‘Meet the Crowd: MoStack.’
Image courtesy of Mabdulle.
Festival season loomed large on the horizon, a seasonal turning of the tide, that each year brought a drought upon the O2 Islington Academy. The phone calls and emails from bookers and promoters would soon ease up and, for a few months — until Autumn — this iconic arena would enter a period of intermittent hibernation. But, until then, while still under the umbrella of Spring, and with rain continuing to wash out the festival fields, business was, for now, booming.
So much so that on this mild Spring evening, which veered recklessly between sobbing fits of rain and spots of glowing sun, both of their venues had sold out, and supporters of both MoStack and ‘The Iron Maidens’ — an eternally touring tribute to the iconic heavy metal clan — trickled through the plaza, wandered up the elevators, and sat in American burger bars and Italian eateries, killing time, awaiting 7pm when the doors would officially open.
The rockers of yesteryear were, balding and fleshy middle-aged men, decked out in faded band merch and denim jackets torn at the shoulders, most of who, had soft bristly beards and leaned against the walls and railings at their own entrance down on the ground floor. But upstairs, at the second venue, an intimate space reserved for acts on the rise, the scene was all together quite different: crop tops and matching track suits, puffy Moschino bomber jackets and woolen hoodies, hoop earrings and flat caps with ripped jeans.
This all together, more diverse pack of 250, who, were by all accounts, in a more perky spirited mood, did not yawn, nor did they tilt against the wall but, instead — for the most part — they stood firmly, upright. Because this was a younger, less seasoned crowd, here for a performer who, unlike ‘The Iron Maidens’, found himself at the opening of his career, a performer from a scene where sold out shows at the Academy were not yet taken for granted.
“The day the tickets came out I got them straight away”, said Ismael, who was a mid-sized teenager with a neat high top. “I traveled from Hayes in West for an hour and a bit. I’ve been following Mo since ‘No Buddy’ came out, since then he’s blown and I’ve been a fan ever since. He’s different from the rest; a gangster with banter. He’s not to serious either, he has a few jokes here and there.”
Inside, shortly after the opening acts had duly softened the pack, the O2 Academy Islington 2, with low maroon ceilings and a long beer-soaked bar, was a scatter of iPhones and flailing arms. That morning Mo had woken with a terrible cold, but still, as he swaggered on stage, his blue hoody pulled low over his forehead, he managed a broad, cheeky grin, one that indicated, above everything else, that he was here tonight to enjoy himself.
“He’s got that personality that will take him far,” says Elijah. He stands with his friends Brandon and Remy. “It was live, not gonna lie. He killed that man.”
“I’m a harder fan than these two,” he says laughing and pointing to the two. “They’re not on my level yet, they’re tryna get there.”
“Who used to buss you songs?” Remy laughs, cutting in. “Some of us left early from school. I said I had a doctors appointment, I’ve got to go.”
Mo, a witty soul, was, that evening, like most, unguarded, unafraid to banter with all in the room, himself included. And so, for a few hours, the academy was an all inclusive space where supporters were hauled up onto to stage to rap with him, thereafter he flung himself into the crowd and, for a personal song, one about trust and loyalty, his closest rushed to his side and yelled every word.
“That’s good what he does, he’s like a comedian,” says Leah, a 20 year old from Morden. “First you have to talk about yourself before you can talk about other people. You have to learn how to talk about yourself, that’s how it goes. Kind of like, what’s his name? Kevin Hart. He can talk about himself but he keeps it real.”
“The reason why I like him yeah,” chimed in her friend Aimee, who was blonde and from a narrow stretch between Lewisham and Bromley. “He don’t just rap about violence. I know it sounds stupid, but you it’s not just about guns and shit. He don’t just rap about shit.”
But, in spite of this, his life could have been different, a story nobody knew more than his mother, who was, late on in the evening, beckoned to take the microphone, her second appearance of the show, and, on arrival embraced her son with a huge hug. “Look at how pretty she is,” Mo said, then he laughed. “I don’t know how I’m so ugly.” Then she smiled a big grin and Mo placed the mic in her hand.
“Thank you guys for coming,” she said, barely audible amidst the applause. “Nuff respect.” Then she passed the mic onto her daughter and left the stage. But she did not go far, she watched from the floor, for a moment no different from everyone else in the room, flashing a smile as her soon closed out his show under a blaze of confetti and applause. Then the room filtered out slowly, but she remained in the venue, waiting, along with a handful of desperate, shrieking supporters, who soon hoped her son would emerge from backstage.
“Absolutely amazing,” she said, awash with wonder. “The ups and downs that he actually went through and now to see him on stage is amazing. Because a lot of parents nowadays, they don’t see the children’s journey. And if that is what the journey is then you have to roll with it and support the young people.”
“It’s absolutely amazing, I’m really really proud. We know what it’s like for our young people out there. I manage children homes for a living so I know what it’s like and how difficult the journey is.”
By nightfall, some time towards eleven o’clock, his friends that had joined him on stage had, by now spilled out onto the courtyard and were smoking, play fighting, chit-chatting. This was their evening too, those like Max, who, like Mo, is also from Hornsey, had watched this local buzz, stretch and squeeze into something more tangible.
“It’s a beautiful thing to see the progression, going from supporting people to doing his own show. It’s showing that it’s possible to be in any position and still make it. That’s what it’s about more time, coming from where you’re from, make it to the top innit. I think it’s a beautiful thing to see people on their journey and seeing what they’ve got to go and the obstacles they’ve got to come across to get to where they want to get to go. It’s possible bruv.”
“The impact he’s having on kids too, showing that it’s possible to make it from whatever background you’re from, you ain’t got to be from a certain background to be successful, you’ve just got to be down to work hard, you’ve got to be good at what you do.”
Soon, this final crowd of stragglers and friends would leave, and the plaza would fall quiet. But perhaps one day, if Mo continues with music, they will return, their hair grey and their stomachs round, clothed in faded tour merch, leaning against steel barriers and brick walls, desperate to see him perform again.