Aitch live in London: Manchester rap star’s almighty flex

Aitch knows how to throw a party, and this one – the biggest date of a sold-out UK tour – has it all. Acid trip visuals, multi-coloured strobes, surprise guests, and at the centre of the chaos, the artist born Harrison Armstrong, standing tall and proud behind a pyrotechnic display that’s spewing fire, smoke and lasers. With flames so potent you can feel the heat from the other side of the room, his set up certainly makes for one almighty flex.

Donning a leather jacket embellished with this evening’s date and the London skyline, the Mancunian rapper has every reason to celebrate. His year’s successes have been prodigious: this 10,000-capacity gig at the capital’s Alexandra Palace has been long sold-out, while his long-awaited debut album, August’s ‘Close To Home’, landed at Number Two after lead single ‘Baby’ – which interpolates Ashanti’s 2003 hit ‘Rock Wit U’ – spent an entire summer inside the Top 10. Recent adverts for Lynx and Relentless Energy also suggest a young, business-savvy artist playing the game and having fun with it.

Alone but for a DJ, Aitch kicks off with ‘Taste (Make It Shake)’, the same track that saw him charge out of UK rap’s online battlegrounds and into the mainstream in 2018. His performance sees him pass the baton from era to era, segueing the riotous ‘Buss Down’ (from 2019’s ‘AitcH20’ mixtape) into the jittery breakbeats of ‘Raw’, while seeing every flow through to the end.

aitch live
Aitch performs at Alexandra Palace. Credit: Matthew Baker/Getty

But the 22-year-old makes an effort to share the spotlight, too; Aitch is a playful and instinctive host, keen to involve everyone in the action. Throughout a near-two hour set, appearances from a pantheon of his peers include Tion Wayne, AJ Tracey, Young T & Bugsey, Giggs and ArrDee. When the latter bounds onto the stage for incandescent collaboration ‘War’, flexing his muscles like a pocket-sized Popeye, the similarities between the pair is almost startling: tight blonde crew cuts, wide set eyes, ever-mischievous smiles. “Who thinks me and him look like each other?,” says Aitch, stating the obvious as turns to face his friend, offering both a fist bump and a conspiratorial wink. Thousands of voices holler in agreement.

Some of the visceral thrill of Aitch’s tongue-twisting bars is inevitably lost in this venue’s wide-open space. When he teams up with Coventry-via-Kent duo A1 x J1 to blitz through their ‘Latest Trends’ remix – a track that is supremely charismatic on record – its bright, jagged rhythms are reduced to a subtle bass grumble, particularly as A1’s mic doesn’t appear to be on. Aitch doesn’t seem to notice, however; while away from the mic, he works the front rows like a seasoned pro, blowing kisses at fans and posing for pictures – his unwavering self-belief clearly hard at work.

It’s the softer cuts that truly prove his star power, however, as they allow Aitch to move between light and shade. As he performs atop a raised platform, ‘Belgrave Road’’s central theme of anxiety undercuts his reputation as a cheeky flirt, while ‘My G’ sees him welding a singalong chorus to some intensive work on his family life – particularly his relationship with his younger sister. “Make some noise for the people you love,” he shouts as its final refrain rings out, and the entire room swoons in a cloud of dopamine.

Aitch played:

‘Taste (Make It Shake)’
‘What’s Next’
‘Bring It Back’
‘Louis Vuitton’
‘Strike A Pose’ (with Young T & Bugsey)
‘Buss Down’
‘Latest Trends’ (with A1 x J1)
‘Keisha & Becky’
‘War’ (with ArrDee)
‘Safe to Say’
‘The Palm’
‘Let’s Go’ (with Tion Wayne)
‘Just Coz’ (with Giggs)
‘In Disguise’
‘Belgrave Road’
‘Close To Home’
‘My G’
‘Learning Curve’
‘Rain’ (with AJ Tracey)

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