In a nightmare I am falling from the ceiling into bed beside you….

March 7, 2010 at 6:21 pm (Uncategorized)

One of the problems with creating an album as dense, ethereal and sonically ambitious as The Antler’s ‘Hospice’, is that at some point, if enough people get to hear it in the first place, you will need to replicate its charms in a live environment. Not only this, but as the album is the kind of work that could only ever really become popular through word of mouth (its central concept is the helpless sense of loss engendered by watching someone you love dying of cancer), the band are somewhat limited in terms of the venue size and sound quality they have to work with.

This predicament leads the band to Brighton’s Hanbury Ballroom and a crowd that is a pretty equal mix of hipsters intrigued by the hype, slavishly loyal acolytes ‘Shhhh’-ing in annoyance at those talking at the bar, and the friends/partners they have dragged along with promises of greatness. The band take to the stage with the minimum of fanfare and begin building the tension with heavy tombstone slabs of percussion and feedback drenched guitar enveloped in a shimmering keyboard haze. Wisely sticking to working their way through ‘Hospice’ pretty much from start to finish, the band sound unhurried, almost methodical in their approach, giving every song time and space to unfold and breath through the static, reverential crowd.

As such, the first couple of songs slip by fairly unobtrusively, and it is not until ‘Silvia’ with its soft metallic humming and sudden explosions of wrought emotion that the band really unleash the considerable power of their abilities. Pete Silberman’s voice veers between calm, constrained dignity and an almost terrifyingly raw falsetto and acts as a counterpoint to the relentless cacophony of Michael Lerner’s drums and the range of spectral sounds emanating form Darby Cicci’s keyboard. These elements fuse together to incredible effect on record, and the band push the capabilities of their three instrument set-up in the live setting, placing a huge emphasis on the atmospherics of each track.

‘Two’ is shorn of its delicate acoustic guitar and voice opening in favour of a wall of noise approach that builds to a climax of crashing drums and heady, swirling guitar. Similarly, ‘Bear’, one of the more straightforward and cleanly arranged songs on ‘Hospice’, is slowed down and elongated live as the band look to extract every ounce of emotive tension from its brittle frame, and push it towards an epic climax. After a while however, this extraction begins to feel a little like pulling teeth. The band’s determination to make every song into an overwrought, barrage of noise blankets the delicacy and innovation of the musical arrangements that made ‘Hospice’ so enthralling in the first place.

This continued attempt to turn every one of the album’s tracks into an epic works very well in the context of individual songs (‘Atrophy’ in particular sounds amazing), but over the course of an evening it starts to lose its effect. Indeed, when this is combined with the in-built emotional weight that the songs already contain, it makes for an experience that is often genuinely uncomfortable rather than moving. In fairness this may not be solely the fault of the band, as tonight they are sadly let down by a sound system that occasionally screeches feedback from Silberman’s microphone and generally fails to mix the band’s components into a coherent whole throughout the set.

However, in all it is still a huge pleasure to witness music this good unfold in a live context, and the band’s considerable strengths far outweigh any complaints. Here’s hoping that by the time they return to these shores it is in a venue that is big enough to accommodate their considerable vision.

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January 22, 2010 at 4:11 pm (Uncategorized)

Delphic – Audio, Brighton – 19/01/10

In theory, Delphic should have well and truly missed the boat by now. Having almost made it big as wide screen melodic guitar outfit Snowfight In The City Centre a few years ago, the band have re-grouped and re-invented themselves as a dance-rock hybrid some two years after new rave was foisted onto the world.  In theory, the prospect of yet another act intent on splicing 80’s electronica with 90’s indie is enough to make any jaded music hack want to put their head through the nearest Klaxons picture disc. In theory, no one should care.

