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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Iggy Azalea storms Bastille as girl power rules on day 2 of RedFestDXB 2015

Iggy Azalea, Bastille, Kiesza, Jeremih, Ella Eyre and Cris Cab all perform at day two of the Media City festival.
Iggy Azalea performs at the Dubai Media City Ampitheatre on day two of RedFestDXB 2015. Victor Besa for The National.
Iggy Azalea performs at the Dubai Media City Ampitheatre on day two of RedFestDXB 2015. Victor Besa for The National.

There’s no better way to illustrate RedFest’s all-encompassing musical arc than the opposing poles of Friday night’s headliners.

When the crowd was asked who it was there to see – and we were asked a lot – it seemed as if nearly everybody was here for Bastille. And yet everyone also wanted to see Iggy Azalea.

A very safe, all-male pop-rock band, versus a very edgy, female rapper – who would come out on top? The answer might be in the question.

Iggy didn’t disappoint. Backed by DJ Whizzkid and with two backing singers to help with the choruses, the 24-year-old offered a powerhouse performance. Her six dancers never much more than a metre away – with all 10 of them garbed strikingly in perfect white – it seemed as if every step Azalea took had been planned weeks in advance.

Musically she blew the house up. While her authenticity (white, Australian) has been called into question, no one can dispute the quality of her flow, which bit like ragged fangs in this live environment.

Debut single Work was a mid-set high, while global phenomenons Black Widow (234 million YouTube hits and counting) and Fancy (466 million) offered a sucker-punch close. Notably, nothing appeared to be censored for the location.

To answer the question of who won the battle, then: Bastille – such nice, young lads – didn’t stand a chance.

While the British quartet are kind-of-massive, their relative inexperience was all-too-obvious onstage. Ever eager to please, selections from their sole album Bad Blood dart from upbeat pop-rock to dance grooves, but with little in the way of a consistent voice it’s hard to buy into the package.

In a bid to cover all the bases, live they even offered a mutated take on R&B, via a cover of TLC’s No Scrubs featuring Ella Eyre, and a bizarre grunge workout. Both were prefaced with an apology (“this is our attempt to be a grunge band,” says singer Dan Smith, “we’re not very good at it” – so why do it at all?).

The only truly refreshing moment came when Smith asked us nicely to put our phones away – after a weekend of being asked by everyone from The Script to Kid Ink to do the very opposite – and actually enjoy the closing one-two of hit singles Of the Night and Pompeii. “There are enough rubbish versions of this on the internet already,” said the singer, his self-depreciating schtick reaching it’s epoch.

Bastille’s youthful enthusiasm was easily matched by Kiesza, who appeared to pour her heart and soul into her incredibly soulless songbook.

A shameless rehasher of the 1990s, the Canadian vocalist arrived garbed in double denim, bright, chunky trainers and a torn T-shirt declaring the date 1990 (a year after she was born, incidentally).

The smouldering groove of album title track Sound of a Woman stood out among more generic electro-pop fodder, while the crowd perked up for her Diplo/Skrillex guest spot Take U There and smash hit closer, Hideaway.

The biggest surprise of the night came from Ella Eyre. A singer best known for her collaborations – with Rudimental, Naughty Boy and DJ Fresh – Eyre proved she has plenty to offer as an artist in her own right.

With a searching, soulful voice and funky backing band, the 20-year-old comes across like an upbeat, proto-Winehouse, serving up a run of killer cuts from forthcoming debut album Feline (out in May) – largely unfamiliar material that was packaged as hit-after-hit.

With one album under his belt, 22-year-old US singer-songwriter Cris Cab is eager to make a name for himself. Backed by a decent band, his breezy folk-pop compositions were all dealt a head-nodding, radio-ready, reggae-light groove.

Single Liar Liar – a tune Cab penned with Pharrell Williams, no less – comes on faster and deeper live, and the band wrapped up the show with an influences-on-sleeves cover of Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sherif, exactly a week after what would have been Marley’s 70th birthday.

Mid-evening rapper Jeremih performed a confident set that was riddled with outdated hip-hop cliches, and marked by its explicit nature. The US rapper swore more than a dozen times onstage, danced suggestively with a backing singer and failed to censor his explicit lyrics.

Given the location, and at an all-ages gig where most of the audience were in their teens or younger, this understandably ruffled a few feathers, and there was a lot of booing and chanting from some parts of the crowd at the end of his set.

It’s worth noting that none of the RedFest acts appeared to be censored lyrically, as is often the practice in the UAE. But while explicit language can be found in the work of Azalea and Thursday performer Tinashe, those artists offered no blatant or unnecessary swearing between songs. And when Kid Ink swore onstage on Thursday, he instantly apologised, clearly having been briefed not to do so.

Jeremih and his entourage repeatedly swore between tracks, seemingly lacking either the consideration, or guidance, to do otherwise.

rgarratt@thenational.ae