Jimmy Ness’ diamonds are really diamonds.
Like Siddhartha’s turbulent path to enlightenment, my journey to Woohah! Festival last week encompassed nirvana, tragedy, and discomfort. Woohah! boasts one of Europe’s best rap line-ups, with performances from Schoolboy Q, Young Thug, Skepta, Tyler the Creator, A$AP Ferg, and Action Bronson. All good to great artists, but my pilgrimage had one key tenet: see Kevin Gates perform.
Being a super fan as an adult is corny, and often creepy. Yet, occasionally you find someone that provides a serotonin boost not smuggled from Indonesia. An artist that reminds you of when musicians were superheroes, rather than flawed jerks like the rest of us. I figured being a writer made me too cynical to be a KG zealot. Then I heard “4.30am” and was strung out on audio pyrex.
Gates is a polarizing character, distant from the conventional hoodlum narrative. The Baton Rouge maniac conveys street opera with the lucidity of one who chose the left hand path and is still processing the trauma. He’ll go from justifying domestic assault to exposing vulnerabilities that would make Noreaga quake in his beef and broc Timbs. Like Young Thug evading conventional masculinity, Gates ignores taboo. He’s admitted to sleeping with his cousin, getting high on his own supply and having depression. Whether it’s myth making or hard fact is irrelevant, there isn’t anyone quite like Kevin. His voice is standalone, he’s lyrical, can sing and write hooks.
London has never hosted a Kevin Gates show. Probably due to customs not being enthused about letting double felons enter her Majesty’s realm. France, Switzerland, Germany and Spain, never the U.K. I knew nothing about the Dutch city of Tilburg and wouldn’t see much during my 24-hour sojourn, but if they’d host my guy, I’d be there.
My photographer pulled out so I was going alone. No fucks were given. I could witness the face of the platinum teeth god and die happy. Rappers are also the flakiest of all humans and cancel shows, interviews, and appointments like it’s a hobby. I tried to keep my expectations realistic, but Stan syndrome took over. I’d dreamt about the show for the past week. My friends thought it was hilarious and bewildering.
I’m the least morning person ever, but at 5 a.m. on the holy day, I sat up in bed like Dracula rising from the coffin. I spent the whole commute thinking about Gates’ performance. Management hadn’t replied about an interview, probably because they’d researched and deemed me a threat to Kevin’s personal safety. Maybe I’d meet him at the press tent. Maybe not. Either way it was finally happening. In the taxi, six hours to go. On the plane, four hours to go. At the station, three hours to go. My neurotransmitters were on full blast with Dr. Dopamine paying an extended visit. This was the most excited I’d been in months.
I leapt off the bus near my hotel and blissfully jaunted through white-picketed suburbia with “Off The Meter” getting it’s fiftieth iPod run. Retirees enjoyed their idyllic lives with no idea my rap dreams were becoming reality. It was a particularly wonderful day. The plan was to make a quick pee stop, dump my bag at the hotel and taxi straight over.
I’d have plenty of time to hit front stage alongside the other overgrown children. Did you know Tilburg made marijuana legal to foreigners just for the weekend of this festival? That’s how cool the Netherlands is. I resisted the urge to deliver a manic grin to every Dutchman watering their manicured flora. Things were going great. “Maybe I’ll move here.”
Then it happened. Like a phantom limb, I became painfully aware I was missing something. I’d left my bag on the bus. Inside was my camera, wallet, two passports, IDs, and most importantly my visa. In one sadistic swoop my entire year was ruined. Losing stuff puts everything in perspective. Take anything but my visa. Without that one document, I’m done. All of my trips for the year were ruined and I didn’t have insurance. We’re talking £2k worth of flights in jeopardy, including my first visit home to New Zealand in two years. Not to mention the concert itself. I wouldn’t be chanting lyrics about owning two cellular phones for selling narcotics. I’d be playing refugee at the nearest embassy.
Fight or flight kicks in. I choose flight and sprint quicker to the hotel than T-1000 chasing John Connor’s motorbike. One hour and thirty minutes to go. I can’t turn to liquid metal or take a shotgun blast to the chest, but I will leap the counter if this girl wastes another millisecond not calling the bus company. The next thirty minutes are spent thinking about the end of days. Maybe I’ll exit life and become a hermit now that joy has been sapped from my existence. Wearing rags would make getting ready in the morning a lot easier. A streetwear horde parade in and excitedly ask “ya’ll ready for Woohah! Festival today!?” I pretend not to hear, but wish upon them a number of tragedies. The group converses about how nice Tilburg is. Fuck Tilburg.
After more catastrophizing and aggressive breathing, the universe restores its natural balance. Some heaven-sent Samaritan found my bag, didn’t take anything and returned it the nearest transport office. I like Tilburg again. With less than 30 minutes to go, I’m gleefully elbowing past a throng of septum rings. I’m waiting for Gates to perform. No one wants to be the over-enthusiastic guy who chants every word at a gig. Those guys are losers.
Kevin comes out and I immediately become that guy. I’m at a festival solo, perched in front and rapping every lyric. I’m pretty sure someone Snapchatted my behavior. I don’t blame them. My camera is dead and there’s a dudebro wearing a Free WiFi cap, yet nothing will dilute this joyful abandon. The ridiculousness of a white kiwi rapping the “Thugged Out” chorus hasn’t escaped me. But dammit that’s a jam.
It was an opening slot, less than an hour long, and still one of my favorite shows. To whatever extent I can be objective, the performance was supreme. Someone on Twitter previously described Gates as completely himself on stage. I agree to the fullest. Stage presence can’t be forced. Kevin sung acapella, improvised new songs, said an unhinged speech and punched over a mic stand. People left as fans. Afterwards, he hugged each bemused member of the stage crew. I fought the urge to hug the person beside me because they were about 14 years old. People say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but I definitely recommend seeing them live.
Woohah! Festival bonus facts:
Worst outfit: Vic Mensa’s lacy negligee.
Number of people who fainted during Young Thug’s set: Two poor kids got low, tried to shake it off then went full horizontal.
Number of Future songs heard: Four in a row to dazzling effect.
Number of Desiigner songs heard: Thankfully, zero.
Most underappreciated guest: A$AP Ferg brought out Schoolboy Q, Tyler the Creator, Thugger, and A$AP Rocky. Action Bronson had Alchemist aka a top twenty producer on the turntables. Can I live?
Worst festival quote: Immortal Technique. “You know you can’t drink a Louis Vuitton bag when the apocalypse comes.” He then performed an Abba remake. You can’t make this up.
Most over-worn brand: Outside of school uniforms, Patta is the universal pre-teen garment of choice.
Best Skepta lookalike: A$AP Ferg looked every bit the roadman with his curved cap brim and small items bag.
Most religious experience: Young Thug brought people together faster than the Pope on a Sunday. Tied with Kevin Gates as the best performance of the festival. Rarely do artists make people drop all pretension and go wild as soon as they step out. A legitimate star.