Ashnikko, review: sweaty fans, and sexual provocation

·3 min read
Ashnikko Kentish Town Forum Miley Cyrus - C Brandon/Redferns
Ashnikko Kentish Town Forum Miley Cyrus - C Brandon/Redferns

“On the count of three I want you to scream – rip out of your body,” a fired-up Ashnikko dared the crowd at the second of two sold-out O2 Forum shows. Heads were thrust back, mouths were opened and spit was clearly visible against the stage lighting. It felt as if the Government’s announcement that masks will be mandatory in venues from next week only intensified people’s desire to dance and sing freely. US rapper/singer Ashnikko was happy to play party host.

It’s understandable why so many phones were held aloft to record lengthy segments of the pop agitator’s set. For much of the Gen Z crowd, it was the first time they’d been able to see the 25-year-old perform songs from her debut mixtape Demidevil, which was released in January following Covid delays. Demidevil tracks, including the male gaze-flipping Daisy – the music video of which has amassed 111 million views and counting – and sexually promiscuous anthem Slumber Party, were clearly a thrill for fans spitting every rhyme back.

The soloist has much to celebrate. Ashnikko has 8.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify alone off the back of a handful of EPs, singles and a mixtape. The London-based, North Carolina native has fans in Canadian alt pop artist Grimes and American pop provocateur Miley Cyrus (who covered her 2019 single STUPID on TikTok and helped boost the viral smash’s reach).

Making feminism fun: Ashnikko - Chiaki Nozu/WireImage
Making feminism fun: Ashnikko - Chiaki Nozu/WireImage

Ashnikko’s music, which welds together rap, pop, punk and emo, promotes feminism and sexual freedom with fun and explicit imagery to boot.

On stage, Ashnikko (real name Ashton Nicole Casey) introduced one such song by telling the crowd: “I’ve got big titties and I’m still not asking for it.” Invitation, a song from her 2018 EP Unlikeable, saw her gyrate atop an imagined partner, showing that she can be as expressive as she wants, and wear what she wants, without anyone thinking it’s “an invitation” to have her body. Sweaty fans barked the lines back, jumping to the song’s ginormous blasts of bass and synths.

Early set highlight STUPID had the sub-bass cranked to deafening levels as Ashnikko rapped: “Stupid boy think that I need him.” Even if you didn’t know the lyrics, in which she details keeping a lecherous male at bay (“big wood, cut him off, cedar”), you’d be enlightened by her impeccable miming alone. She physicalises her stories just as much as she raps and sings them with breathless panache, tracing out innuendos with her hands.

The relentless pace of it all, turbo-charged further by Drunk with My Friends and Little Boy, risked wearing the energy thin too soon. So it was a welcome relief to mellow things out for Good While it Lasted and Panic Attacks in Paradise. The acoustic-driven latter ballad is one of only a few on which Ashnikko doesn’t rap. It allowed for her powerful, raw vocals to take centre-stage.

Knowing that fans were clearly there to let loose, however, Ashnikko rounded out the set with a ferocious performance of Manners. Frantic strobe effect lighting replaced the show’s trippy GFX backdrops of toadstools to inspire a rave.

At the encore, the post-hardcore rock leanings of recent single Maggots and her most moreish track to date, the trap-influenced Daisy, saw Ashnikko kick the air and declare her love for her adopted hometown. “F*** yeah, that was beautiful. London, I love you so much," she yelled. And London loved her right back.