The East Collective at Barfly, Camden
As beatboxer Harry Hughes took to the stage alone at Camden’s down-and-dirty Barfly venue, it wasn’t entirely clear what to expect from The East Collective. Demonstrating some sharp vocal percussion skills, Harry got the crowd going while his bandmates casually set up around him on keys, guitar and bass. As soon as the whole ‘collective’ opened with original track, Friday, it quickly became apparent that we were hearing something very different – something that maybe shouldn’t work but really, really does.
Everything about this ensemble is unexpected, from the well-crafted original songs which would not be out of place heard on Radio 1, to the clever covers and mash-ups that have the group’s own stamp, to the vocals from guitarist Fionn Craven. Craven surprises by being slightly reggae, a bit rough, interesting and quirky, with occasional pitchiness which just adds to the charm. There’s a tiny touch of the Kooks about his sound, maybe a little bit of Jamie T, but ultimately he’s pretty unique, although he needs to be careful not to lean too far into affectation. Harry Hughes brings character to the stage, mixing up his techniques enough so that the beatboxing doesn’t become samey, energetically supporting the whole percussive element of the band. And all of this mixed in with skilful keys and bass from Mike Boxall and Michael Donovan.
The group is raw, fun and unrefined with an overall sound that is at once ska-rock-dubstep; it’s music you want to move to, and despite the rough edge it’s clear they know what they’re doing, with changes of tempo and style handled deftly. Each song has a different quality from the last, from their catchy new track Waffler to the covers that included an ingenious mash-up of Tubular Bells and Hit the Road Jack, and a superb rendition of The Prodigy’s Outer Space, done entirely on their own terms. It speaks volumes that the original material was as well received and enjoyable as the covers.
The East Collective definitely deserve a bigger profile but if they get it they shouldn’t allow themselves to be tidied up too much – they must keep that raw edge and inventiveness that makes them so unique. This short set was thoroughly entertaining with a great vibe, and they completely owned it. In the words of Keith Flint – pay close attention. This group could really go places.
For further information on The East Collective visit their official website.
Listen to their original track East End Rudeboy here: