Words & Photography by Dev Place
In a ‘cancel culture’, it’s easy to find acts falling victim to mass distaste for no real reason. We’re not talking about abandoning a band because they’re involved in malicious behaviour, but rather, the kind of musicians who attract negative online attention, simply for not being to some tastes. Twitter politics, niche sub-cultures and endless diversities within music make it more common than ever for artists to be disliked on a mass level.
When Hobo Johnson’s Tiny Desk audition of ‘Peach Scone’ went viral, it kicked up a fuss with it. Half the comments section applauded frontman Frank Lopes Jr. for his infectious, charismatic performance and the other, condemned him for being irritating or cliché.
Watch the Tiny Desk Concert here:
Lopes started the Hobo Johnson project as a homeless nineteen-year-old, producing his material from his car. It was a small growth until ‘Peach Scone‘ hit 10 million views; a group of young lads howling in a backyard surrounded by what looks like a dismantled gazebo and boards of spray-painted plastic. It sounds like a caricature of DIY music culture, and to a degree, it is. Yet, it was nostalgic and contagiously alluring.
This group of young men were encapsulating the resurgence of that guy-next-door, loser-kid-becomes-cool vibe that was so popular in the early 2010s. It was Watsky meets The Front Bottoms. It was infectious, and soon Hobo Johnson was one of the most hyped-up acts on social media. They met in the middle of the bridge between rap and pop punk culture. A bizarre mix, that was somehow immensely greeted by thousands, which of course, meant it was bitterly disregarded by others. Now, Frank Lopes is touring with his bandmates, ‘The Lovemakers’ and on the list of dates is London’s beautiful theatre venue, KOKO.
Sure, the night is as you’d expect, full of oddities and playfulness. Opening is Californian-based Oliver Tree. Just a quick google may give an idea of how bizarre Oliver Tree as a musical talent is. He’s a professional scooter rider, first started in a rap group called Mindfuck, supported Skrillex and Nero before the age of 17, has dabbled with comedy acting, and has a track approved by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. And that’s just in the first couple paragraphs of his Wikipedia. Needless to say, the whole performance is nuts, and completely fits in with the evening. Tree soars on to stage, hunched over a scooter, and gradually undresses out of his baggy jeans into a ski jogger two-piece, a bucket hat and goggles as he storms through a set of impish electro-pop. It’s a performance alright.
Hobo Johnson and The Lovemakers grace the stage with their boyish charm, slumping over their instruments and giggling as if they’re on the back row in a classroom. On several instances throughout the evening, Lopes looks bewildered as the crowd out-sing him for tracks like ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and ‘Father’. There’s a sense of relief, perhaps, that this evening proves Hobo Johnson and The Lovemakers are no one-trick-pony, nor a one-hit-wonder.
The set is full of the crowd interaction you’d hope from this enigmatic character, the stage production is entirely understated, and it feels as though Hobo Johnson decided to throw a party, and everyone was invited. They play around with covers of Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Since U Been Gone’ and Alicia Keys’ ‘If I Ain’t Got You‘. It’s hard to resist getting in the spirit of the night; people are crammed onto the balconies, howling along with the jokes, singing the crowd-vocals of ‘Peach Scone’ and ‘Sex In The City’.
This venue is a far cry from the hand-held videos filmed sat on front porches or friends’ living rooms. Yet, there is still genuine artist identity here, and Hobo Johnson’s growth has not for one second tainted the brand this music represents. People can hate on music just because it’s dressed in goofy mannerisms and oversized clothing. Or, they can realise that acts like Hobo Johnson are exciting. They represent the resurrection of what the best communities within music were all about. Relatability, unity, solidarity, fun, hard-work. It’s written all over the crowd in this theatre- these kids are stoked about every word that comes out of Lopes’ mouth. Some may call Hobo Johnson’s brand cliché, cringeworthy or cheap. But they’re missing the entire point. Hobo Johnson is rich in the best qualities in music of all, and that’s something to be celebrated.