x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

British artist Example puts his 'Shadows' in Abu Dhabi limelight

Example promises to deliver uplifting rave music for the F1 crowds tonight on the Corniche.

He's a self-styled purveyor of "uplifting rave music for the people" who has topped the UK singles chart twice in the past six months. He's such a fan of peri-peri chicken that he celebrated the launch of his second album with a "Nando's crawl" around the restaurant chain's London outlets. And tonight he takes to the stage at the Abu Dhabi Corniche as part of the Yasalam 2011 concert series.

But who exactly is Example?

The son of a housewife and an IT salesman, Elliot John Gleave was born in Hammersmith, West London, in 1982. After winning a nationwide poetry competition at the age of 10, he realised he could use his penchant for wordplay to boost his popularity. Choosing Tupac over Ted Hughes, he began rapping in the school playground "purely to fit in with the cool people".

However, it would be several years before Gleave turned his rhetorical gifts into any kind of professional opportunity - and, at first, he saw rapping as a mere sideline. While studying for a film degree at London's Royal Holloway College, he regularly performed as a garage MC to top up his disposable income.

After graduating with first-class honours, Gleave spent a year in Australia building film sets, before returning to his homeland to pursue a career in editing. Then the rap bug really bit. Adopting the nom de plume "Example" - a wry reference to his "EG" initials - he self-released a series of seven-inch singles. These caught the ears of several prominent British radio DJs and, even more significantly, Mike Skinner of UK garage trio The Streets.

In fact, Skinner was so impressed with Example's DIY singles that he signed the nascent rapper to his record label, The Beats, and offered to produce his debut album.

Instant success, however, would prove elusive. Released in September 2007 after a three-month delay, Example's What We Made LP failed to crack the UK top 100 and, when The Beats went bankrupt later that year, the artist found himself without a record deal. He's since dismissed What We Made - a UK hip-hop record so eclectic that it sampled both Kylie Minogue and The Carpenters - as "a mess" and "a warped version of me".

But with characteristic resilience, he rallied rapidly. After a brief foray into stand-up comedy, Example soon signed a new contract with Data Records, a label owned by British dance music behemoth Ministry of Sound. He took the opportunity to rework his own sound accordingly, collaborating with producers including Calvin Harris and Chase & Status to craft an album of club-ready electro-pop anthems. It was a tactic as commercially minded as any plan hatched in the boardroom of Richard Branson.

Example's musical makeover paid off. Released last October, his Won't Go Quietly set peaked at number four on the UK albums chart and spawned a hat-trick of top 10 hits. The biggest of these, a laddish love song called Kickstarts, became so ubiquitous that it was even played at Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding after-party. However, reports that it succeeded in coaxing the bridegroom's grandmother onto the dance floor have yet to be confirmed.

Having climbed to the top of the pop tree, Example has been careful not to slip from his lofty branch. Discussing his motivation in a recent interview, he told British newspaper The Guardian: "People want uplifting rave music, so I think, why not simply give the people what they want?"

He also revealed that he has developed a "technique" to ensure his songs have the widest possible appeal: "I get a title and then work backwards from that. It's important to know what the song is about before you hear it, so it's all there in the titles: Wrong in the Head, Never Had a Day, Under the Influence, Stay Awake ..."

And he's keen to strike while the iron's still piping - so much so that he finished his latest LP in just six months. The process of actually recording the Playing in the Shadows album was almost like completing a jigsaw puzzle; scheduling constraints meant that each of its 12 tracks would be overseen by a different producer or production team.

Still, Example's carpe diem efficiency reaped immediate dividends. Spearheaded by a pair of chart-topping singles, Changed the Way You Kissed Me and Stay Awake, the album debuted at number one on the UK albums chart when it came out this September.

But to what extent does Playing in the Shadows actually deliver the "uplifting rave music" that Example promises? On the surface, there's no denying it's a product as contemporary and cut for mass consumption as anything from the latest Topshop collection. Its 12 tracks draw freely from current club trends - everything from trance to dubstep to drum and bass - without ever skimping on the pop hooks.

Nor is the set without ambition. Microphone suggests an alternative universe where the Coldplay boys grew up in rather grittier circumstances; Never Had a Day is like The Streets on steroids; and The Way is a slow-building anthem to rival peak-period Faithless - which makes sense, as the UK dance stalwarts produced the track. However, the album's subject matter is often less euphoric than the music's Sturm und Drang would suggest. Example describes Playing in the Shadows as his "drugs and commitment album" - and to that end a recurring theme is the tension between building a long-term relationship and experiencing all that the London nightlife has to offer.

This tension is writ large on the title track, on which Example acknowledges that he's got "someone waiting at home for me, staring at the door", before admitting: "I'm playing in the shadows all night - it's so good to play with bad girls, I'm still young."

A deceptively peppy track called Wrong in the Head is just as illuminating. Here, Example accepts that he should be "warm and tucked up in bed" like his friends, but instead finds himself "stumbling home, on my own, with no charge on my phone in the East End of London".

These hints of dinginess in Example's lyrics certainly make his "uplifting rave music" more interesting. But he never lets them affect his accessibility. Sounding as savvy as Simon Cowell, the rapper recently confessed: "Everything I sing isn't gospel. I sometimes get an idea and tweak it to ensure it's relatable to a mass audience. There's no point writing a song that 30,000 people at a festival don't want to sing."

And it's satisfying the live audience that seems to be Example's top priority. Earlier this year, he complained that "a lot of my contemporaries have a lot of great songs, but you go and see them live and they don't cut it". He proceeded to distinguish himself from his less charismatic peers, boasting: "You come to my show and people bounce from start to finish and clap and sing throughout the whole set."

So if you manage to make it along to the Example concert tonight, it might be advisable to take an afternoon siesta before you head over to the Corniche. And perhaps allow some time for a Starbucks stop-off en route.

Nick Levine is a freelance music journalist based in London.