DJ KoFlow tells his story in Esplanade concert

A classical string sextet (above) were among those who performed with DJ KoFlow at his one-hour show at the Esplanade last Friday.
A classical string sextet (above) were among those who performed with DJ KoFlow at his one-hour show at the Esplanade last Friday.PHOTO: ESPLANADE
A classical string sextet were among those who performed with DJ KoFlow (above) at his one-hour show at the Esplanade last Friday.
A classical string sextet were among those who performed with DJ KoFlow (above) at his one-hour show at the Esplanade last Friday.PHOTO: ESPLANADE

DJ KoFlow's show - a pastiche of beats with rapid-fire video images - gave a glimpse into the turntablist's upbringing

REVIEW / CONCERT

FLOW - A DJ'S STORY OF KOFLOW

Esplanade Concert Hall

Last Friday

Home-grown turntablist DJ KoFlow is an artist who is proud of his roots.

Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox

There is little doubt that he is deft on the turntables - this is, after all, the man who made his name winning DJ battles and has been peddling his craft since the early 2000s.

There was a lot of his quick, sleight-of-hand skills on display at the Esplanade Concert Hall last Friday - his largest headlining show to date and the first at the venue by a Singaporean hip-hop act.

Compelling as his lightning-fast moves were, what made the show outstanding was how he took his craft, which has its beginnings halfway across the world in the streets of New York, and put his own distinctive Singaporean stamp on it.

The DJ, whose real name is Wayne Liu, has a larger-than-life backstory about overcoming the odds to get to where he is today and he used that to good effect as a narrative for the hour-long show.

Through the music and accompanying videos and visuals, the audience gets glimpses of his upbringing in old HDB estates such as Dakota, his brief dalliance with gangsterism and his eventual salvation through skateboarding and hip-hop culture.

And while he had a host of stellar guest artists to bolster his performance, including singer Vandetta, rapper Shigga Shay and a dance routine by his old breakdancing crew, Radikal Forze, the multi- hued spotlight never left him.

His set-up was uncomplicated: an assortment of vinyls on two turntables, a scratch mixer, pads and laptops - standard fare for a DJ and turntablist playing a live set.

This was a much larger venue compared with when he played at the Esplanade's Recital Studio in 2010, so he looked tiny on the big stage.

The assortment of rapid-fire video images loomed large behind him on a gigantic, curved screen, but it was the music that stood out and the visuals never threatened to outshine his pastiche of beats, soundbites and assortment of samples.

An overhead video camera occasionally projected his moves on the decks onto the big screen. He could be flashy at times, executing stunts such as scratching the records with his hands under his raised leg or with his hands behind his back.

And while grounded in hip-hop, it was clear that his influences and gang of collaborators are wide and varied and the songs often veered towards left-field electronica.

Acclaimed percussionist and drummer Mohamed Noor, jazz pianist Tan Wei Xiang and a classical string sextet added depth and colour to his palette of sounds in original songs such as Arab St and Keep On Rising.

Some of the video segments featured unlikely cameos, such as Singapore Idol champ Taufik Batisah waxing lyrical about skateboarding with veteran electronic artist Kiat.

Still, it was undeniably a KoFlow show and the gig cemented the idea that turntablism, and the hip-hop culture it sprang from, has its place in the vaunted, posh confines of the Esplanade Concert Hall.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2017, with the headline 'Hip-hop tale of overcoming the odds'. Print Edition | Subscribe