“Why have abs when you can have kebabs?”: Joe Andreyev reviews Tommy Cash’s April show at Scala.
An insipid haze of vape smoke floats in the air above the crowd, and they’re certainly not smoking Blueberry Bubblegum or Watermelon Fandango. The security guards could fish out the culprits from the sweaty mass but seem more bemused than aggravated. Why is that girl wearing a beret 4 times wider than her head? Why does that guy have a neck tattoo with the word ‘tomato’? And, come to mention it, what is that incessant spiral of uncomfortable visuals on the screen at the back of the stage? A pair of braided pigtails… hmm. A wafer-thin moustache…okey-dokey. There’s a live scorpion balanced on his nose… eh? Ah but wait… that logo gyrating in the corner is more recognisable?… but of course. The famous Three Stripes. Let’s start from there.
Trying to understand rapper Tommy Cash (Tomm¥ €a$h) undoubtedly takes a bit of time. At first glance he seems like a bizarre parody of pages like ‘Slavs Squatting in Tracksuits’ and the ever fashionable, yet somewhat superficial and reductive ‘Gopnik’ culture infesting the aesthetic of art students from New Cross to Kings Cross. So, apart from his penchant for the tri poloski of Adidas tracksuits, it appears quite hard to define Cash, especially when it comes to genre. You could perhaps go for Trap-meets-the-Chernobyl-nuclear-disaster-with-a-dash-of-Stranger-Things-and-Slavic-Hardbass, but then again maybe it’s best to listen to his own evaluation of “somewhere between good and bad… somewhere between rock and rap” (from Surf).
He’s confusing to say the least, and certainly doesn’t stray far from the generation of memes and internet culture. But confusion and awe are arguably close bedfellows. He’s more than happy to co-opt the media’s encouraging tag of ‘Kanye East’ and has even collaborated with Charli XCX. Yet, in the age of Russian trolls and post-truth sensibilities maybe finding some objective definition is by-the-by and we’re best to sit back and let our minds succumb to his hypnotic world: a world in which he by no means shirks away from his furiously captivating individuality.
Born in a suburb of Tallinn as the Eastern Bloc was collapsing in 1991, Cash grew up in the newly independent Estonia when Western culture was finally allowed to flood through the Iron Curtain and take hold of the native ecology like an invasive species. This new freedom of choice curated a teenage diet of various musical genres, most of all rap and lightweight Europop and dance, which anyone who has been to Eastern Europe knows has surprisingly become the eternal soundtrack of local clubs, kebab joints and even shoe shops. These influences are varied and this is reflected as each of his tunes differs from the last, as if his working ideas are quickly engulfed by newer, faster moving, exponentially more outrageous concepts. He has worked closely with the producers from PC Music, but ultimately eclipses their vision and fuses styles and samples in a less pretentious manner. Whether this is a case of a foreign eye looking in and assessing an eclectic amalgam of Western cultural reference points mixed with Slavic set pieces or just a peculiarly innovative artistic vision, Cash’s ‘post-Soviet’ stamp is as inimitable as it is intriguing.
This unique creative vision is seen most clearly in his arresting music videos. Tower blocks become sheathed penises, power plant cooling towers are gaping orifices, bottoms are bongo drums and physical abnormalities are not seen as a hindrance but as a chance to experiment with movement and dance. His Instagram is similarly littered with distorted photos and unnatural setups, each one again outdoing the last in its absurdity. He has cited Chilean Surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowosky as another influence and clearly draws inspiration from futurist fashion (designer Rick Owens is the only person he follows on Instagram).
The upshot of all of this is that Tommy Cash has a niche, yet devoted, fanbase that perpetuates itself in the odder, but ever burgeoning, corners of the web. And while Scala is not the largest venue, it is riotously heaving as people wedge themselves into any space they can find before Cash takes the stage. When he does, the centrifugal force of the mosh pit pings most of them across barriers and railings, and his industrial beats and robust basslines eventually tire out the topless hardcore in the space of a few songs. Halfway through the set he checks everyone is doing alright and, whilst glaring impishly into the crowd, plays some new songs: “If you don’t like it, we’ll delete it! I’ve got so much fucking music!”
But with that the show is over, almost before it has begun, again leaving an atmosphere of disorientation and confusion. Is this how people end up in cults? If so, it seems evident that the ProRapSuperstar is preaching to a new set of the converted. And he’s brought a new meaning to ‘Beast from the East’ to boot.
Featured image credit: Instagram @tommycashworld