Merkules / The Wardrobe, Leeds | 23rd of April

Merkules / The Wardrobe, Leeds | 23rd of April

Although he’s lost his voice in the midst of a European tour, it doesn’t stop Canadian hip hop artist Merkules from tearing The Wardrobe apart with a performance made up of hard hitting lyrics, volatile stage presence and an exertion of pure honesty.

Throughout the whole night the dark basement is merely a quarter full as the male-dominated audience line themselves up in front of the stage in a sea of snapbacks and neck tattoos. Despite the bar staff’s attempts to curb the vaping in the small venue, clouds of e-cig smoke still float across the basement ceiling in competition with the lingering marijuana haze.

Set times for supporting acts Joe Young and Jyay are altogether thrown out the window. Instead, the majority of the night is stolen by a mismatch of on-the-fly performances from DJ’s and MC’s picked up on the road by Merkules – or as they prefer, Merk . It gets the mingling audience into the mood of what mayhem is about to unravel as The Wardrobe’s bouncers look on with either mild interest or growing concern.

Joe Young infuses the energy in the room with his dose of heavily Wu Tang- influenced material, allowing an audience member to join him who’s spent the day handing out CD copies of his own tunes. Jyay meanwhile, on a tighter time restraint, seems more concerned with getting everyone drunk, holding beer chugging competitions between eager fans and urging the room to ‘get social’.

At this point, while the feeling of mutual impatience for Merk’s appearance couldn’t be more blatant, the atmosphere is still left raw, gaping and ready for what’s to come. And when he eventually emerges with the mic in one hand and bottle of tequila in the other, ‘the next rising star in hip hop’ proves a dominating force to witness live.

“I might have lost my voice, but I’m still here bitch”, he growls before launching into a slightly rushed set full of material from latest album Cole, it’s stark lyricism all the more astonishing and laid bare in front of us all as the hulking rapper bounds across what space he can claim on stage. Despite their release a mere few weeks ago, new tunes including This Again and Moment are rapped along almost in complete unison by the crowd as everyone seeks a way to relate to Merk’s hard themes of depression and anxiety.

But Scars is still perhaps the most striking of tales behind the music, in which Merk relives the machete attack he was a victim of just minutes after recording his first song at 16 years old. In the spotlight, those very scars are unmissable, and as Merk’s eyes fix shut in concentration during his verses before opening wide to lock gazes with each crowd member in turn, the man is nothing short of intense to the core.

If there is a gentler and more humble side to Merk’s set, it’s found later in his popular remix of Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You, which he sings and dances along to with his wife who’s accompanied him on his journey every step of the way. Dedicating the performance to what few of the women are stood before him, Merk declares his thanks for everyone who “dragged themselves over on a Monday night rather than going to bed ready for your 9-5 jobs,” before pouring what’s left of his tequila down the throats of the audience.

“I don’t need to go on a diet with gigs like these”, he finally declares. “I just lost half a pound in my left titty. I’m sweating mayonnaise everywhere”. And with that, Merkules staggers his way towards the bar triumphant.

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