Headrow House homed one of Leeds’ rising rap voices last Monday, providing fans with what felt like a momentous, post-pandemic performance.
ATO’s illustrious career in music has always been bigger than him. Hailing from Leeds, but spending time in New York, London, Seoul and York growing up, the wordsmith’s life has been defined by diaspora, and as a result, his career has shown an alternative light to the London-centric view of Black Britishness. It is fitting therefore that his first show after lockdown is in Leeds and not the capital, where he has an equally evolving fanbase.
Headrow House, one of Leeds’ many trendy multi-floored bars, was where ATO announced his return to performance last Monday. From the minute he stepped on stage to the audibly adoring audience, everyone in that venue stood compelled from start to finish. The set was short, but it embodied the visceral nature of his most recent musical output, which invigorates concise snapshots of his life as a self-confessed outsider.
The rhymer’s dominating silhouette lurked in the venue’s pastel lighting in spite of a set balanced by bangers and intimate cuts. Such a presence illuminated the vulnerabilities often addressed in Side A, ATO’s latest EP, and added a layer of potency to the performance. ‘Muscle Twitch’, with its idiosyncratic trap rhythms, was evidently a highlight for his fans, who seemed to connect deeply with its themes of anxiety and triumph.
There was time for people to turn up too. ‘Falling’, his Vic Mensah collaboration, particularly frenzied fans, who flawlessly recited both artist’s verses word-for-word. As the opener, the single set the show’s tone and invited fans into ATO’s humbling presence, which carried through his stage patter and the rest of the setlist.
For an artist still coming onto people’s radar, the gig gave assurance that ATO is here to stay. The duality to his music allows his performance to be equally enchanting and animated - a rarity amidst the more heated approach from many current U.K. rappers, especially those from the capital.