It seems a little surprising then, that Delphic should enter 2010 with their star firmly in the ascendancy, yet they seemed to have followed the template for new band stardom down to a tee. Having appeared on consecutive editions of the highly respected Kitsune Maison compilation towards the end of 2009, they made their first appearance on ‘Later…’ in November, were short listed for the BBC’s Sound Of 2010 award a month later, and released their debut, ‘Acolyte’, to glowing reviews from all corners of the music press at the start of the year.

As a result, tonight’s show at Audio is absolutely rammed, with a crowd eager to see the band in a relatively small setting, and curious to discover if the hype is justified. The band take to the stage backed simply but effectively by strips of coloured neon lights, and launch into ‘Doubt’. Jittery drums intersect with cut-up vocal samples beneath a haze of dreamy synth tones and sweet harmonies, and though the band are extremely tight and confident, their sound is hardly groundbreaking. As the track builds, however, and more and more elements are brought to the fore (a bit of ‘Wicked Game’ style guitar here, some weird panning effect between speakers there), the lights start dropping into deeper and more intense flashes of crimson and violet, and the audience gradually find themselves in the presence of something special.

The band showcase a range of dance sub-genres, shifting from Erasure style pop (‘Submission’) to out and out techno assault (‘This Momentary’) without losing their sense of cohesion or resorting to throwing in incongruous elements of electronica for the sake of novelty. Every track seems to have evolved organically, and even songs like ‘Red Lights’, which starts fairly innocuously and threatens to peter out into gentle ambient dance eventually works itself into a proper pulsating frenzy of euphoric trance at its conclusion. The band finish with an epic working of ‘Counterpoint’, which evolves sublimely from a restrained, emotionally tense slice of New Order style pop, to something akin to Orbital’s 90’s live heyday. The crowd are thunderous in their applause, and baying in their cries for more, but the band, consummate professionals already, leave them hungry.

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A Strange Beauty

January 22, 2010 at 3:57 pm (Uncategorized)

Vivian Girls – Freebutt, Brighton –  14/01/10

Vivian Girls arrive in Brighton for the first leg of their UK tour with a fair amount of hype behind them. Their debut album was released to favourable reviews in the Indie music press in 2008, and their live shows, including a set at last year’s Great Escape festival, have helped push them onto many critics ‘Pick Of 2010’ lists. Indeed, the Freebutt is packed to capacity tonight to catch a glimpse of the beguiling Brooklyn three-piece, who arrive on-stage with little fanfare and proceed to casually sound-check their way into their set.

Their style is a seemingly contradictory mix of 60’s style girl-group staccato pop and fuggy 80’s shoegaze, which makes for a fairly disorientating experience. Vocals are rendered insensible by cloying coatings of heady reverb, drums pound ominously throughout, and the two guitarists somehow conspire to create an intense wall of sound that is simultaneously a shimmering haze and an oppressive droning maelstrom. Heads bob along on-stage beneath blonde, red and dark brown fringes in a carefree pastiche of American wholesomeness, but there is an underlying sense of sly deviance that underpins the performance, and it is this combination that makes the band so interesting.

‘Wild Eyes’, for example, marries sweet, yearning vocal harmonies to a discordant, opiated wall of guitar squall, while ‘Can’t Get Over You’ follows a similar formula, sounding akin to a wasted Ronnettes covering Joy Division. Both are over almost before they’ve begun and as such the band are able to rattle through a fair number of tracks in a similar vein, but this does lead to a pretty worrying sense of déjà vu as the night draws on.

The fact that there is relatively little to choose between each song can be fairly helpful, in that if one particular take on lo-fi shoegaze-meets-Spector-in-a-submarine pop doesn’t quite float your boat, there will be a marginally different one to try in less than a minute. However it does quite quickly leave the impression that maybe four or five of their songs could be successfully amalgamated into a brilliant distillation of their art without too much being left over.

