Hilltop Hoods “Speaking in Tongues Tour” 2012
Hilltop Hoods “Speaking in Tongues Tour” 2012
Groovin the Moo, Canberra May 13th
University of Canberra August 12th
I feel like I'm obligated to be super impressed with Hilltop Hoods show because they are one of the groups that founded Australian hip hop, and because of everything that they have done to get hip hop in this country to the level that it is today. Certainly they are the group that turned many people onto this genre of music, and I have a lot of respect for what they have done. I contemplated whether I should express my real opinion about the shows that I attended on their recent tour because I don't want to immediately alienate people, by taking a stance on something that is in such stark contrast to the almost universally accepted reality of the situation. But having different opinions is what makes life interesting, so I hope you will find that I have touched on some good points, and opened the path for a discussion, even if you completely disagree with what I have to say.
The background story:
|Surf Beach, New South Wales south coast|
|me in our Surf Beach apartment 2007|
My honest opinion:
I'm not saying that the shows were terrible at all, they were good concerts. The audience was involved and activated. There was great energy between performers and audience. That by itself can make for a good and unifying experience. I'm sure for a lot of newcomers, first time concert goers, and those that attend only a few concerts a year, it may have been the best thing they have ever seen. That is fantastic, I know almost every person there did feel something great. But if I look at all the concerts that I have attended just in the last six months, the Hilltop Hoods performances, for me, fell short of what I thought they were capable of achieving. We went to the edge but not over it. It was missing that something extra, that a group, with their knowledge, skill, experience, and especially with their monetary backing, could have brought to the game. I was looking for them to step it up another notch from anything we have seen so far before, but it was like somehow we missed a step up and the playing field just began to level out.
Let me just briefly recount the things that made “Running On Air” a standout performance. First of all, you can't go past what is in your face from the very beginning. A running video montage accompanies each and every one of their songs. It's not just a large TV showing their performance on a big screen so that those in the back can see better, which is what most artists do. (And that's a good thing as well, no doubt.) But what they do is actually create a unique film clip that goes with each performance as an accompaniment to compliment the lyrics of each song and drive their point home. Like they have a DJ mixing, bringing in elements from so many different musical genres into one, they also have a VJ mixing clips in the same way. Already this is a different sort of performance, but let's look at what else they did. The song “Fire it Up” was actually accompanied by real flames on stage. Their interludes between songs included actual skits, like pretend fishing before “Down by the River.” And the most amazing part of the whole night, visually and sonically, was when unveiled that a grand piano had been moved onto the stage for their performance of “At Midnight,” my favourite song of theirs. All of these points were driven home when we went back and watched the DVD of this performance after seeing the Canberra Hilltop Hoods show. I don't expect to see these types of things in every oz hip hop performance obviously because doing these types of things on stage requires a lot of money to pull off. However I was put off by the lack of these types of surprises in the Hilltop Hoods show considering they most likely have even more in the way of monetary backing than Bliss n Eso does.
Don't get me wrong, it's not only big production and big displays of waving money around that gets me excited about a hip hop show. I would be more than happy to watch just an emcee and a DJ on stage doing nothing special, if what they had to say was real and meaningful. I may even actually prefer it because the theatrics of it all can distract from the message. I think what is most important in hip hop and everyone would have to agree, is the lyrics. Everything else is just done in support of what is being said. And I was listening, really listening hard at the Hilltop Hoods show, like I do at every show, and lyrically they just weren't doing it for me.
Last night, I spent hours pouring over Hilltop Hoods lyrics to see if maybe I was just missing something. What I found out is some of their rhymes are pretty tight and intricate. But what really gets to me is that so many of their songs seem to be about the same thing, how great of lyricists and emcees they are, how much better their crew is than anyone else's . We know they can tell a good story, with songs like “The Sentinel,” “Audience with the Devil,” and “Stopping All Stations,” but those are pretty rare. We all know they can make a great banging party song like, “What A Great Night” and “Blue Blooded All Stars.” But do they represent something more than that? What I'm looking for is a simple message, what point are they actually trying to get out there? Yet line after line reads like this “My lyrics range from better than yours to way better than yours,” while at the same time lacking substance in their words.
I think a big problem is how do you keep pushing yourself after you've already “made it”? I think no matter what the Hilltop Hoods put out now they will still get love from the masses. I think it would be hard when you get to that point to keep from being lazy. Especially since laziness in Australia is almost a praised characteristic.
