The crowd was getting restless. “Soon, soon,” assured a man on stage. Whether he was a sound technician, a tour manager or otherwise, I couldn’t say; nor did anybody care. The mass of bodies was writhing and murmuring with increasing intensity, desperate for the music to begin. Moments later, the lights dimmed, smoke swept across the stage and “Kaytranada”, scrawled in red, appeared on the enormous screen behind the decks.
If you’re not familiar with Haitian-Canadian producer Kaytranada, you ought to be. His debut album 99.9% is one of the best of 2016, melding slinky rhythms with irresistible bass grooves and a generous dose of soul, not to mention a raft of guest contributors. When Kay walked on stage on Thursday it was to a feverish Brisbane crowd, who had packed out The Tivoli in anticipation of a special performance. They weren’t disappointed.
At just 24 years of age, the Montreal local (real name Kevin Celestin) is a remarkable young talent, and his confidence and charisma reflect this. “Dance, motherfuckers, dance!” he cried early in the set, grinning to his adoring audience. And dance they did. It was hard not to with Kay spinning tracks like Together, which features London duo AlunaGeorge and Washington, D.C. rapper Goldlink, from the get-go. It’s one of many cuts from 99.9% that exists blissfully at the intersection of R&B and dance. Kaytranada’s beats are always perfectly complemented by the guest vocalist’s style, whether that’s the neo-soul crooning of Syd tha Kid, the smooth flow of Phonte or the frenetic verses of Vic Mensa. He doesn’t mind returning the favour, either; Mensa’s Wimme Nah and a collaboration with Syd’s band The Internet, Girl, both got a look-in, much to the audience’s joy.
Remixes of Flume’s Holdin On and Chance The Rapper’s All Night were also warmly received, but the set revolved around tracks from 99.9%. Inspired by drummers like Karriem Riggins – who features on Bus Ride – Kaytranada’s music owes a lot to its percussive samples. Most are memorable enough that you can identify a song from just its percussion. This allowed Kay to excite the crowd with drums alone, upon which he would construct and deconstruct the melodies, masterfully transitioning between tracks. Behind him, fascinating visuals played: a strip club robbery, a boating holiday, a trio of muscular women flexing and carrying our boy Kay through the woods. Bizarre.
The highest peak of Kaytranada’s tremendous musical mountain range was Glowed Up. Anderson .Paak – who himself released one of the finest albums of the year in Malibu – is superb, displaying his considerable talents as both a rapper and a singer. You’re the One, Got It Good (featuring Craig David) and Lite Spots also made an impact, but it was hard to discern the popularity of any particular track given the intensity of the audience’s excitement throughout. I’ll forgive Kay’s pronunciation of Brisbane (“Bris-bAne”) because his set was near-flawless. I’m 99.9% sure he blew a speaker towards the end, too, but it didn’t inhibit his performance or dampen his exuberance. It was a spectacular showcase from a young producer in form, but perhaps not yet at the peak of his powers. That’s an exciting prospect.
Image: Juan Castro / Howl & Echoes
Check out all the photos from Kaytranada’s Melbourne show here.