Some newer songs do hint at a touch more depth (some of them even break the three minute mark), and they are at their best on the rare moments when they fully let themselves go and start manically ramping up feedback during mid-song instrumental breaks. The live context allows them the freedom to expand and explore some of their songs in a way they have seemed reluctant to do on record thus far. On tonight’s evidence, this would certainly be a step in the right direction and may ensure that Vivian Girls are still making waves on these shores once the hype has abated.

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Futureshock and Awe

January 17, 2010 at 6:06 pm (Gigs, Music) (, , , )

Future Of The Left – The Freebutt, Brighton – 04/12/09

It would appear that the audience for punk, and indeed straight-up rock music as a whole is rapidly diminishing. True, the Freebutt does feel pretty rammed from my vantage point tonight, but on closer inspection this is largely due to the massive supporting column that has been handily plonked right in front of the stage, forcing the crowd into two equally crushed groups. There is still a fair amount of space at the back of the small venue, and with reports that Future Of The Left have been performing to crowds of 50 and 60 on the tour, the signs for the future of balls-to-the-wall rock are worrying.

This is a huge shame, as Future Of The Left seemed to have defied the odds and finally escaped the trappings of being two-thirds of legendary underground band Mclusky, by releasing one of the albums of the year with ‘Travels with Myself and Another’. It was a taut, focused album that perfectly fused lean, hardcore rock with a witty pop sensibility, and the reviews that followed suggested the band, and hardcore rock in general, may have been in line for more mainstream success.

Support act Tubelord manage to weave twitchy guitar lines and intricate drum patterns round some heavy, but fairly standard shouty choruses, and seem to have the whole quiet, quiet, quiet, LOUD! dynamic down to a tee. There is a bit of innovation in the more intricate musical passages, and the band seem very tight and together, but the lack of variety between songs coupled with the nagging feeling that all this had been done to death a good ten years ago didn’t really hep their cause.

Future Of The Left on the other hand, may not be overly original and have about as much subtlety as Katherine Hamnett’s wardrobe, but what they do, they do very well indeed. Opening with the savage ‘Arming Eritrea’, their ferocity is evident from the get-go. Lead singer Andy Falco’s hammering at his guitar, veins popping and eyes bulging as he screams ‘I’m an adult!’ into his mic like a tantrum-ing two year old in Tesco’s.

‘Stand By Your Manatee’, a song which seems chiefly concerned with the shame of eating with plastic cutlery, bounces along with a surprisingly jaunty riff, and maintains much of its harmonising charm in the live setting. Lyrically, it provides a glimpse of the band’s dry humour, which is further evidenced later, as the band relax into some genuinely hilarious back and forth with the eager audience.

Some tracks, notably ‘I Am Civil Service’ and ‘Land Of My Fathers’ are bereft of some of their on-record intricacies in favour of a blanket of screaming aggression which makes them sound a touch samey at points, but for the most part the live transition is near perfect. ‘Chin Music’ and ‘The Hope That House Built’ showcase a perfect mix of violence, wit and pop-savy choruses, before closer ‘Cloak The Dagger’ ends proceedings in an ten-minute orgy of feedback, audience participation, screaming and general mayhem that sends everyone home happy.

First published in XYZ Magazine

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Does It Offend You? Well, Only A Little….

January 17, 2010 at 5:55 pm (Gigs, Music) (, , )

Does It Offend You, Yeah? – Concorde2, Brighton – 19/11/09

The mosh circle, such as it is here, is like some kind of crèche for kids with ADHD. Tiny limbs fly around in joyous abandon even during the two support acts, whose mediocrity is rewarded with a display of exited adoration by those already crushed together at the front, thrilled to be let out on a school night. The over-eager dancing and general sense of being in a school disco is clearly bothering some of the older spectators, but it does make for a great atmosphere, and after all, it’s hardly as if we’ve come to see Sigur Rós.