It's part of Australian culture to be lazy, you can't help it really. Australia has such a laid back and easy lifestyle. It comes with the whole no worries philosophy: Don't worry, don't plan, everything just works out fine on it's own, no stress. The thing is sometimes stress is the only way that anything gets done, it's a motivating factor. As I see it, it's hard at every level for an Australian emcee (or any artist in Australia for that matter). It's hard to get started in the first place, because life is just too easy for most people to be bothered to put any extra effort into anything. It's hard to start to establish and make a name for yourself because of the way society tends to look down on those “overachievers.” And it's even hard once you've “made it” to find the motivation to keep pushing yourself.
Having lived in the US where stress rules the land, and you are judged purely on what you have achieved rather than who you are, and in Australia where “no worries” is a lifelong philosophy, I can see both sides of the coin. Now before you get all high and mighty on me, realise that I chose to live here so obviously I think the Australian lifestyle is a much better choice. But there are positives and negatives to every situation. Australia has something embedded in the society that the United States does not, and it's commonly referred to as “Tall Poppy Syndrome.” As far as I see it, this means that anyone that tries to grow too big or reach too far toward the stars gets immediately knocked down. Whether it's verbally, physically, or just perceptually, the group will tend to look down on or beat down on the one who stands out until they feel bad about themselves and withdraw to the same level as their peers.
Tall poppy syndrome can stifle creativity because anyone who tries too hard at anything will be knocked down and hated on. That's why laziness is so treasured in Australia. This is why mediocrity tends to rule. If you stand out too much, you're a try-hard, putting in too much effort. It's like when we were in school and the people who were good at it and always did their homework got made fun of, except extended into a whole life philosophy. It's just the opposite in the United States. With so much competition for every little aspect of life, standing out from the crowd is the only way to survive, so being extremely ambitious is a valued and desirable character trait.This isn't to say that all (or even most) the stuff that comes out of the US is excellent or that everything that comes out of Australia is mediocre. It just helps us to understand the cultural mindset that the artist comes up against in this country.
The opening act:
|Horrorshow in Canberra|
It's actually Horrorshow's Sydney performance that sticks out the most in my mind from these shows. The tour had just returned from Europe days before the Sydney gig. Horrorshow stepped out on stage to their home crowd, a year after performing this same venue with Bliss n Eso, with a new confidence and a very strong presence that I hadn't yet seen from them. There was no uncertainty at all. I think going overseas can give you such a refreshed perspective on life. And coming back to perform to a sold out home crowd, at the very venue that they themselves saw their very first concert, I can imagine they just threw everything that they had into it, and that confidence shone through in the best way. “We got this one,” was the note to self backstage.
Both of their performances I remember so differently, even though they played the same songs both times. Each performance carried a completely different vibe. The Sydney show was all about far away blue lights, slow songs, and haunting lyrics. Their new song “Dead Star Shine” stood out as pretty much the highlight of my night. Even though it was a brand new song and no one knew it yet, you could tell it went over very well, and I think he even got us all singing along to the chorus in the end. At the Canberra show of course we were able to get much closer. I remember the lighting as being more energetic, orange and yellow and greens with “Thoughtcrime” being the most stand-out song of the night.
There's certainly room in this scene and in the world scene for music like Horrorshow's hip hop style. They come from a much softer, very heartfelt place that I think a lot of artists are afraid to show. Their respect for the greats of this genre is evident in Solo's lyrics as well as the samples that Adit chooses. And yet they have managed to come out with something completely different. Solo wears his heart on his sleeve, and that's very refreshing coming from a genre that has a reputation for being about how hard you are, or pulling off a gangster persona.
Again, I don't want this to come off the wrong way. Of course I don't hate the Hilltop Hoods, I have nothing but respect for them and what they have accomplished and continue to accomplish. I more have the attitude of that overbearing father or older brother in that because I love them, I'm harder on them because I want them to push themselves even more to reach their very best potential.
I invite anyone reading this, please change my mind about them. I'm open to listening again and being proven wrong. I actually would love to be. So send me lyrics and songs to listen to that really displays their point of view cause I would love it if I was just missing something.
Here is Hilltop Hoods new video clip. It's a big love fest, it's all about unity among the hip hop community. Do you think that message comes across?
I'll leave you now with these thoughts. I was recently speaking to an Australian emcee about how I was looking for more, I wanted to hear something profound coming from the artist on stage in order to really enjoy the show. And his response disappointed me more than anything. What he said was, “Well we're only rappers you can't expect too much from us.” But I expect more from an emcee than an average person. I expect the whole world to be explained, and the whole world to be brought together as one just through one song. Because that is hip hop.
rattlingthekeys.com - information about Hilltop Hoods new single and video as well as links to their charity auction items
Horrorshow- artist info, merchandise, upcoming gigs
Flying Colours - Bliss n Eso's merchandise site where you can purchase the Running On Air DVD