God Save The Boyband: London Bids Farewell to BROCKHAMPTON

On the ground at one of BROCKHAMPTON's final shows together before they go on indefinite hiatus as a group.

Kevin Abstract of Brockhampton in London

Image via Getty/Photo by Burak Cingi

Kevin Abstract of Brockhampton in London

It’s a Monday night in Brixton, London and BROCKHAMPTON are a long way from the sunburnt skies of San Marcos. 

Some things in this city you can count on: the garishly flashing signs of mobile phone repair shops blink on the streets; flavor spills from fried chicken shops and Afro-Caribbean markets, and pub windows are steamed with a beckoning, February glow. But tonight, there’s something different in the air. 

Brixton Road is overrun by twenty-somethings, the streets crackling with promise and a kind of restless anxiety. Many of them were just teenagers, no doubt, when they bought their tickets to this show three years ago, and now they are caught between nostalgia and recent memory like the awkward growing-out phase of a haircut. They were different people back then—that one, unforgettable summer of 2017 when the collective had hip-hop in a chokehold and the soundtrack to their coming-of-age story was being released one project at a time. But now, those early fans have grown up. In 2019, they bought their tickets for a victory lap, but they turned up for a final swan song.

But now, those early BROCKHAMPTON fans have grown up. In 2019, they bought their tickets for a victory lap, but they turned up for a final swan song.

Ask any BROCKHAMPTON loyalist—nothing is guaranteed. What began as an extensive world tour derailed by the pandemic had been slashed to exclude all European dates besides these two sold-out London dates in December. The final, sudden death rattle came only a month later—not with a bang, but with a whimper. BROCKHAMPTON announced they would be taking an “indefinite hiatus” and with the exception of London and Coachella billed as their “final performances,” all other dates were cancelled, effective immediately.

To be here is a privilege, a stroke of good fortune—fans who weren’t so lucky have been pleading for Londoners to stream the show online—and so there is an undercurrent of frenetic impatience. By appreciating the rarity of tonight’s show, there is an unspoken acknowledgement amongst attendees of how easily it could have been taken away from them if the stars had aligned only a little differently.

Brockhampton during one of their final shows in London

The crowd is drawn, moth-like, to the merch table. People stand impatient, arms folded, muttering something about “Depop gentrifiers” hidden in plain sight. Their sweaters are emblazoned with European tour dates that never happened. One T-shirt is a pastiche of the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen cover, which is instead a print of Matt Champion’s face that reads: “God Save The Boyband.” It’s a strange reminder of unfulfilled promises and bittersweet reality that this boyband doesn’t want to be saved.

The various incarnations of their since-cancelled tours offered up perfectly curated support acts: 100 gecs, Slowthai, Jean Dawson, and Paris Texas, among them. BROCKHAMPTON, as an ever-expanding collective of creatives raised on the breeding ground of the internet, always had a sharp intuition for elevating similarly forward-thinking artists. For tonight’s show, the group’s support is Christian Alexander, a signee to Kevin Abstract’s record label, Video Store. He stands timidly on a stage that feels two sizes too big for him. Armed only with an acoustic guitar, his material is worlds away from the artist fans were introduced to on “twisted,” a track from the group’s unreleased lockdown project, Technical Difficulties. Instead, it is jarringly sombre; people chat over songs made for the quiet, early hours of the morning. “This is my first live performance,” Alexander announces after fugs of feedback demand everyone’s attention, not quite in the way he hoped. 

To bring an artist still making his first tentative steps as a performer onto the stage of O2 Academy Brixton to open one of their final shows—particularly instead of their far more established friends—feels rushed at first but it’s characteristic of BROCKHAMPTON, who have always been more than willing to take a chance on a creative they believe in, and use their platform to elevate their music to an audience they deserve. For them, it has always been about friendship, and that hasn’t changed. 

Despite numerous shelved albums, Kevin Abstract’s tweet-and-delete teasers that fizzle to nothing, and a turbulent flight path after Ameer Vann was kicked out of the group following sexual abuse allegations in 2018—these fans still love them.

Despite numerous shelved albums that may never see the light of day, Kevin Abstract’s tweet-and-delete teasers that fizzle to nothing, and a turbulent flight path after Ameer Vann was kicked out of the group following sexual abuse allegations in 2018—these fans still love them. Bounding onto the stage with the same fuck-it sense of fun that saw them literally hanging off the rafters in their earliest shows, for an hour and thirty minutes, you could trick yourself into believing that all of this was nothing more than a bad dream.