DIOYY make the kind of music that is pretty much pointless to experience from a distance. There is barely any traditional musicianship to admire, little emotional connection to be made to the band other than a hyper-aggressive sense of anger and for the most part very little to be enjoyed in the way of melody. What they do specialise in, is a sound-clash of old school Prodigy beats, Daft Punk style synth lines and hyped up punk vocals delivered with power, force, and absolutely zero subtlety or originality. It’s a dirty, almost guilty pleasure that serves little purpose other than to soundtrack an evening’s wasted abandon, but on that level it delivers pretty well.

The band begin with a fairly slack version of ‘With A Heavy Heart…’ which doesn’t generate nearly as much heat as it should, although the crowd are up for it immediately, before segueing straight into ‘Weird Science’. This comes over much better, as do the other tracks that make the band sound like tight electro DJs, as they actually end up sounding tighter than the more band-based songs. Immediately proving the point, ‘Being Bad Feels Pretty Good’, drifts by in dull anonymously, while ‘Doomed Now’, with its distorted vocals and emphasis on clashing guitar and synth lines is riotous, with the atmosphere towards the front verging on actual violence.

A couple of new songs are aired with mixed results. One tentatively entitled ‘Techno’ takes the tolerable bits of Kasabian, ramps up the intensity and then drops a massive techno bassline underneath to great effect. ‘Over Your Shoulder’ on the other hand, merely sounds like Kasabian being covered by a bad Bowie impersonator which is every bit as terrible as it sounds. ‘Lets Make Out’ sees the band accompanied by some kids from the crowd, but as none of them seem to know the chorus (which consists of shouting ‘let’s make out’ repeatedly), the whole exercise is rendered pretty pointless.

A mixed bag then, but on form (a frenetic ‘Battle Royale’ and closer ‘We Are Rockstars for example) DIOYY are capable of delivering some truly joyous moments of wasted, violent excess. On this basis, it seems to suit the kids just fine.

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From Here We Go Sublime

January 17, 2010 at 5:43 pm (Gigs, Music) (, , )

The Field – Audio, Brighton – 11/11/09

There is an enticingly strange selection of sounds emanating from Audio’s basement room tonight. An unholy union of trance and techno assaults the senses, played with power and intensity by an odd looking quartet, whose only connection seems to be a telepathic understanding of how each track should evolve.

While The Field started life as one man’s experimental DJ project, the recent release of second album ‘Yesterday And Today’ hinted at an evolution in sound, from bedroom atmospherics towards a more varied musical palette based around live instrumentation. As a result, tonight’s performance is enriched by the heady throb of a live bassist, the cataclysmic drumming of a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to WWE’s The Undertaker, and the fruits of a man sat with a laptop who is either a vital component of the group’s sound, or is simply an accountant sat doing their tax returns.

The Field, scary drummer watches on...

In amidst the chaos, stands Axel Willner, hunched over an array of mixing equipment and looking somewhat like a depressed Nordic fisherman. The Field is very much Willner’s project, and as such, he remains the focal point around which his live cohorts must work. The simplest of basslines weave in and out of the mix, fleetingly pushed to the front, before being swallowed in the melee surrounding them, whilst the tiniest alterations to the drum patterns help slyly subvert the rhythm of each track, in a way that seems almost unintentional. Indeed the focus on repetition within each piece often gives the listener the impression that they have been listening to the exact same song for several minutes, before suddenly realising that its fundamental principles have long since been changed in their entirety.

The overall effect occasionally makes for a rather disconcerting experience. The outward simplicity of each track constantly negated by the scope for alteration that the band finds within them, twisting each phrase into something vibrant and new. Most importantly though, The Field provide uplifting ammunition for those who simply came to dance. While most revellers are left in a trance like state of hypnotic wonder at the whole experience, there are still a fair few flailing limbs about to endorse the pure pleasure derived from the ominous bass rumblings, compressed drums and eerily distorted house vocals of tracks like ‘Over The Ice’. In fact, come the final song of the set, the crowd are practically baying for an encore, which they are given with a joyous rendition of ‘A Paw In My Face’. It leaves an indelible print of happiness and warmth on the beaming faces of the crowd as they are hastily hustled out into the night air. Just as well, it’s freezing outside.

