Aim’s debut, Cold Water Music, began life quietly on its release in 2000 before gradually growing in popularity and gaining the attention and acclaim it deserved. The combination of finely-honed beats, stunning melodies and, at times, disquieting tension saw the creative force behind the music, Andy Turner, recognised as a leading hip hop producer and dumbfounded many when they discovered these sounds were emanating not from the US, but from Barrow-in-Furness in the UK.
Last year’s Flight 602 maintained the critical acclaim of both that debut and follow-up Hinterland and tonight’s tour-closer showcased each phase of Turner’s gentle musical evolution. The sizeable, nine-piece entourage take to the stage fronted by singer Niko and launch into soulfully funksome early production, Concentrate. The lazy drum loops and hint of jazz that follows remind us of how Aim has seen his music feature on countless chill out compilations, but that’s not to say this is background music, it’s far too emotionally engaging for that.
The tempo rises as Niko takes over for a raucous, flute-flecked slice of hard funk before the orchestral drama of old favourite Journey To The End Of The Night is brilliantly reproduced, complete with cowbell and bongo solos. The purple patch continues with new offering Landlord, which is nothing short of spectacular, Niko’s soaring vocals giving the track an ethereal edge that is both moving and uplifting.
Kwasi Asante takes to the stage for some crowd-stoking MCing, before Northwest once again displays Turner’s ear for a sublime melody, providing another of those special moments that set him apart from the crowd. A trumpeted, string-laden instrumental then dips before roaring back to life with some lead-heavy beats.
Dismiss this as chill out or (worse still) trip hop at your peril; some tracks may prove more memorable than others, but overall, this is down tempo music at its very finest. Having said that, Are You Satisfied? positively rocks from start to finish, ending on an absolutely manic, mesmerising keyboard solo. The crowd lap up each song, but none as enthusiastically as the early material, so when the icy opening bars of Cold Water Music are aired, the whoops and cheers come as no surprise.
Throughout the night, Turner takes very much a side role. Clad in over-sized jeans, he plays percussion, guitar and keyboard while never really taking centre stage, but his music shines. Yes, there are elements of funk and soul, hip hop and horizontal, smoked-out calm but the Cumbrian beatsmith’s approach takes a wider perspective, striking a deeper chord than most of his contemporaries.
A remix of The Girl That Fell Through The Ice begins the encore before another funk workout, featuring more of Niko’s soaring vocals, brings to an end a night of many highs. Turner is a master of his art and, on tonight’s performance, without doubt remains one of the UK’s finest hip hop producers.