N-Dubz, O2 Arena


Considering the group are new to arenas, this was a smooth affair, though after a while it dragged a bit. Rating: * * *

As the annual Camden Crawl festival sucked rock acts from around the world into the vortex of north London’s live music scene, NW1’s biggest current export N-Dubz (a name that came from abbreviating the famous district’s postcode) drew tens of thousands of fans to south-east London’s pop centre, the O2 Arena.

The group’s trouble-magnet, Dino “Dappy” Contostavlos, is famed for reintroducing the kind of floppy headgear favoured by East 17’s Brian Harvey in the 1990s, and episodes such as the time he texted death threats to a Radio 1 listener last year have ensured that he has courted at least as much media outrage as Harvey once did.

It was his band’s apparent edginess that was being communicated when the trio of Dappy, his cousin Tula “Tulisa” Contostavlos, and old friend Richard “Fazer” Rawson, appeared on stage mounted on motorbikes, dressed in black’n’bling.

Having risen to fame via pirate radio, grime television channels and, eventually, the docu-soap Being N-Dubz, the group deploy fast-paced lyrical flows about adolescent concerns such as cyber-flirting and shopping over commercial, singalong R&B.

An intense, explosive start featured songs such as Living for the Moment” and Playing With Fire. For all the speed-rapping and beat avalanches, though, there were sillier elements, such as each member’s vital statistics being broadcast on the big screens to excited shrieking from fans. In a moment straight out of Smash Hits, we learned that Fazer “likes mum’s cooking” and Dappy “dislikes smelly breath”, a move that was perhaps designed to reassure mums and dads that these kids are all right.

Along with Tinchy Stryder – whose 2009 hit Number 1 featured the group and was a highlight here – N-Dubz are members of the chart-friendly wave of urban music that followed the more risqué early days of grime kingpins Wiley and Dizzee Rascal.

As if to prove the point, toddlers seated on their mother’s laps bounced in maniacal glee, babbling along to Love Live Life, a song that shares its name with N-Dubz third and latest album, as well as this current UK tour.

Considering the group are new to arenas, it was a smooth affair, though after a while it dragged a bit. Set designs that took in sci-fi and gangster themes gave the show an escapist feel, yet the mix of fantasy and realism meant it was ultimately an escape into the trio’s rags-to-riches story.

As such it was a more authentic version of Camden 2011 than anything that happened in the rock clubs that night.

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