First published in XYZ Magazine

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‘Like Watching The A4 Paper Taking Over The Guillotine’

January 17, 2010 at 5:27 pm (Gigs, Music) (, , , )

Everything Everything – Jam – 03/11/09

It’s nice to be surprised sometimes. Having become fairly well acquainted with Manchester’s Everything Everything through both their performance at this year’s Great Escape festival, and a fairly rigorous addiction to their MySpace page, I was expecting quite a lot from tonight’s performance. What I wasn’t expecting was two support bands providing quite so much in the way of killer pop hooks, brilliant falsetto vocals, laptops on ironing boards and live trumpet sampling. Both Brighton’s Rob The Rich and Scottish electro multi-instrumentalists Findo Gask were superb in their own right, and while space considerations prevents a full discussion of exactly why, my advice would simply be buy some tickets and find out for yourself.

Findo Gask - More To Follow, Hopefully.

By the time Everything Everything have morphed from enthusiastic onlookers into the evening’s main event, there is a palpable sense of anticipation in the air. They open proceedings bravely with the light ambience of ‘Tin’, which features beautiful vocal harmonies over a dreamy Eno-esq electronic soundscape. It’s a low key start, but in the context of the rest of the night’s offerings, gives a breathtaking display of the band’s versatility. Debut single ‘Suffragette Suffragette’ follows soon after, and somehow succeeds in marrying a Battles style drum and keyboard backing to a heavy guitar break reminiscent of Radiohead’s ‘Myxomatosis’ and a perfect pop chorus.

It is this kind of thrilling hybrid of styles that is central to the band’s approach. They wilfully chuck everything they feel like into a musical melting pot, twice, with scant regard for time signatures or the difficulty that HMV’s shop assistants will have in filing their CDs. There are moments tonight when this doesn’t always work. Some of the subtle nuances of tracks like ‘Hiawatha Doomed’ for instance, are somewhat compressed by the Jam’s low ceilings and cramped stage with only a few fragments of melody and some strained vocals surviving.

Overall however, they demonstrate an incredible flair for a huge range of musical styles, often within the same song, with the result that many of their four minute songs sound like absolute epics. ‘NASA Is On Your Side’ for example, starts a bit like a weird of hybrid of Radiohead’s ‘Pyramid Song’ and ‘Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm’ by the Crash Test Dummies, before gradually easing through 80’s balladering and into Sigur Ros territory.

It has the potential to sound like an unbridled mess, yet every song has a definite structure, sometimes only discernable after a few listens, and more often than not reveals an uncanny pop sensibility. The best is saved till last with a double whammy of ‘MY KZ, YR BF’, which features one of the best pop choruses of the year, and ‘Photoshop Handsome’ which perfectly sums up their crazed kitchen-sink alchemy in four minutes of perfect pop, at the end of a near perfect night.

First published in XYZ Magazine

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Miles Ahead

January 17, 2010 at 5:06 pm (Gigs, Music) (, , , )

Dizzee Rascal – Brighton Dome – 27/10/09

Dizzee Rascal as photographed by Rosie Johnson

Dylan Miles has come a long way from the ‘Boy In Da Corner’ of a Bow Street council flat spitting paranoid rage over an unnerving assortment of hacked up digitised weaponry. It only takes a cursory inspection of the assembled masses at the Dome tonight to prove beyond doubt that Dizzee Rascal has truly graduated to bone fide pop star status. Sweaty gelled-up lads rub up against glow-stick wielding ravers, who bounce into indie kids clad in scarves and sunglasses, while a smattering of middle aged mums and dads try in vain to keep an eye on their wildly over-stimulated offspring.

