Arriving in Darlington for Last Train Home Festival, after almost killing myself and fellow journalist Lee Hawthorn on the A1, I headed for the Legacy Skate Store stage – where all of the hip-hop acts (bar RoninClan) were set to perform that day.
Having never been to Darlo before, nor Googled the shop, I imagined the stage to be like something out of a noughties American pop-punk video; a massive wooden indoor skate park built inside the shop, with the stage right in the middle and Tony Hawk (or whoever they could afford) doing tricks in the background. It wasn’t that. It was the shop’s car-sized back yard, in a typically northern back lane. Despite my initial reservations, the intimate ramp turned stage area brought with it a cool, DIY, party atmosphere… it sort of fit with the music. Speaking of, I’m about to start talking about the music (finally, I know).
Painting a picture of a tortured soul with his concise flows and strained screams, KV$HNOODLE kicked off the afternoon with an intense performance that was worthy of a headline slot. Pacing around the performance area as if in a tormented trance, KV$H was completely lost in the emotion of his music, communicating pain with every line. With lyrics addressing his own dark mental state, thoughts of suicide and bouts of depression, KV$H’s set seemed like a public therapy session on the mic – is it sadistic how entertaining it all was? 90BRO also made a guest appearance, treating us to some brand-new material that had that his staple lyrical wit and political commentary, over some of the most interesting and contemporary beats I’ve heard from 90.
In the right hands, hip-hop has the ability to convey a good story better than any other genre. Armed with a mic and some left-field boom-bap beats, Jister took LTH on a journey into his ‘based on a true story’ sonic biopic. Painting narratives with poetic finesse, the Middlesbrough rapper destroys the modern notion of ‘the boring boom-bap rapper’, favouring intelligently written final bar punchlines over cramming as many cheap laughs in as possible. If Jister’s tracks were films, they’d be Hitchcock classics as opposed to cheap, jump scare filled B-movies.
The stage’s host Endem, of Legitimate Anarchy Records, was next on the mic, accompanied by his producer Leum. The Darlo native’s set jumped from playful tracks like “My Producer’s Better Than Yours”, which saw Endem pretend to propose to Leum, to vulnerable tales of past relationships that have went sour, like “How Does It Feel”. Regardless of the subject matter of each track, Endem’s cocky charisma and ludicrously lung-testing flow always brought the entertainment factor.
Liam Hope was probably the artist I was least familiar with on LTH’s line-up, only having caught him doing short or group support slots at a couple of Kush Promotion’s O2 Academy shows – so, I was excited to see what he could do when presented with a full solo set. The first half of Liam’s set was surprisingly sombre and laid-back, unlike the aggressive grimey side I saw of him at the O2, each track introduced with a back story about how it personally relates to the MC’s life. From vulnerable introspection, Liam then went on to flex his lyrical muscles with some straight up hard-hitting grime to finish his set with a bang – with a few guest appearances from Lew BYG and King Tig, both decent spitters in their own right.
With his fourth and potentially final album ‘Parting Gift’ on the horizon, Rex Regis came to LTH with the intention of trying out some of his new, more ‘experimental’ (as he puts it) material on the Darlington crowd – as well as throwing in some the classics, like “Cheeky Bastard” and “Flithy”, that made him the respected veteran of the scene that he is. Moving away from his usual tongue in cheek witticisms and straight up sexually explicit boom-bap bars, Rex’s new joints see him try his hand at grime, contemporary trap and even singing. I’m a big fan of seeing the ‘Parting Gift’ material live, it made Rex’s set feel unpredictable and exciting; seeing the Newcastle rapper push himself, really testing his own musical ability, was refreshing – a definite performance of the day contender.
The pressure that comes with being named ‘headliner’ is pretty massive to being with, but after seeing the immense amount of talent that had already been on show today, the pressure on Teesside lyricist Shakk was doubled. Unfazed, Shakk took the remaining LTH crowd on an emotional roller-coaster through his acclaimed ‘I AM YOU’ EP, from the politically motivated lyrical assault “Pickle Rick”, to the Spanish dance flair of “Young Pablo” – Shakk’s performance was passionate, slick and classy.
With the ‘hip-hop stage’ all wrapped up, I headed up to Hogan’s bar to catch RoninClan, one of the most exciting acts out of Newcastle at the moment, fusing hip-hop and metal sensibilities to create what’s being branded by many as ‘trap-metal’. Unfortunately, the trio turned up late and only managed to perform a four song set, the highlight of which being the live debut of their collab “WTW” with KV$HNOODLE. I spoke to RoninClan afterwards to shed more light on what went down…