Watching Kate Tempest is more of an experience than a gig – everyone on the planet needs to go see this incredible poet, rapper, and modern-day prophet at least once in their lives.
Brixton’s Electric is buzzing as Brockley-raised Kate laughs, “We’re in fucking South London!” and she regales the crowd with stories of her early career, a club down the road where she won a hundred quid in an MC battle fifteen long years ago. “My home town! I can’t believe you’re all here.”
“This night is important,” she says, in a more serious timbre. “We’re in South London where a lot is changing, but what’s important is community. This is the closest thing we’ve got to a collective experience in these times. I feel like we’re in a state of national fucking emergency. We’re all so caught up in our own shit that we can’t see each other.”
Kate weaves around apocalyptic soothsaying and through her music, starting with cynical ‘Marshall Law’, low on her mic, bouncing reggae-style, her backing singer (possibly the coolest woman on the planet) Anth Clarke dancing beside her, dreads swinging in time to the music. It’s so refreshing to hear a skilled female MC (and she definitely is), but even better to hear the raw emotion of Kate’s spoken-word pieces, and her enraged talk of politics and society, war and loss, rubbing up against a genuinely heart-felt and optimistic faith in humanity: “I’m happiest when I’m struggling, I wouldn’t want to be anyone but myself.”
Her verse is peppered with biblical language, among the old-skool drops and bassy beats courtesy of a flawless backing band – “the righteous”, “the book”, “a plague”, "the great oppressor”, terror, floods, “the grand plan” – her performance is downright evangelical. With such poetic turn of phrase, and a lyrical, sing-song voice, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between the individual tracks and Kate herself, her performance (if it is a “performance”?) is a fluid stream of consciousness, which just adds to the church-like experience.
What is certain though, as she unfolds before the audience just like the stories she tells, is that she feels every single word, with all her heart, and all her soul.