TRCH Ranulph

Review: Abstract Orchestra plays MF Doom live

8 January 20 words: Nick Strang

An unmissable event for fans of the genre, the live rendition of one icon’s hip hop classics all night long was an exciting prospect. Nick Strang shares his take on it all following the mid-week winter jam...

When you visualise MF DOOM hunched over his MPC sampler, pulling out records to flip and penning some of the most iconic lyrics of all time, it’s hard to imagine he was ever planning to have his work performed by a 16-piece orchestra. Yet this has become something of a craze in the world of hip-hop.

2009 saw US group El Michels Affair reinterpret the infamous Enter the 36 Chambers album by Wu Tang Clan using live musicians to create alternative instrumental versions. 10 years later the concept has grown into a live music context with local and global promoters peddling orchestral interpretations of Dr Dre’s influential album ‘2001’, an orchestral tribute to J Dilla and even greatest-hits style shows featuring live versions of much-loved Nas, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and Mobb Deep tracks.

Rescue Rooms at 6:30pm is already bubbling with a blend of keen pub-quiz goers and even keener attendees of tonight’s gig. We arrive a little early doors, but are entertained by an unannounced DJ playing a tasteful selection of hip-hop instrumentals which gets heads nodding as the room gradually fills out. 

The Abstract Orchestra kick off with a skit from MM Food [Doom’s cult 2004 album] which feels initially strange as a performance, given its roots are in cleverly plucked samples layered to create a ‘tv show’ aesthetic. The crowd is quiet and tentative but becomes relaxed as the energy of the group and guest MC Micall Parknsun coaxes us out of our reservations - reminding us that, ‘Thursday is the new Friday’.

Despite the energy of the group and its upbeat and accurate renditions of the music, including much-loved titles from albums including Madvillainy, it’s hard not to compare it to the original recordings at times - given it was subtlety that made these tracks interesting in the first place.

Perhaps to the less serious muso-loser this is all a bit of fun, no harm done; the performance was undoubtedly skilled and entertaining, and the popularity of the group’s recorded works speak realms for the contemporary interpretations of the genre.  

But while hip-hop undeniably embodies orchestration, in some ways we can’t help but feel like it doesn’t quite make sense. These live interpretations are in fact a performance of something that was originally sampled. The more we thought about it, it felt surreal, like music has come full circle. Musicians now covering songs that were made from samples of other songs laid out by a producer.

After these considerations, we’ll be sticking to digging the crates to seek out that rebellious, raw attitude of hip-hop, but if you’re curious to the concept we’d suggest checking out a live show to make up yer own mind on it all.

Abstract Orchestra played MF Doom live at Rescue Rooms on Thursday 5 December.

Check out Rescue Rooms' upcoming 2020 gigs online.

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