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The Best Music in London In May
Image Credit: Roman Hobler

The Best Music in London In May

3 May 2017 Tom Faber

As the capital gears up for festival season, local venues are paving the way with a hurricane of excellent gigs and parties across May. Our picks from this month include grime's prodigal son, butter-smooth soul and contemplative ambient sounds, all on your doorstep.

Bursting into the O2 Academy Brixton this week is Stormzy, the posterboy of grime's second generation. Fresh from the release of his blinding debut album, Gang Signs & Prayer (which was the first grime album to ever hit UK number one), the young upstart will be taking to the South London stage from May 2-4th. For more infectious energy from one of hip hop's fresh talents, make sure to check out Zambian rapper Sampa The Great, who will be playing a headline show at Koko on Friday 19th. If you lean towards more electronic bombast, Hot Chip's Joe Goddard will be playing a solo show at Heaven on Thursday 4th, taking a sidelong view of dance music history following his new album Electric Lines. Metronomy offer a similar indie perspective on electronica, and you can catch them playing with a new live line-up at the O2 Brixton on Friday 19th.
 

For some, there's still no substitute for seeing musicians playing on stage – the strum of the guitar, the thud of the kick drum. May welcomes some fine acoustic acts to the city, including indie folk darling Bill Callahan, aka Smog, who will be playing a series of intimate shows at Hoxton Hall from the 4th to the 7th. Another one to look out for is guitarist Angel Olsen, who will bring dreamy, downcast rock to the Roundhouse on the 24th. On the opposite side of the rock world are the next major guests at the Roundhouse. Michael Gira's uncompromising group Swans specialise in hypnotic experimentalism, and they'll be performing one of the final shows with their current line-up on the 27th.
 
Maybe modern music just doesn't speak to you like the oldies do. That's fine, as there are more classic musicians coming back to perform than ever before. Debbie Harry returns as Blondie at the Roundhouse on Wednesday 3rd, sure to give the crowd a fix of her many hits, while 90's RnB legends TLC hit up Koko down the road on Tuesday 9th – somehow, it'll be the girls' first ever performance in the UK. Perhaps the most sensational comeback of the month is The Beach Boys, who will be celebrating fifty years of good vibrations and a cascade of hit songs at the Royal Albert Hall on the 18th and 19th. For a classic with a little more grit, Richard Fearless will bring his electro-dub project Death In Vegas to Oval Space on the 25th, performing in London for the first time in 5 years.
 

Sometimes you need something a little more soulful to lift your spirits, a breezy sound that particularly suits the onset of summer. South London jazz virtuosos Yussef Kamaal are set to perform at Koko on Thursday 4th, following last year's excellent album Black Focus. The following week Swedish soulstress Fatima will perform some of her silkiest material at Battersea Arts Centre – we caught her last year in Camden and she practically brought the roof down with her vocal chords alone. For a funk-imbued sound you can dance to more easily, Seven Davis Jr will be bringing his unique house-soul hybrids to The Jazz Café on Friday 26th, making a London debut with his full live band.
 
If your interests extend to African music, there's a bounty of legendary acts passing through London this month.  West African artists are represented especially strongly: Toumani Diabaté, Malian master of the kora, is playing at the Barbican on the 13th; Senegalese fusionists Orchestra Baobab are at Camden Jazz Café on the 14th, still jubilant despite some of the players being in their seventies; and Malian duo Amadou & Mariam drop in at Koko on the 24th. If you want something a little more edgy, check out Tamikrest playing at Dalston's painfully cool Café Oto on the 9th, bringing the Saharan blues to East London.
 

Then there are the outliers – the more leftfield artists who fuse classical modes with a modern sensibility. William Basinski, who's playing at the Round Chapel on the 4th, dresses like his rockstar, but don't be fooled – his haunting loops of ambience are as close to existentialism as straight-up sound gets. A couple of days later lauded composer Max Richter brings his 'Sleep' performance to the Barbican, eight hours of gentle music where the audience are encouraged to lie down in a sleeping bag and drift off.
 
Don't fall asleep just yet – we haven't covered the best club picks of the month. Oval Space takes the prize for best line-up this month, with a live techno show from Dutch maestro A Made Up Sound alongside Peverelist on the 19th, with XOYO coming a close second with their Detroit-inspired set of house groovers featuring Kyle Hall and Dan Shake on the 6th. Phonox made a wise choice inviting Project Pablo over from Canada to play on the 12th, where all can enjoy his loose, soulful jams, while edgier audiences should check out Wild Combination at The Yard on the 12th, where you're sure to hear the most futuristic club styles going. Peckham Rye Music Festival is worth checking out, taking over a series of southern venues from the 12-14th, but if you only go out once this month, make it Príncipe at Camden Assembly on the 19th – this Portugese crew of DJs will be showcasing their brutal, polyrhythmic kuduro sound, with influences that stretch back to Angola. You'll have to learn some new moves for that one.

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