“Who’s playing tonight?” was a question I heard several passers-by asked when they saw the size of the queue outside of Camden’s KOKO on both Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th June 2017. On both days, the doors were opened for general entry at a far later time than anticipated. But, once the show started, the ninety minute queue was a distant memory; it was time for Club Eskimo and SAAY to unleash their songs onto the 1,000 strong audience spread over four levels.
2xxx! served as a brilliant DJ opener, playing a wide variety of tunes with interesting mixes which kept the crowd moving. All of the Club Eskimo artists as well as SAAY joined him onstage, dancing along and coaxing the audience on. On Sunday night in particular, it created a build-up in atmosphere that SAAY worked from; something KOKO’s gigantic disco-ball on the ceiling certainly didn’t damage. On the Sunday night, the DJ assisted in an extra 10-minute closing set to an unforgettable night.
Universal Music Korea’s newest signee was the special opening guest for the show, showcasing several of her R&B influenced songs. She started with “Overzone”; a feel-good track with powerful, impressive vocals. “Run” was especially memorable, screaming swagger and confidence. The audience definitely won’t forget SAAY; aside from DEAN, she was the most anticipated act, with the audience cheering her on at every turn. She stopped frequently, encouraging and acknowledging the audience at every turn, often asking for the house-lights to be turned on so that she could see them. Her positive energy was contagious, and it didn’t take long for the venue to join in on the dance party! It’s not often that an audience genuinely boos when the opening act tells them that they have one song left, but it happened when she announced her unreleased track Circle would be her last on Saturday afternoon. Her debut will be one to watch.
MISO came across as the most reserved and quiet of the group, and her music reflected this too. “Only You” is so lyrically to-the-point that it felt like she was simply having a heart-felt conversation with the audience. Her songs have an incredibly isolated feeling to them. Live, it felt like she was opening up to the audience; an incredibly vulnerable performance that the matinee factor only enlarged. The entire show felt like it was offering comfort and casual entertainment; it was not the same party-vibe as on Sunday night. MISO’s slow grooves worked for both situations, but were arguably more appreciated by the Saturday crowd, where her single and set-closer “Take Me” had the audience members that weren’t recording the moment on their phones stunned into silence.
Without a doubt, DEAN stole the show and he held the crowd in the palm of his hand. Opening with “Put My Hands on You”, he went from strength to strength. Whenever he asked for the crowd to say “woo-hoo” or to use their phone lights to light up the venue for slow “D (Half Moon)”, they more than happily obliged. He’s the sort of artist you cannot imagine doing anything else, and there’s a sense of authenticity which meant that when he told the crowd on Sunday night that this was his favourite show to date, you couldn’t help but believe him. The feel-good “21” and jam-able “Pour Up” were both incredibly well received, with Dean displaying his vocal ability at every moment. The laid-back atmosphere on Saturday was somewhat compromised, but no-one cared.
Dean pulled out tracks from both his 130 Mood: TRBL EP, including its clever introduction-outro (“And You?” (Outro)) and fan-favourite “Bonnie & Clyde”, as well as his latest single “love”, a track featuring tour comrades 2xxx! as producer and MISO’s vocals in the final segment of the song. In fact, it was only songs from the 2017 release Limbo that didn’t make the cut for the setlist.
It’s incredibly clear why DEAN is considered the leading man of Korea’s R&B scene, which undoubtedly has a heavy following in Europe. But the question remains: Will we hear those songs from Limbo next time he returns to the UK’s shores?
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