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UD Lowdown: Children of Zeus @ KOKO

From Manchester, with love, Children of Zeus hit Camden’s KOKO with their signature blend of neo-soul rap and lackadaisical say-it-how-it-is Manny vibes. The Mancunian duo, comprised of Konny Kon and Tyler Daley, hit all the right notes at north London’s iconic music venue for their much-anticipated sold-out headline show on Sunday 13th November. 

If Children of Zeus set out to crown Manchester the Novum Caput Mundi of the UK soul rap, they succeed in their mission. For decades the northern powerhouse has produced some of Britain’s most prominent artists across multiple genres indie, electronic, dance, rock and grime. It is perhaps most famous for giving birth to the Gods of the indie rock scene, The Stone Roses and Oasis, as well as being the old headquarters of infamous music impresario Tony Wilson, founder of the notorious record label Factory Records, whose roster included Joy DivisionNew Order and Happy Mondays. As well as setting the 24-hour party-people pace with the pioneering nightclub The Haçienda, which birthed the Madchester music scene, amalgamating alternative rock with acid house. A pairing that would steer the country towards a new music and cultural direction in the early 90s. If a musical vibe shift is going to happen, it’s a safe bet to say it will have a Mancunian voice. In recent years the city’s neo-soul rap scene has been bubbling with volcanic intensity, with artists IAMDDB, Layfullstop and The Mouse Outfit hailing from its brutalist concrete walls. Consequently, the region’s scene is flourishing, and Children Of Zeus are cementing it as the spiritual home of rap soul. 

For those uninitiated in Children of Zeus, The Manchester-based pair are one of the most exciting acts to emerge from Britain in a generation. They combine soul-stirring vocals with consciously laid bars and a defiantly Mancunian mood and sound. When the pair dropped their 2016 debut single, Still Standing’, the buttery gospel vocals, flowing hook, and laid-back rap verses instantly turned the heads of hip-hop fans and critics alike.

Following its success, Konny and Tyler released a steady flow of well-received singles in the lead-up to their 2018 debut album, Travel Light. The release signalled that Children of Zeus would transform perceptions of UK soul and hip hop with an old-new anthropology of cultural sounds encompassing street soul, rap, reggae and lovers rock with elements of garage and drum & bass underground rave culture. The album became an instant future classic and one that will serve future generations as a watershed moment that created a new strand of soul rap. Part of the duo’s charm is their ability to turn their 360 musical influence loves into one solid listening experience, evoking feelings of nostalgic familiarity wrapped in a fresh contemporary sound. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking Konny, and Tyler had grown up together; such is testimony to their white-hot musical chemistry. Although the Manchester music scene is inherently small (most people either know or know of one another), it took a fortuitous meeting at a French music festival where the pair struck up a friendship over their love for pirate radio sounds. The connection would result in the formation of Children of Zeus (COZ) a few years later. Before forming COZ, both were well-respected veterans in the Manchester hip-hop scene. 

Konny Kon is a beatmaker, DJ and MC and was best known as one-third of Manny-based hip-hop group Broke N English with MCs DRS and Strategy. The multi-talented Tyler Daley gained notoriety as an MC and actor under the alias Hoodman: Before becoming a renowned soul singer, Daley starred as Warren in the mid-Y2k  British drama series Dubplate Drama which starred MC Shystie and a host of fresh-faced cameos from the UK grime and rap scene, including Big NarstieN Dubz and Rodney P. The directional switch to soul singing was advantageous; the transformation made him one of our times’ most sought-after soul singers. He has laid down his butyraceous vocals and received writing credits for his work with underground culture legends Goldie, Shy FX, and So Solid first lady Lisa Mafia, also teaming up with drum and bass producer LSB, fellow Manny rapper, and sometimes actor Bugzy Malone. 

Following the incremental success of the debut album Travel Light, the collective unleashed sophomore album, Balance, in 2021. Swerving the infamous pitfall of the second album curse, winning plaudits from fans and critics, the release demonstrated the collective’s ability to create a body of work that simultaneously held universal cross-over appeal and maintained underground integrity. The songwriting was as emotionally zestful as ever and the duo’s signature sound was expanded sonically with new production elements that added to their intrinsic charm. Even though the album presented an unskippable body of work, the single ‘No Love Song’ stood out with its stone-cold lingering narration. Depicting the creeping scepticism in a relationship, “The emotions of a stone expectin’ me to write a love song…You don’t wanna place your money on me.” Konny’s verse adds to the burdening weight, intensifying the song’s sentiment You must have thought this was someone else… Fuck your love songs; I don’t love myself.” When the duo performed the single on the minimalist platform COLORS, It propelled the collective (already chatty patty) word-of-mouth advocacy as the UK’s hottest soul rap act on everyone’s playlist. 