This transformation may be troubling to some purists, and it’s pretty obvious from the get-go that tonight’s show is going to be about as grimy as Kym Woodburn’s kitchen, but it’s hard not to smile at just how far Dizzee’s come with just his natural talent and good natured cheek to guide him.

The queen of grime....

Dizzee arrives, bang on time, to a rapturous ovation and immediately launches straight into a hyper aggressive ‘Bad Behaviour’ from his latest ‘Tongue and Cheek’ LP. It’s a brutal and discordant opener that recalls Public Enemy at their finest, but the host of new tracks that follow, including ‘Road Rage’, ‘Cant Tek No More’ and ‘Money Money’, offer little variation from a deep house and booming drum-loop backing,  and have the effect of blanketing most of Dizzee’s lyrics. Even ‘Flex’, while still deservedly a crowd favourite, is stripped of the horn lines and subtle synth effects that made it sound so innovative on record, and as a result ends up blending into the rest of the set.

One of Dizzee’s biggest achievements has been how he has constantly developed his musical palette to incorporate a huge range of styles, but it seems he has eschewed this variety in his live shows in favour of the more upfront dance beats that have carried his last three singles to no 1. This is perfectly understandable, but hopefully his recent Electric Proms show could give him the inspiration to use a range of styles and even live instrumentation in the future.

It’s a minor gripe however, as the 2nd half of the show, following a quick costume change, is absolutely superb. Dizzee rattles off hit after hit, starting with ‘Jus’ A Rascal’ and ending with a predictably euphoric version of ‘Bonkers’ which sends the crowd into raptures. Tonight Dizzee Rascal not only proved not only that he is now among the major league of UK performers, but also just how naturally it comes to him. If he could just have the courage to let some of his earlier work and album tracks breathe for themselves, he could find himself on the way to the global stardom that he deserves.

First published in XYZ Magazine

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You Say Party, We Say Sigh….

November 20, 2009 at 8:16 pm (Gigs, Music) (, , )

Bloc Party, Brighton Centre, 24/10/09

Things aren’t looking too promising in the Bloc Party camp right now. The London based four piece have already confirmed that this ‘Bloctober’ tour will be their last before a lengthy hiatus, and recent quotes from drummer Matt Tong suggest that he may not be re-joining the band when they return. Tong’s absence would be a massive blow for a band who have faltered somewhat since the release of their excellent debut, ‘Silent Alarm’, four years ago.

Indeed, perhaps the biggest problem with follow up ‘A Weekend In The City’ was just how far Tong’s incendiary skin work had been pushed into the background in favour of Kele Okereke’s vocals. It would be a real shame if they were to break up completely, and possibly an even greater shame if they chose to carry on without one of the key elements that made them so interesting in the first place, as there are moments tonight when they sound like the best band in Britain. Sadly, there are also times when they sound utterly uninspiring and pedestrian, and it remains to be seen which of these elements will ultimately win out.

Clad in a white ‘Waste Man’ t-shirt and peaked cap, Kele bounces onstage to a rapturous reception as the band take their positions for opener ‘Waiting For The 7.18’. It’s a bit of a strange choice to open proceedings, but works about as well as any song about waiting for a bus can expect to, mainly due to the closing refrain of ‘Lets drive to Brighton on the weekend’. It’s followed by ‘Halo’ which ups the energy levels nicely, before the band launch into ‘Positive Tension’, which proves to be distinctly anti-climatic. Much of this is down to the way in which Kele chooses to alter his delivery, deliberately dropping words from the end of lines, and letting others run over into the next. It is a trick he will repeat throughout the night, and only serves to severely disrupt the flow of what should have been a highlight, making it sound rushed and under-performed.

Much derided recent single ‘Mercury’ gets an early airing, and perversely is one of the first songs that really shows what the band can do in a live setting. The rolling dubstep style bass line, distorted brass and skittering drum beats manage to dominate the track and ramp up the tension in a way they never quite manage on record, while Kele’s wild feral yelping works better as an addition to the collage of sound, rather than its centre point.

