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Elf Kid performing in a central London hotel basement
Elf Kid performing in a central London hotel basementPhotography James Barber

Elf Kid, Loyle Carner and Hollie McNish partner with ASOS

The two rappers and spoken word artist each put on an event with the ASOS Supports Talent initiative – here’s what went down

“It’s been quite amazing to see how dramatic they’ve made breastfeeding sound,” Hollie McNish laughs, standing in a t-shirt and ripped jeans in front of a sold-out Cadogan Hall, a full orchestra behind her. She’s underselling herself somewhat – her fearsome, infectious poetry is impactful enough even without the dramatic swells of the Metropole Orkest, but put the two together and the result is something magical. 

Perhaps “sold-out” is the wrong choice of words – the event tonight is entirely free. Deliberately so, McNish tells me afterwards, “so that it didn't discriminate on who could pay for a ticket, which is often the case with the arts.” For some in the crowd, as discovered through an impromptu survey of cheers, this is their first time at a poetry event. For even more, this is their first time seeing a live orchestra. For McNish, that alone makes the whole thing worthwhile.

Tonight is the first of three UK events made possible by the funding and support of the ASOS Supports Talent initiative, from online fashion destination, ASOS. The scheme hand-picked artists it believes in, and offered them the chance to “fast-forward their careers and bring their creative passions to life.” Though McNish’s career, after several viral videos, an album and two books of poetry, doesn’t particularly need fast-forwarding, the chance to perform her poetry in a new and innovative way is one she clearly relishes.

“Wow”, a poem inspired by her infant daughter’s body confidence (“she looked in this mirror and gawked at herself like the goddess that she is,” explains McNish as she introduces the poem), is transformed by the sparkling patter of plucked violins and cellos; “Embarrassed”, a lamentation of society’s shaming of breastfeeding, is made intense and dramatic, though the dash of humour in its multitude of layers remains.

If Hollie McNish’s event is a veritable feast of culture and creativity, the second is a feast of the more literal variety. UK rapper Loyle Carner, alongside young teens with ADHD who he’s been teaching to cook, is putting on a three-course meal for 100 people in London. Attendees are greeted by a steel drum band, who have donned Santa hats and are playing Calypso covers of Justin Bieber.

It’s been a richly rewarding project, he says, because the kids he’s been working with “have been basically told a lot, like I was, that you won’t really amount to much, or you’re stupid.” With events like these, “you can pat them on the back at the end of the day and say, ‘You did that,’ it’s instant gratification. They know it’s good because they can taste it themselves, and it tastes great.” And taste great it absolutely does. After a starter of saltfish and courgette fritters and charred sweetcorn, the main course is the star of the show – jerk chicken and sweet potato curry with rice and peas. Sadly the jerk chicken recipe, as he confirms on Instagram afterwards, is “still a secret.” 

Elf Kid, the grime artist from Lewisham who rose up with fellow The Square members Novelist and Deejillz, used ASOS’s helping hand to realise his dream of bringing the genre to Africa. Ahead of an intimate but brilliantly frenetic performance at a central London hotel basement, he showcases a specially commissioned music video titled “Reload That”, shot in Ethiopia where he also managed to squeeze in a studio session with some local musicians. Mixing traditional sounds with modern beats, and showcasing how kinetic and beautiful it can be to meld different cultures, it’s the perfect end to a brilliant trio of events made possible by ASOS.

ASOS Supports Talent is a global initiative from online fashion destination ASOS, providing up-and-coming creative talent with funding, mentoring and support to realise personal passion projects. Find out more here.