With the announcement of the national tour, it was inevitable that the London date would sell out. As the Sunday evening of gig night swung around. I recalled the first time I saw them live, at the end of pandemic lockdowns, at Hackney’s Union Chapel Church the previous year, where the pair effortlessly overcame technical difficulties to deliver an intimately impressive performance. In vast size comparison to the mighty Camden musical cathedral KOKO, I pondered how the duo would fair in their transition to a larger stage and venue. Checking their Insta page for the set times, I was hyped to see Ella Bond and fellow Mancunian KinKai were the support acts alongside set timings. 

It turns out being a north London local, living within a 15-mins radius from the venue and knowing the exact set times, is a bit like being that kid at school who lives in the closest proximity but is always the latest. Long story short, Sunday drivers. I arrived at the venue later than intended and missed KinKai’s slot. Forever the optimist, the upside to this was no queue outside. Stepping into KOKO’s heaving plush red interior, the vibe was uncharacteristically hedonistic for a Sunday school night; the Manchester party condition sure is contagious. Not wanting to struggle through a packed crowd, the upper-tier gallery called, giving optimum spectatorship minus the hustle and bustle of the roadblocked stalls. Consoling myself with a fizzy-pop for missing KinKAi’s performance, Children of Zeus’s official badass female DJ became the focal sound of attention as she slammed and reloaded the tunes.

An attentive air fell over the room when Etta Bond quietly walked on stage in an all-black ensemble. Etta has been tipped for success for her heartwarming soulful vocals, underpinned by an honest vulnerability that emits a powerful emotional connection. The audience applauded loudly when she performed, Let Me Hit It’, from her 2019 album He’s Not Mine. Her performance was the perfect prelude for the main act. 

It was a little after 9pm when the stage blacked out, and the pair stepped on stage, igniting the energy in the room with a “from Manchester with love” greeting. Aptly opening the show with the track, ‘The Story So Far‘, taken from their debut album, Tyler set free those signature floaty soulful tones on the melody-rich, old skool flavoured, No Strings Attached’. Set against Rick James’s Mary Jane’, Konny’s smooth accompaniment showed a skilful navigation of a large audience swaying to his lyrical commandment. It was clear the pair had come down to share the infamous Manny party vibes. As the fan favourite Smoke With Me’ beat dropped, a symphony sing-along from the audience joined in for the chorus. 

Konny; “Make some motherfuck*ing noise for yourselves London” 

When the intro to the sexy slow burner I Want You’ from 2019’s Excess Baggage EP made a sonic appearance, Tyler sang like a siren, bewitching and beckoning the hypnotised audience with his irresistibly beautiful voice.

The crowd’s trance broke only momentarily with the call to arms mashup of Roy Ayres’ Everybody Loves The Sunshine. The meshing was so harmonious it didn’t sound like a bootleg blend. One of the show’s highlights came when hotshot R&B talent [KSR], an artist on everyone’s one-to-watch list, hailing from Manchester’s Moss Side, joined the duo for his feature on ‘All On You‘. The trio’s performance showcased the jaw-dropping talent that domestically grown artists possess within the contemporary R&B genre in the UK. 

Konny took the opportunity to air the duo’s disappointment for being passed over (again) for a MOBO nomination in typical mancunian pull-no-punches fashion. “Who’ve we got to speak to that’s responsible for the award nominations? We’ve been out here a few years now.” to an agreeable audience. 

Another moment of hype came when the first inline support act of the night, KinKai, re-took to the stage alongside the boys to perform the unashamedly Manny-sounding Top Down. It brought carefree warm flashes of summer back on a cold Autumn night. 

When the reggae bassline and Rhodes keys of certified classic, Hardwork’fell over KOKO, the dub sound effect echoed from tightly compacted bodies, and the vibrations could be felt rising from the ground up. Rambunctious howls were audible from the audience, at which point Konny instructed their DJ to pull up… pull up. Every hand in the building swayingly reached towards the sky, accompanied by shrieks of excitement that competed with the volume of the venue’s sound system. With the show’s curfew end in sight, the pair closed the show with an encore of Still Standing’, which left the audience shouting for one more tune.

Children of Zeus put on a show with a lightning intensity that had the sold-out crowd mesmerised from start to finish. 

Support Children of Zeus on Bandcamp.

Photography: Alina Akbar/ TRENCH

Words by Chris KellyChris is a freelance music journalist and feature writer with a focus on emerging and established artists, subcultures, the art world and mental health. Chris has multifaceted expertise as a media and creative specialist working with your favourite brands and helping them to embed themselves within the culture through strategic and entertaining content for brands, businesses and organisations.   

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