, and I high-key want more, the interlude offers some sonic and visual variety without pulling focus away from the dance.
I pop out for some air because it’s getting hot in here, and catch up with Sannah from the 9300 collective. I also talk to a few people who’ve travelled all the way from Kent to see Lord Andrew perform for the first time, and it feels like there’s a lot of inviting, creative vibes about the place.
After a while, we’re called in by Louis D. Prince who politely lets us know if we’d like to see >THEM. perform, the time is now. Everyone comes inside.
Back in the venue I’m greeted by Ishy spinning Cardi B and a seemingly fit to burst mainroom. People are jumping, dancing, throwing their arms up and their arses back. I can’t remember the last time I went to something this packed on a Wednesday.
Louis D. Prince, Lord Andrew, and Yonko Leck mill about the stage for a bit building the anticipation over Ishy’s mixes.
The first track they lay down puts the evening on a heavier, grimey path, setting the tone for what’s to come. The lads rap around and over each other, building the textures of their gritty collective sound with the unreleased ‘W.W.’
There’s a small sound issue but it’s well handled, and Andrew mounts the stage barrier spitting parts of the next song without a mic straight into the crowd. The rest of the collective rap and dance about the stage, now down to vests and skins.
The crowd’s frenzied, but not quite as frenzied as they should be.
Ishys jumps out from behind the decks and onto the barrier rapping back and forth with Andrew, both of them sweating, pumping their fists into the air, and the crowd cranks it up level.
Then, >THEM. play their growingly famous track ‘Pull Up’ and although we’re all trying, it’s too quick for the crowd to shout “Pull Up” at just the right moment.
Silencing the decks and going acapella, the lads relay the lyrics. We call it back louder with each repetition, and the DJ comes back in.
We get some more immaculately mixed beats, even though they feel a tad slow straight after the rawness of the mini live set.
I spend the next half an hour not thinking and just dancing, the tempos back on track, and after a few racy songs I need some air again. In the smoking area, I find out that Mama Roux’s is at max capacity and the doors are closed.
I promised myself earlier I’d leave at midnight, but I just can’t.
There’s another live performance from Yonko Leck. This time it’s ‘NEO-TOKYO!’, a track I haven’t heard of but lots of the crowd clearly have. They show their appreciation with whoops and cheers and lots of movement, while I sit back and take it in.
Just after midnight, King Kai jumps on the decks and the sound gets dutty with some atmospheric DnB. Even though I’m gutted not to catch the last act, it is a Wednesday so I must sadly make my way home.
But if it wasn’t obvious, I’ll definitely be back for more of >THEM.
Episode 1 From >THEM. @ Mama Roux’s – 23.11.23 / Joe Marchant
For more from >THEM collective go to: www.morethandem.com/party
For more from Yonko Leck go to: www.open.spotify.com/artist
For more from Louis D. Prince go to: www.open.spotify.com/artist
For more from Lord Andrew go to: www.instagram.com/lordandrew_
For more from Ishy go to: www.instagram.com/bigfootishy
For more from Mellow go to: www.soundcloud.com/mellowmellonmusic
For more from King Kai go to: www.soundcloud.com/kkcava
For more from Mama Roux’s go to: www.mamarouxs.co.uk