Last Tuesday, the occasion that all Oxford hip-hop and R&B fans had been anticipating, finally arrived. It was the night of the Gyaldem Sugar event at Cellar, and the hype surrounding it had been understandably huge. R&B tends to spend most of the term lurking in the shadows, second to its more popular and funky 70s and 80s competitors. Hip-hop nights come few and far between.
The ACS night promised to be one of the standout nights of Hilary Term. My equally R&B-minded friend and I turned up to the steps of Cellar around quarter to midnight, the excitement and energy of the crowd fizzling through us, and the heavy bass rumbling impatiently along the walkway.
As a venue, Cellar is oft maligned for being too claustrophobic, but despite this being one of the club’s busiest nights, the floor didn’t feel suffocating or overly crowded, as other clubs can be at their flagship events. Its low ceilings and bricked walls create an urban, underground vibe. The ambience was good, the music was thumping, the signs were promising. We didn’t recognise the first few songs, but the rest of the crowd seemed to be happy enough, with sporadic cheers blossoming into the misty air as the beats switched and a new voice boomed through the speakers.
After weaving through some Tyga – causing many to draw vacant expressions but which aficionados enjoyed – and meandering through some other tracks none of us seemed to know, the sparks we’d been seeking suddenly flew into the air. The first lines of ‘Mask Off’, Future’s 2017 mega-hit, blasted out, and the entire dancefloor erupted. After a fairly slow start, this was it, surely. This was the mouth-watering treat the DJs had been waiting to unleash on the R&B hungry crowd.
But after barely a minute of ‘Mask Off’, the DJ changed to another, much more obscure Future song, before brusquely moving on to a song none of us could identify. Okay, maybe ‘Mask Off’ was supposed to be merely a tantalising appetiser, giving us a taste of what was to come. The disappointing thing was it turned out to be the main course. After getting the adrenaline flowing again during some Travis Scott anthems, the playlist returned to relatively unknown tracks.
While we accepted that there were always going to be some songs we couldn’t recognise, the pace with which the DJ changed songs was frustrating. The ones we did know were limited to one round of chorus, before being switched out to a different track. This frustration reached its peak when the introduction to Drake’s ‘One Dance’ was teased, before another random song – not even by Drake – suddenly replaced it.
This night was supposed to be a tribute to female artists’ contribution to R&B and Hip Hop. Given how male-dominated the genre unfortunately still is, I was quite excited to be given a taster of these artists. But it seemed that even the unrecognisable songs were mostly performed by men.
So, despite a positive, friendly atmosphere, a decent venue, and good company, the music undoubtedly left a sour taste in the mouth. As we walked home with our kebab-van chicken and chips, we looked wistfully at a gaggle of clubbers stumbling out of Fever’s Great British Drake Off event.