This issue becomes fairly crucial throughout the show, as tracks like ’The Prayer’, ‘I Still Remember’ and ‘Two More Years’ drift by in a sea of repetitive vocals and tame instrumentation. It is only when Russell Lissack’s searing guitar is allowed a chance to break through that songs like ‘Trojan Horse’ offer up anything of interest, and sadly this happens all too rarely. When they do get it right however, the results are ferociously brilliant, as an incendiary triple whammy of ‘Hunting For Witches’, ‘Song For Clay’ and ‘Banquet’ aptly demonstrates. ‘Hunting For Witches’ in particular marries thunderous drum beats and bass lines with the menace of Lissack’s descending guitar riff and a host of unsettling sound effects.

The band finish strongly with an encore that includes both ‘Flux’ and ‘Helicopter’, which sends everyone home happy.  However, the fact that three albums worth of material has only managed to produce a handful of moments that really excelled in a live environment suggests that the band may have stagnated slightly. Hopefully Bloc Party’s planned hiatus will provided an opportunity for members to recharge their creative batteries and come back stronger with some fresh ideas and finally fulfil their early potential. 

First published in XYZ Magazine

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Speech Therapist

November 20, 2009 at 7:56 pm (Gigs, Music) (, , )

Speech Debelle, Brighton Coalition, 8/10/09

Typical. You finally get signed, get your album released, find yourself nominated for the Mercurys, win the damn thing against all expectations and then have the dubious pleasure of hanging out with Mr Gordon Brown and hearing your music pumped out of branches of Topshop across the country. Your management then sends you off on a mammoth tour of the UK and Europe to capitalise on your newfound fame, and less than two weeks in, your voice goes.

It doesn’t bode especially well for the evening ahead, particularly when Speech Debelle steps onto the Brighton Coalition’s small stage and immediately becomes embroiled in an unintentional slapstick routine involving her mic stand and cable.  She announces her predicament in suitably croaky tones, but assures us that it will give the show ‘character’, before shyly introducing herself, and thanking us for turning up. It’s a slow and somewhat nervy start that sees a few worried looks exchanged between audience members, many of whom are only here off the back of that Mercury win.

Even launching into opener ‘The Key’, things seem a little muted. Without the addition of a horn section, her paired down backing band (one acoustic guitar, one double bass, one small drum kit) are more a subtle accompaniment to Debelle’s wordplay, than a means to drive the songs along. The overall effect isn’t helped by the fact that it is pretty difficult to make out any of the lyrics that Debelle is laying down, particularly as this is her main strength. Almost as one, the crowd lean forward, as if attempting to lip-read some recognisable line, and it is through this close attention to the detail of her songs that the performance, and Debelle’s work as a whole,  starts to make more sense.

Speech Debelle as photographed by Lucie Goodayle

It takes time, but like some of the most rewarding music, Debelle’s quiet, confessional tones start to reveal a delicacy and minimal beauty rarely found in UK hip hop. The likes of ‘Searching’ and ‘Go Then, Bye’ unfurl themselves gently, and as Debelle’s vocals become more confident, they begin to sound clearer, and sit more comfortably in the midst of  the simple guitar and bass lines emanating from the stage behind her. Best of all is an exquisite rendition of ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’, which utilises the instruments onstage superbly, with the throbbing bass suggesting a barely concealed anger beneath the vulnerability of the delicate guitar work.

She finishes with a beautifully intimate ‘Speech Therapy’, bowed bass and swooning backing vocals perfectly framing her delicate voice, and with that she’s gone leaving the crowd hungry for more. It’s a fantastic turnaround, and proves that there is still space for performers who eschew brash showmanship and immediate thrills for a subtler, more human approach. Whether this will work in a larger setting remains to be seen, but on the strength of tonight’s performance Speech Debelle should still be a hot enough prospect come next year’s festivals to find out.

First published in XYZ Magazine

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