The party of sixtysomethings at the back of the Islington Academy are the odd ones out in a crowd of teens and tweens who have queued for an hour to see WSTRN’s first London headline show. They’re the grandparents and older relatives of band member Louis Rei and their presence is evidence of the group’s determination to restore what they term “that feelgood quality” to R&B and hip-hop. This genially shambling set, triangulated by cascading harmonies, trap and reggae flourishes and a revolving door of guest stars, felt not just good but prescient.
Voted best newcomers at last weekend’s Mobo awards, the singing rappers from west London – who also include Akelle Charles and Haile – are prospering by claiming territory previously overlooked by UK hip-hop. Their sweet-natured single, In2, became Britain’s top-selling debut by a group last year, seducing not just grandparents but younger people, who succumbed to their boyband smoothness and just-hard-enough beats. Rei, a striking collection of long limbs who’s the fans’ clear favourite, and his bandmates style themselves as lovers rather than fighters; they’re even willing to be bested by women, as proved by brief, fierce freestyles with guests Sinéad Harnett and Letisha Gordon.
In a show that sometimes lacked direction, with strong songs like Come Down subjected to mass plundering by more guests – scenesters Krept and Konan and Yungen among them – WSTRN’s greenness was obvious. They have the ear of the tweens – and the grans – though, so don’t underestimate them.