Earlwolf @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney (6/6/2013)

Three years after they arrived on the scene, Odd Future have doubled down on their highlights but they’ve also built on their worst impulses. ADAM LEWIS tries to reconcile his thoughts on the group at another “controversial” show in Sydney.

Tyler the Creator is a natural marketer. He hardly lets it show, and it’s often avoided in their rap-goes-punk narrative of the LA skaters who rose to the top, but Tyler knows how to orchestrate chaos both on and off-stage. How else do you explain a tour that once again had him dominating social media with adoration and outrage for the week of his Sydney show with Odd Future cohort Earl Sweatshirt, under the name Earlwolf?

Let’s get one thing straight – there’s a wealth of reasons to love an Earlwolf show. Three years of touring has turned Tyler into a powerhouse live rapper, dominating the stage and holding together a full performance while maintaining the paradoxical menacing/goofy personality that endeared him to fans in the first place. That balance is surely helped by Odd Future members Taco Bennett, Jasper Dolphin and his co-headliner Earl Sweatshirt, the youngest member of the group who until recently held an unlikely mystique with fans, having been shipped off to boarding school after early releases, only to re-emerge to an audience of millions. Here for the first time, Earl’s youth and comparable lack of experience make him a great foil for Tyler, whose touring schedule has seen his natural talents evolve into a fearsome stage presence.

“One of rap’s most exciting movements or hateful mongers of misogyny?”

That combination of ability, anticipation and ferocity is a potent one, and mixing it with a crowd that are not just receptive but ecstatic makes for an electric show. Perhaps ironically for a group with such internet-driven origins, Tyler and Earl’s material works best on stage, and they pulled out a generous range of material from throughout their solo records, all the way back to the early Odd Future releases. It was a constant spectacle from the balcony, as the sold out crowd heaved, swirled and shouted along to every rap, hook and misanthropic refrain. Tyler and Earl were clearly delighted, and the energy thrown back and forth between them and their audience was formidable.

But just as they’ve doubled down on their highlights, they’ve also built on their worst impulses. Despite hard-fought comment wars and ham-fisted opinion pieces trying desperately to reconcile the group’s galling use of misogyny and homophobia (believe me, we all want it to be reconcilable), it remains a hugely problematic part of their act, one that refuses to fade away as the group seep deeper and deeper into the mainstream consciousness.

In Sydney, Tyler pushed further down that path, calling out a local feminist activist throughout the show in a recurring series of ugly tirades. That it galvanized his young, male audience and heightened the anti-authoritarian charge throughout the room was particularly uncomfortable. It was an unfortunate, distasteful crutch, one delivered cartoonishly in defiance of the mainstream’s more civilized expectations. In this sense, perhaps he’s working along the same lineage as the once-shocking Marilyn Manson. But unlike Manson’s assault on religion, Tyler’s flippant disdain for women and the LGBT community targets those who already experience inequality, making it a particularly crass brand of outrage opportunism.

So three years later, we still find ourselves exactly where we were when Odd Future first broke out of LA skateparks and into party playlists and blog thinkpieces around the world. Whether you consider them one of rap’s most exciting movements or hateful mongers of misogyny, Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt are more than capable of proving you right.