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Why We're Excited for Deema to Take The Great Escape Festival Stage with Dom Valentino

The night of the Great Escape’s First Fifty showcase was bitter and chilly, but the excitement kept me warm. As darkness descended on East London, I counted down in my head to Deema’s set. The “young boy from the southeast” (‘CAN I?’) is an up-and-coming rapper taking the scene by storm, backed up by his close friend and fellow musician Dom Valentino.

The South-East London-based artist first broke onto the scene with his debut EP Chew Your Food. The EP demonstrates Deema’s flexibility as an artist: it features head-boppers like ‘Hash Brown’ alongside more socially-conscious tracks like ‘Rat Race’. The beats that underscore his discography are hard and free-flowing, his earthquake bass always a hallmark of his sound.

Live performances paint a vivid moving picture of the artist. They have the power to impact the audience way after the experience, and this was definitely a show that did so. Deema’s presence dominated the stage, his energy radiating in the space. The neon red and green lights on the stage illuminated his silhouette, while his liveliness transcended past the stage set-up. His performance was clearly all about the connection: the way he could interact with and affect his audience. Everyone had their undivided attention on him as he bopped across the stage.

There was a synergy in that room, and what truly made it a one-of-a-kind experience was its intimacy. Aside from captivating the room with his stage persona, his connection with Dom Valentino was heart-warming to see. Also from South London, Valentino has worked with Deema as a long-term collaborator and produced Chew Your Food as well as his 2021 EP Rainbow. Just ahead of his verse in ‘CAN I?’, one of the songs featured on Rainbow, Deema says: “Hold tight Dom Valentino, that’s my bredrin’ and you already know that by now though”—and if anyone didn’t know it by now, they definitely did after their performance that evening.

The rest of ‘CAN I?’ centres on the incessant and excessive asks of favours following an artist’s rising success. With its addictive beat stamped with a melodic piano, his performance guaranteed necks bobbing back-and-forth over the 90s-style beat. The audience edged closer as Deema came down to their level, both synchronised in reciting his lyrics.

Deema also demonstrated the incredible versatility of his sound with his performance of ‘Mamma, Don’t Judge’. Also produced by Valentino, the beat is carried by a pleasant harp intertwined with drums. The marriage of Deema’s signature head-bopping sound and this instrumental addition created an otherworldly atmosphere, making for a poignant and emotive experience. The lyrics are raw, with Deema speaking about his dreams and the direction he wishes to go in. It describes a near-universal experience: the difficulty of explaining to his parents that he wanted to pursue an unconventional career. His performance definitely touched me, reminding me of my own conversations with family, and I’m sure everyone in that room felt the same. The song, packaged as a lyrical letter to his mother, felt warm and straight from the heart. It was even more heart-warming when he told the audience that his mother was watching from the back.

The set was punctuated with other songs including ‘Through It All,’ which was especially significant considering the recent, universal struggle through Covid-19, and ‘Maddie,’ which I feel is Deema’s most fascinating song. His performance of it made perfect use of the venue’s sound system, which clearly emanated the luxuriously layered tones and wavey, boom-bap beat of the song. The old-school hip-hop vibes seemed tailored to send the speakers into the stratosphere with every kick. The song also samples Carlo Savina’s theatrical ‘This is It?’, with the woodwind making for a smooth and easy listen.

On ‘Maddie’, Deema talks of his journey with romance, expressing the confusion that comes with it. The performance certainly conveyed this—his shoulders were shrugging, gestures flowing with the song’s laid-back and mellow sound. The song ended with a collective ‘Bun Maddie!’ shouted from the audience, ‘bun’ meaning ‘forget’ in London slang. I don’t even know who Maddie is, but you’d think she personally scarred me the way I screamed with my whole chest. Maddie, if you’re reading this, I most definitely do not apologise.

All in all, the set felt like a conversation, with its intimate talks about love, the future, dreams, confusion, determination, and perseverance. The connection with the listener was already there in the studio versions of these songs, but the performance felt even more natural. There was no distance between Deema and the audience; it didn’t feel like I was lost in the sea of people. The songs made me feel as if I was talking about life with a friend I’ve known for ages, and when an artist makes you feel like that, you know they’re going to go far.

You can catch Deema next at the three-day Great Escape Festival, which runs in Brighton from the 11th to the 14th of May.

To keep up with Deema, check out his Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube.

Photos by Michelle Mentu


Edited by Talia Andrea, Deputy Music Editor, and Josh Aberman, Music Editor


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