Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
I was elsewhere when The-Dream took to the Fader Fort stage last week at SXSW. However my friends Mike Silver (Montreal musician CFCF) and Modular Recordings’ Shelley Wright were there to witness the R&B pop king’s show. I chatted with them about it.
Mike Silver: Everyone was surging towards the front stage of the Fader Fort, trying to get as close as possible. I was really excited because I’d only seen him once before at this really small Fader magazine launch where he came out 40 minutes late and played over CD tracks of the vocal versions from his records. It was a weird vibe. So with this one it was like, I’d heard good things and really wanted to see him. So we got to the front and finally he came on. There was a drummer and two keyboardists with racks of synths, probably digital synths, and him in the front as the lead singer of this band.
That’s cool because most of the rap acts I’ve seen, and probably you’ve seen, have just been to a backing track.
Mike Silver: Yeah, yeah. That’s the thing: The-Dream is an R&B producer and so with the stuff that he produces, for a while he was probably very protective about the way it sounded. But from what I gathered at this show is he’s the pop star at the front of his band. It’s amazing how much the band brought out in him because the last time I saw him he was kinda flat. When all the attention is diverted to him there’s maybe not enough to give but with the band behind him he was giving everything. He was amazing. It was a very hit-orientated set. The first track was Shawty Is A 10 and he played Walkin’ On The Moon, Rockin That Thang. The tracks that really are the standouts on his records. You could really feel his energy. He was giving everything. Before I thought he didn’t really have good charisma but he was really giving it. He really feels like a pop star in that context now. That was the only thing that was missing before. The only thing I was bummed about was that Jacques [Greene] had told me that in other shows he’d dug a little deeper into his records and played Fancy, February Love and Kill The Lights from his new record, which is an amazing song – so slow, so good. But this show was way more energetic, which I was into but if I could have seen those songs too I would have been really happy.
Shelley Wright: I saw his show on Sunday in New York too. I love him so much but I find it’s The-Dream karaoke when he plays live…
Mike Silver: Even with his band?
Shelley Wright: You know on the records when there’s a little laugh or sound? Even that is on the backing track when he performs and I find that disconcerting because I feel like thats the stuff that’s supposed to be spontaneous.
Mike Silver: He really needs back-up singers. A couple of back-up singers would make it amazing, just to cover off all the vocal stuff and not having any backing track.
Shelley Wright: One of the things I really love about him is his ability to craft not just pop hits, which obviously he’s the genius at, but these larger, orchestral, mini-movies. And he hasn’t found a way to do that live, which is unbelievable because that’s where all the drama and tension is. Why didn’t he do Nikki into Abyss?
Mike Silver: I know, that’s true. I don’t know what it was like in New York, but apparently at other shows he played Fancy. And Fancy’s just like…I melt every time I hear it. The song is about him being in love with girl who used to be poor and now has just expensive tastes and is totally untouchable, which is could just be any pop song really but the melodies of the song makes it so heartbreaking. To see that live here would be so crazy and powerful so I wish he’d played that.