Watching his latest clip Safe to Say, you’d recognise that Aitch likes living large. But lockdown has been a different ball game, dominated by video games and live streams. One he loves, the other not so much.
“It’s crazy to be fair, it is mad. I suppose it’s something you get used to, innit, but when you think about it, it is mad.”
When I asked Manchester MC Aitch – real name Harrison Armstrong – if the ability to hit a button and suddenly be on a hundred thousand screens ever blew his mind, his response showed that he hasn’t become totally wrapped up in the high life. Since locking down he’s been off the big stage and onto the digital stage, performing the odd live streamed gig for fans and, would you believe it, streaming FIFA.
Months ago, when the pandemic was at its worst in the UK, Aitch hopped on a charity live stream, playing a couple rounds of FIFA with Michael Dapaah aka Big Shaq and Manchester FC player Jesse Lingard. Over a couple of hours they raised over £12,000 for the NHS, and over 150,000 people tuned in.
“I played… ok. I could’ve played well better, I’m actually quite disappointed with my performance. However, we raised quite a lot of money for people so that’s all that matters, innit?”
For Aitch, like many Mancunians, FIFA was “a big game” and a critical part of his upbringing. In a soccer obsessed city it’s a ticket inside the big stadiums, a chance to feel like the players adorning billboards and magazine covers wherever you look. As soon as he started rapping, he knew a bucket list moment would be making it onto one of the franchise’s soundtracks.
“You know what? I’ve always wanted that, to be fair. I was always quite upset the past couple of years when my songs never made it to FIFA, but it has this year, so fair enough. Yeah man, I’m excited.”
FIFA 2021 players now get to listen to Aitch’s tunes MICE and Pop Boy featuring Stormzy while they’re browsing menus and kicking virtual goals, and Harrison is “gassed”.
“A lot of FIFA soundtracks, especially back then – you only knew about them songs through FIFA, know what I’m saying? Yeah man, it’s weird. It’s nostalgic in some sort of way, FIFA songs remind me of a certain time of my life, I remember just being in school and just… drinking certain drinks and whatnot.”
“I know it’s weird, but that’s what it reminds me of.”
Aitch isn’t the only celebrity who’s turned to live streaming in 2020 as a way to keep up the connection with his fans. And despite his claim that “from a fan point of view, I don’t think I could sit and watch Aitch for an hour”, he’s been one of the many artists reaching gargantuan audiences during the pandemic.
Despite the relative success, he’s feeling the sting from cancelled and rescheduled tours. After the gaming throwdown our chat turned to the viability of live streamed shows beyond COVID-19, and Aitch was remarkably transparent about his feelings for this new type of concert.
“I suppose streaming ideas originally came about because of lockdown, but I feel like the fans want to see you live and in the flesh more than through the camera.”
Now that the dust has settled and we’re past an online gig happening literally every day, their viability is being properly examined. Yes, they’re a nice way to connect with fans you couldn’t normally reach, but as Aitch puts it, “if I can get to the place, I’m gonna go there instead of trying to satisfy the fans by doing a live stream, you know what I’m saying?”
“It’s good to do them live ones, it’s good to stay active, but you know, the one thing better than filming it is going to a place and performing it. I reckon I’m going to try to stick to that method.”
“I don’t really know, to be honest! Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think people are too interested in the live stream thing.”
Looking back on his year, Aitch has been amongst the music world’s most productive during the pandemic. Live streams and fundraisers aside, he’s clocked close to 50 million Youtube views from a string of music videos leading into his Polaris EP, which he dropped with little warning to massive acclaim.
“It’s good. I’m happy with Polaris, there was no promotion behind it, we just dropped it, it was good man, it’s done what it needed to do”, he shared. “Obviously I’m sad I can’t perform it, but I will be able to eventually I’m sure.”
Aside from the odd PlayStation session when he’s after “time for yourself, a little space”, it’s clear that Aitch is one of the hardest working, most talented MCs in the game right now. FIFA soundtrack, check. Next stop? We can’t wait to find out.
Polaris is out now via NQ Records / Caroline Australia. Stream or purchase your copy here.