Something has me feeling nostalgic. I think that something has to do with the history-laden interior of this East London pub, the generous pour of gin below my nose wafting mixed messages to my memory bank, and the Northern Winter cold leaving patrons inside the bar dressed as if they’re still on their way here. It’s the holiday season and I’m thousands of miles from any sort of family or for that matter, any sort of friends who could be labeled as such. That fact’s got me feeling a bit nostalgic too.
In a hurry to run from the downsides of reminiscence, I swallow the rest of the gin, pay the barkeep, retie my scarf, and head out the doors. I'm hoping the drink has added a few more layers to my already cumbersome outfit and that the sunshine will lighten the load on my mind. In response to the weight of the gin, my legs struggle to keep their positioning and I wobble unevenly down the street. Fortunately, my awkwardness is not at all out of place. The sober Londoners marching down icy, uneven sidewalks are indistinguishably struggling alongside I and my fellow drunks. We amass into a messy, slow moving migration of people with places to go.
Suddenly, I'm reminded that I too have somewhere to be. That somewhere, I realize, also has something to do with my emotional nostalgia. The sights, the smells, and the drinks aren't the only forces playing tricks on my ability to recognize what decade I'm in. The music of my morning, afternoon, and forthcoming evening are all related to this place, but not of this time.
Seeking to immerse myself in that music, I reach into my pocket and pull out a knotted nest of white, rubber wires. Realizing a resolution is no task for the angry, I take a deep breath and come to grips with my subsequent frustration. After a minute I'm relaxed and ready to embark on the undertaking of unraveling my earbuds. My fingers exhibit the nimbleness and confidence of a seamstress whose dexterity performs in the subconscious at speeds only reached after decades of practice. But, like the seamstress, technological advances have surpassed a necessity for my talents. With a simple purchase, I'd never again have to deal with white, rubber tangles. But for now, they give me something to bitch about and help to pass the time along boring, cold walks.
Besides, the tic-tac double click upon jack entry of the headphone's southern tip always rushes a release of endorphins to my brain. I follow it up by snugly fitting both sides of my skull with the shaped earpieces, and the jubilent moment of triple penetration is realized. The effort of disassembling the complicated one-piece puzzle was exerted for this moment. And this moment is all about one thing: music.
Without thought, I head for the same playlist headlined by the same artist that I've been listening to all day. It sets the mood for the concert tonight, but more so, it sets a mood truly reflective of London itself. You can see the music in the city and you can hear the city in the music. Like Dom Kennedy and Los Angeles, like Sigur Rós and Reykjavík, Mattafix and London are born of a mutual birth and rely in circularity on one another. In accordance, I remove my left earpiece and take in the sounds of the city halfway.
Part of me is wishing that tonight’s performance was happening 10 years earlier. Surely it was, but I wasn't there. Had I been, I'd be listening on an iPod classic - filled to the brim with music stockpiled illegally for years. Had I been, I'd still be riding the wave from the release of Tha Carter lll – the most important hip-hop album of the 00’s. Had I been, I'd be lucky to get tickets to the show, and once at it, my ticket would be wasted if I left with a dry shirt and nostalgia for anything except the concert that just ended.
My mind is reaching now for any and every reason to stay wishing for simpler times. Depending on the turnout, the energy, and the music tonight, my destination will either be a climax of nostalgic nirvana or the falling off of a high reminiscent cliff, leaving me eager for opportunities long passed.
Chill the fuck out, man. It's only a concert.
I say to myself, recognizing my gin-steered patheticia and trying to right the ship.
Rounding a final corner of my walk wound through midcentury rowhouses and factory-like brutalist structure, the music and the quiet city sounds encompassing my auditory world for the last hour are overtaken by the loud buzz of a crowd. Together they’re singing the song that was just being sung directly into my right ear.
I must be at the right place. I guess I’m not the only one feeling nostalgic after all.
The energy of the crowd is a powerful presence. There is no opening act tonight, only the duo that all of us have come to see. I gladly take my place at the tail end of the line and wait for doors to open.
A short while later, I enter the storied East London ballroom, grab another gin, and take my place in the crowd. Around me, royal burgundy drapery decorates the walls, scrubbed, beaten, and often replaced floorboards knock at the soles of my boots, and a massive, one-of-a-kind brass and crystal chandelier dims to a flicker and then dies. The darkness forces my attention stageward and I catch a glimpse of two figures, already at the helm of their preferred instruments. One, a keyboard and a monitor. The other, a steel drum and a microphone.
Suddenly, sustained waves of bass and a simple percussive line pour from the venue’s speakers and the crowd, in relative silence, begins to move together in a powerful yet calm manner. Everyone is here to experience a sound from a not so distant past and everyone seems to agree that this song choice is the right one with which to open the show. In unison, the figure with the microphone in his grasp and the entirety of the crowd begins the chorus.
And they say they’re trying to work it out
But they don’t know just how or why
And it really seems preordained
And my friends are far away
And I wonder if they’re okay
And I wonder if the times have changed
And I thought that I saw your face.
Are you safe?
Eight lines in, and the vibes of 2007 are already strongly rooted. Once a classic, always a classic. Take us back, Mattafix.