On the evening of Wednesday 28th of November, SK Shlomo made his long-awaited appearance in the sumptuous surroundings of Covent Garden’s h Club for his PledgeMusic Presents performance. Part of his fan-funded Surrender campaign, the resultant record is the world-renowned beatboxer's debut album and reveals his struggle with depression and trauma, making every live appearance as vital in terms of its message as it is its music.
Before Shlomo took to the stage, the audience in the Oak Rooms were treated to a film by director Andrew Spicer exploring the genesis of the album and fan-funding campaign. SK explained how, back in 2004, whilst recording with Björk for her record Medúlla, watching the Icelandic artist complete an album entirely governed by her own creativity was something that inspired him to one day do the same for himself. But he was too afraid to start. And when the inspiration finally came last year, it was inspired by the need to discuss a subject he'd hitherto kept private: his anxiety, his PTSD and his depression.
SK took to the stage alone to rapturous applause and treated the audience to 'Silver', the first track from Surrender. It soon became clear that this would be no dark and brooding journey into the nether regions of despair. SK's creative vision is positive and upbeat and the crowd responded by cheering and singing along; a shared catharsis rather than introspection.
SK Shlomo is known not only as a world-class beatboxer but a true pioneer of the live looping techniques that have been perpetuated and employed by artists such as Dub FX, THePETEBOX, Beardyman and even Ed Sheeran. The tracks from Surrender are a continuation of this tradition, with beats and pad sounds emanating from SK's mouth mingling with accents and textures from his synthesisers and samplers; a potent combination of organic vibes and music tech.
Between tracks, SK discussed the PledgeMusic campaign and how a 'dip' in the middle of the fan-funding journey spurned a huge comeback at the end of the campaign. After a strong start, the funding growth slowed down, leading to an online troll on Twitter attacking SK about his mental health, severely knocking his confidence and leading to a bout of self-analysis that quickly turned to crippling doubt. SK pulled away from the campaign and considered scrapping it all together. After a period of recovery, SK returned to the project and was amazed by the reaction of his fans. The troll's tricks backfired: in order to show their support, SK's fans shared his story far and wide and committed to the campaign, leading to a revival worthy of Rocky and seeing the campaign's target smashed.
As well as the tracks from Surrender, SK acknowledged that he was happy to deliver some of the performances that have brought him to the global fore as an artist performer: his pioneering mix of storytelling, looping and beatboxing. He launched into a set-piece that is beloved amongst his fans and dropped the jaw of newcomers, presenting an account of the middle eastern family parties of his childhood, complete with sound effects. Starting with an account of the “worry beads” his grandfather would click in the corner of the room, SK's emulation of the sound provided a metronomic bedrock to build the rest of the layers. One-by-one SK constructed a tapestry of sonic textures across pounding percussion, soaring strings, banging basslines, and, to top it all off, his grandmother's piercing "Ai Yi Yeee!!!!": the ultimate Kahn indicator that joy is to be unconfined!
SK's use of ambient sound within his performance is not limited to those of his own creation; at one point in the set he took to the dancefloor in order to capture to whoops and yells of the audience itself, developing the resulting sounds into a grooving cacophony, and bringing the audience to their feet at a key part of the set. Tables that were previously set out in front of the stage were pushed aside as the whole room piled forward to be part of the action…. truly soul-stirring stuff
With the room at fever pitch, SK welcomed to the stage guitarist Tom McConnell, bassist DJ Walde and drummer James Nall to accompany him for the remainder of the show. A highlight was the 'drum off' at the end of their first track together, where SK beatboxed several bars of syncopated rhythms, only to have Nall play it back to him beat-for-beat on the live kit. As the cadences became more complex and polyrhythmic, the bars got shorter, bringing the whole room to a frantic climax as his talented drummer nailed every beat thrown at him with accuracy and aplomb.
For the grand finale, SK welcomed three audience members who had pledged on the VIP Performance Experience – Perform with Shlo! exclusive to the stage to provide backup vocals for ‘Superhuman’, underlining the notion that this album is not only funded by Shlo's fans, but they are truly a part of it. Finally, SK thanked the fans in the room, his band (with a quick shout out for PledgeMusic!), but left his biggest thank you to his business and life partner Michelle, whose patience and support have been a vital part of making this whole thing possible.
As the performance drew to a close, SK was quick to point out that the night was young, and the party would continue with his 90s DJ set! With the unifying impact of the performance they'd experienced intrinsically mixed with a message of huge importance, he left the already satisfied crowd with a night they'd never forget. And with Shlomo's #WEARELISTENING series of 'realtalk livestreams' featuring guests like Bill Bailey and Jason Mraz, he continues the discussion and championing of mental health issues and, just as with his unforgettable live show, activism never felt so fun.
Pre-order SK Shlomo’s debut album Surrender: skshlomo.com/pledge
Book tickets for the Surrender album tour: skshlomo.com/tour