It’s only a quarter to ten on a Wednesday night, but the keen crop have been here for nearly three hours now, and the O2 is really hotting up. Literally, I swear the ceiling is dripping – I presume a mixture of the jettisoned pints, the sweat and the spit of hundreds of chanting fans. What they want is Netsky; or ‘Netskee’, as opinions seem to differ. Either way, Boris Daenen has a lot to live up to.
The hype is no less real after both drum n bass veterans Chase and Status and Pendulum successfully made the switch, establishing themselves as epic and elaborate live acts in their own right, with cheeky upstarts Disclosure following hot on their heels. Netsky LIVE! however quickly reveals itself as an altogether more simple formula: Daenen is flanked only by his drummer and his keyboardist, with long-time collaborator Script MC fronting the outfit. Indeed at first the word formula seems appropriate, as they plough through a handful of songs with scarcely a pause for breath. No sooner has one song finished, and the crowd quietened down, than the drums work up to yet another numbing climax.
Netsky’s set list contains a much lesser proportion of the liquid funk style of his self-titled debut, and when at last the keyboard makes the transition from screeching synth high notes to the lilting pianos of ‘Anticipate’, and Daenen turns to the microphone to deliver the lyrics with vocoded finesse (and the slight hint of a Belgian accent) it becomes obvious what we have been missing all along. Aside from the odd drumstep remix or hip hop breakdown, Netsky rarely deviates from the drum n bass tempo, and when featuring artist Billie sings live on his house hit ‘Puppy’, it is the change in pace that the crowd seems to appreciate most of all.
However, for all Netsky LIVE! may lack in variety or even ambition, it makes up in focus. Now over two years into a string of worldwide tour dates, the ensemble is tight, at times almost clinical. Whilst it is easy to lose yourself in the crowd, more mesmerising still is the sight of the keyboardist’s psychedelic flair and the drummer’s metal levels of intensity racing together, neither missing a single beat. The energy of the room is pooled and recycled from one banger to the next, old favourites ‘Iron Heart’ and ‘Secret Agent’ are greeted like Chelsea Dagger at a football match, and mosh pits form of their own accord in anticipation of almost every devastating drop. Script MC, if anything, seems to bring order to the chaos with some well-placed call-and-response. Netsky, too, has always been quietly confident. The 25 year old stands before us in a plain white t shirt, his unassuming charm more reminiscent of a house party tastemaker than the self-indulgent frontman, and it is this sense of equality, of community under one roof, that Daenen builds from the opening notes to the final encore.
As the crowd disperses, only debris remains to tell the true cost of such a ceremony. While a friend of mine, mourning his newly chipped tooth, scrambles in search of a lost phone among trampled sunglasses, shoe soles and the tatters of hair extensions, I instead am inclined to reflect on the reciprocity of the whole affair. Because for every second of energy that Netsky gives to the performance, another young fan gives up their mosh pit innocence. I should really have helped him find that phone.