Sometime in the mid-2000s Nine Inch Nails were playing at Brixton Academy, with some guy called Saul Williams in support. None of the people crushed into the underground train from Victoria with us knew who he was. ‘Some rapper’, supplied a tout at the station exit helpfully. People murmured disapprovingly, and gravitated towards the pubs.

Hip-hop didn’t sit easy with fans of Industrial Rock, it seems. Never mind that NIN’s Trent Reznor was himself a whore for genre influences, leeching from The Cure for Dead Souls, Drum and Bass for The Perfect Drug and Carly Simon for the chorus to Starfuckers, his eclecticism laid bare for his soundtrack to Natural Born Killers (which featured both Prince and Dr Dre): his fanbase, at least on this evidence, was alarmingly parochial.

And so Reznor had to turn cheerleader, organising the distribution of thousands of leaflets around the venue essentially pleading with us to come in for the support. Sceptically we obliged, English indifference primed and ready, and Williams blew everyone away. From his spoken-word intro to his final caustic rhymes, no-one in the Academy seemed to move. Even once he left the stage people stayed silent, as though waiting for their wits to return to them, their London cynicism scourged away and leaving behind just empty husks. It was, quite honestly, one of my defining musical experiences.

Which is why this week’s announcement of the first acts on the Standon Calling bill had me screeching at pretty much everyone to get tickets. It’s a damn fine festival anyway (see my review of the 2010 edition for Music OMH…), but this will be Williams’ first performance in the UK in three years, and really shouldn’t be missed.

Don’t believe me? Take a listen to the track below, one of the standouts from Saul Williams’ self-titled 2006 album, and when you’ve recovered feel free to respond.

MP3 (right-click to download)

Saul Williams: Act III Scene 2 (Shakespeare)


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