At the Islington Assembly Hall for MTV Brand New 2014 I was immediately struck by the grandeur of the venue and reminded of old Shakespearian theatres. The second thing to hit me was the fact that this was not a crowd dominated by fans, but rather mainly by journalists and urban socialites. I was here to see three young artists tipped by MTV to blow in 2014: Kwabs, Joel Compass and Sam Smith.
Kwabs looked like a preacher and truthfully, he performed like one too. There was great passion and force in his voice but ultimately, the crowd appeared to be under submission rather than like they were enjoying themselves. The only real reaction other than the social convention of mild clapping was the high pitch screams of a man I can only presume was either part of his entourage or an ageing fanboy. ‘Wrong or Right’ was arguably Kwabs strongest track, and combined vocals reminiscent of Seal with a skipping electro beat. If you listen to the studio release its a great track but live it just didn’t cut it.
Joel Compass appeared to be cut from the same cloth artists such as Drake and Chris Brown. A soulful singer with elements of rap. There was real feeling in his songs, unfortunately his voice didn’t really hold out on some higher notes and I felt like he seemed to be frequently losing the crowd. The single ‘Run’ was a showcase for the best elements of Joel Compass; simple yet meaningful lyrics backed by heavy music, the depth of the keyboard detracting from the weaknesses in his voice.
The sound of Tupac’s ‘Changes signalled for the audience to hush as Sam Smith walked on stage. Immediately, there was a completely different feel, it was clear that the majority were here for this man. Anthemic performances of the Disclosure hit ‘Latch’ and Naughty Boy’s ‘La La La’ were separated by the feel-good energy of the upcoming single ‘Money on My Mind’. The beauty of Sam Smith serenading the audience with ‘Lay Me Down’ was indescribable; everyone became still and I could see people fighting back tears as we all poured our own personal pain into the singer’s words. The show ended with a powerful rendition of the country-esque ‘Stay With Me’ and had the crowd hanging on the singer’s every word.
MTV Brand New. Kwabs. Joel Compass. Sam Smith. Here were the makings of a great night. Sadly, other than Islington Assembly Hall being a great venue and Sam Smith ending the gig on a high, at the end of the night I was left feeling pretty underwhelmed. Kwabs, whilst demonstrating amazing range and an enormously powerful voice, simply did not set the crowd alight and left me feeling he is a talent better suited to the studio than the stage. Joel Compass, a gifted lyricist, just didn’t appear to have that unique quality needed to set him apart from his contemporaries; I can see him being successful to a degree, but musically he is nothing particularly new or special and I doubt he’ll ever be seen as a true musical great. The shining gem of the night was the already widely acclaimed Sam Smith – a dynamic vocalist who has been collaborating with great artists and producers in order to catapult his career forward over the last year. All three artists have talent, but judging from their live performances only Sam Smith will go on to be a headliner at gigs and festivals over the next few years.