The show is a retelling of their career in five acts: The SATURATION trilogy, iridescence, GINGER and ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE, each album represented by three tracks. There was feverish discussion about how the group would reward their devotees: which deep-cut tracks would make it onto the setlist? Are they going to have guests? “Imagine if they brought out Dominic Fike… he’s in London tonight—or what about Deb Never? Oh my god, what if they got JPEGMAFIA?” Every transition feels heavy with the anticipation of choosing the next treat from a box of chocolates, chasing a sugar rush. 

The energy for BROCKHAMPTON’s career-defining bangers from the SATURATION projects—which cemented the group’s meteoric rise and myth in the space of a single year—is unmatched. As the gloopy, cartoonish beats of “STAR,” “JUNKY,” and “BLEACH” kick in, the crowd fizzes with excitement over the nostalgia of tracks that won their hearts in the first place and what brought them here tonight, five years later. It’s staggering, really, just how many sleeper hits BROCKHAMPTON have. The legacy of their music will long outlive the group themselves, and tonight only underlines that.  

Each member of the group exists in their own orbit. As one steps forward into the light, the others recede into the darkness. They are sharing a stage, but they hardly collide, patiently sitting out while they wait their turn. Gone are the days, too, of BROCKHAMPTON wearing matching outfits. While kids in the crowd have shown up in their orange overalls, the group themselves haven’t made any nod to any era of the past. They’re all wearing something different. Kevin Abstract’s T-shirt is luminescent—though the others may step into the dark, he’s always there, always sharply visible. 

The interesting choice about BROCKHAMPTON’s setlist is that it’s a very revealing measure of how fans’ reactions to their music over the years has changed. The group have unfairly been defined by a shattered identity, and their evolution has been hard-won. Collecting the fragments to build a new reflection after the expulsion of Ameer Vann, their audience has been divided in their attitude to embrace it or reject it. The SATURATION trilogy, placed on the lofty pedestal of BROCKHAMPTON’s “golden age,” has always been the bar their output must measure up to. There’s something cruel about how, for many fans, nothing could ever come within reach of that expectation.

The group’s later albums were chaotic expressions of grief, bearing the weight of impossible burdens: fame turned sour, misguided religion, and a sense of being cast adrift, unsure of where they’re heading. But BROCKHAMPTON were only afforded the luxury of exploring these themes if they could keep the fans sweet with a few bangers—and it’s those, not the group’s most vulnerable moments, that are being played tonight. This is a celebration. And yet even so, be it from the exhaustion of the high-octane first half of the set, or something else, momentum dwindles.

Things shift into another gear entirely when BROCKHAMPTON welcomes Slowthai to herald the beginning of the GINGER era with “HEAVEN BELONGS TO YOU.” His anarchistic stage presence, a dark court jester, shocks the audience with high-voltage energy. He barks, “Open it up! Open it up!” The crowd submits. The thundering bass of Slowthai’s anthem “Doorman” is electrifying. His command as a performer is nothing short of masterful, and he takes the steering wheel with reflexive confidence. BROCKHAMPTON chooses to sit back in the shadows while he has his moment. It’s the first, and last, pit of the night. 

With everything sweet, there is something bitter to taste. Nothing lasts, but for this moment, we were here.

How do you end a set like this? How can you capture the spirit of a group like BROCKHAMPTON, all those years of brotherhood? What final, indelible memory do you want people to walk away with? “SUMMER.” The lavish Bearface solo ballad, which pulls the curtain on SATURATION II, has fans swaying arm in arm, holding hands. It’s a song that reminds you of the dying light of day, of a summer that once felt endless coming to a close. With everything sweet, there is something bitter to taste. Nothing lasts, but for this moment, we were here.

About their breakup, they say nothing. In fact, throughout the entire show, none of the members say much at all. There are no outpourings, no expression of friendship, no flashes of lingering regret that this time, when they leave the stage, the times they will earn that applause together is numbered. As “SUMMER” draws to a close, Kevin mutters some words of thanks—later tweeting that he “cried like a baby” during the final rendition. And without ceremony, they leave. 

The crowd waits, and waits. There is always an encore—that’s just how these things go. “That can’t be it, can it?” one person asks. “Nah, they haven’t even played ‘BOOGIE’ yet,” says their friend. And so we wait some more. The lights dim once more, and the crowd flutters with anticipation. But it’s nothing more than a smoke screen. Nothing happens. Ten minutes pass. Chants of “One more song!” go unanswered. The venue staff are shaking their heads, motioning for people to go.

That’s it. It’s really over this time. Yet still, people refuse to leave. The dizzying headrush of the show is blighted by confusion. Disbelief. Maybe, if we wait long enough, they’ll come back? People start to turn around now, but still, they look over their shoulder to be sure. No final words, no fanfare—just the feeling of wanting more. But BROCKHAMPTON have given us all they are willing to give.

Brockhampton during one of their final shows in London