I'm being bashed around the floor, and a large topless Big Narstie is chanting BDL BDL BDL to a host of chirruping masses.
BDL, or Base Defence League, is the name of Big Narstie's tour. I'm a relative newbie to Big Narstie's music, more familiar with his general careering around the internet. There's Uncle Pain, for example, where he offers snippets of succinct advice to unfortunate strangers, or Cooking With Base (GUINNESS PUNCH: Guinness, condensed milk, ground whole nutmeg, vanilla nourishment).
The gig is upstairs in the O2 on Cowley Road. We get there at 7.30. I didn't realise at the time of requesting reviewing that it was a 14+ gig, but on arrival I'm told that Big Narstie will start his (half hour long) set at 9 before Fekky takes over at 9.30. It will end at 10pm.
I also have - through some very kind individuals - been given a backstage pass.
It's not even close to being busy, but the crowd is utterly drawn to Big Narstie like a magician. I've never seen anything like it. He's magnetic. I remember gently swaying to the Kooks at the Cambridge Junction in 2006. Everyone here is jumping around, crazy delighted. I run straight into the middle and am instantly pushed to the ground by badgery teenagers. But I'm up again and joining in.
It's actually quite convenient that the set is only half an hour (more like twenty five minutes really) because that level of energy is not maintainable without some form of boost. We go outside for a brief break. I'm shaking. A group of boys are bouncing about and one comes over to talk to us.
I ask him whether he likes Big Narstie.
'Yeh yeh yeh. But really here to see Fekky. When Fekky comes on, it's gonna get so grime.'
I ask him what that means. He's not really sure but determined that it's true.
We go back, ready to get grime.
Fekky's already on stage. And the atmosphere has definitely shifted - he parades about the stage, hoodie pulled up in direct contrast to BN's topless shine. I know less about Fekky than Big Narstie - though I'm aware he's worked with the likes of Skepta and Dizzie Rascal. He has the same uncanny power as Big Narstie - everyone is drawn to him. The strangest thing about the entire gig is the mass of iphones everywhere. Even Fekky is filming or instagramming the crowd, and they return the favour with glee. They're all smashing together with single hands in the air, like one multi-headed, multi-armed, multi-eyed body.
I leave the Shelob formation and go backstage. The green room lies just outside the main stage, and inside are a group of friends chatting together. This feels much more like my Kooks days. They kindly invite me to join them, and I sit for a little bit, questioning. A few of them opened the event, playing a set. I ask one if she enjoys grime. Not really, she says, but it's nice just to come and chill with her friends.
Leaving them behind, I bump straight into Big Narstie, wearing a black neck towel. I'd prepared all sorts of deep questions with my friend beforehand on the off-chance I'd meet him; about misogyny in rap, or maybe the relationship between music, sophistry and propaganda. But when the moment comes I'm too starstruck.
I ask whether he enjoys playing in Oxford. He looks at me strangely which is fair enough. But he says he does, so there's a scoop.
Back inside, Fekky has the crowd in the palm of his hand. I'm back in the middle when my friend draws my attention to the lyrics ('Kick the b***h out of bed'). Without pretending to know the nuances and complexities of the debate surrounding sexism in grime, it does kind of ruin the vibe. I miss the joy of Big Narstie. It also reinforces my failed question I wanted to ask: when does the lyrical (and hypnotic) nature of the form become too much? With this sort of crowd-rousing power obviously implicit in grime (among many other genres), do the words matter, or do they just become content-fillers, important in syntax alone. If so, is there a responsibility to adhere to that?
I'm unsure. We leave just before the end (9.50!) and wander away into the dark. The towel is lying abandoned on the ground.