Aside from his birthplace of London, the biggest fan base for Loyle Carner is in Sydney, Australia; and everyone at Enmore Theatre on July 23 made that loud and clear. 

It’s been a decade since his debut, and he is one of the most distinctive voices in UK hip-hop. Born Benjamin Coyle-Larner, the 28-year-old storyteller is widely appreciated for the poetic and confessional raps exercised on his previous full-length projects, Yesterday’s Gone (2017) and Not Waving, But Drowning (2019).

While generational trauma and existentialism have always been evident themes in his work, LC’s third studio album Hugo dived into new depths. Across 10-tracks, he explored the father-son relationship, violence in South London, and his identity as a mixed-race man.

Loyle Carner’s performance on the 2022 album is his most satisfying yet. From his newfound personal growth, to the palpable anger that informed the busier instrumentation and his usual introspection, Hugo is the emphatic ending to the unofficial trilogy of his discography.

For his first time performing in Australia since 2017’s Groovin The Moo, LC has returned for Splendour In The Grass and sideshows in Perth, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne. For the second night of back to back shows at Enmore Theatre in Newtown, Loyle Carner entered the stage around nine after Irish support act Kojaque had warmed the crowd up. 

Opening with Hugo’s fiery intro and lead single ‘Hate’, he immediately sent the packed-out venue into a frenzy. From ‘Plastic’ into ‘You Don’t Know’, and ‘Polyfilla’ into ‘Desoleil (Brilliant Corners)’, seamless transitions between songs of old and new kept the energy at a high all night. 

Although mostly occupied by the crowd’s cheers, he filled any silence with shout outs to his collaborators, such as producer Madlib and singer Tom Misch, as well as a UK super-fan who had been following his shows throughout Australia. He also credited ‘Still’ from his sophomore album to be his personal favourite, and talked about his ADHD and the imperativeness of learning to understand your emotions: “If you’re going through shit, talk to people … Please speak.”

Throughout the night, and Hugo itself, the narrative focus was on the birth of Loyle Carner’s son in 2020 and the relationship with his father. He reminisced on calling his dad with the news, and recognising the responsibility of fatherhood and the fact he needed to get his licence. 

He discussed learning to drive in his father’s rusty red 1998 VW Polo, and reconciling with him in the process. Unpacking their estranged relationship and discussing the generational trauma that was being “passed down in hate”, the rusty red car and the conversations in it became the inspiration for the album. 

“I was looking at my son when he was born and I realised this guy loves me, and I took that love and it came up through me and it hit my dad … Basically I broke the cycle by going the other f***ing way, instead of pulling ourselves down I pulled ourselves upwards.”

– Loyle Carner at Enmore Theatre.

Faking the end of the night with the album’s finisher ‘HGU’, LC quickly came back for an encore. Playing an updated version of ‘Ottolenghi’, he retrospectively changed the lyrics in the fan-favourite to acknowledge his son and his own matured perspective. 

From his commentary adding poignant context to every track, to hearing his musicianship shine over the live instrumentation, seeing Loyle Carner in 2023 nailed home the weight of his last full-length release. Backdropped by the values and stories in his previous works, Hugo is a reminder of vulnerability and perseverance, and a celebration of breaking and remoulding familial dynamics and societal norms.

Images by Brendan Cecich.

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