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LIVE: Gao The Arsonist – Exchange, Bristol, 12/06/2022

“Hi, I’m Gao! Would you like a lighter?”

The first image that is conjured by the name Gao The Arsonist is ‘The great missing character from ‘Con Air”.  Who would have played him?  Maybe someone like Jeff Goldblum?

If Jeff Goldblum offered you a lighter, you’d be worried.

“It’s part of the show!”

Oh.  Well, that’s a relief.

Of course, the very fact that Gao is playing the role of concierge and ticket collector for his own show tells you a lot about the man.  He loves his craft, he loves talking about music, and he very much does things his own way.

This individuality is certainly reflected in his music.  Inspired by Tyler The Creator and JPEGMafia, he eschews many of the norms of traditional hip-hop for an ambitious, expansive approach.  His tracks can be in the style of XXXTentacion one minute, Portishead the next, and even veer into Joy Division-type post punk territory.  His songs are dark and atmospheric.

His early work has garnered him a considerable fanbase, as evidenced by his 95,000 followers on TikTok.

Tonight is his second ever show.  He may not be a maniacal killer, but he is a little nervous.

He needn’t have worried, though.  A solid crowd fills the basement at the Exchange tonight, and a good proportion of them appear to know Gao’s entire back catalogue word-for-word.  A lively moshpit is present throughout.

Tonight’s set is split into two parts.  The first is a ‘beginner’s introduction to Gao’, and then the second is a showcase of some of his more leftfield work.  Naturally, in between, he asks the crowd if they want to take a break for some liquid refreshment. What a properly nice man.

The first half is good, but the second half is exceptional.  Here, we really see Gao’s immense talent as an artist, replete as it is with beat changes and wild switches in tempo.  ‘Dead Leaves’, in particular, is fabulous.

As a live show, it is a work-in-progress, as you would expect for a second show, but it is never short of hugely engaging.  It has the feel of someone playing to their friends, rather than a full-on performance, but then, that’s kinda nice – makes it feel quite personal.

The lighters are a nice touch too, although the proximity of some of them to the ceiling is a little concerning.  This room hasn’t been painted recently, right?  In my mind, Jeff Goldblum is smiling mischievously.

Gao posits this his current five-date run may be the only time he ever does small-scale, DIY shows.  He clearly has his sights set on something larger, and quite rightly so.  His live performance will certainly need to evolve for that, of course, but his personable and cheerful attitude is something he should definitely embrace.  There are many paths to the top, and not everyone needs to be Kanye bloody West.

All-in-all, plenty to enjoy for Gao fans – who we hereby Christen ‘Arsonistas’ – and for any newcomers, well, you’re on the right flight. Welcome to Gao Air!

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.