Tag Archives: 2014

La Roux

O2 Academy, Oxford
15th November 2014

Around the time the seminal 2009 BBC documentary Synth Britannia was first shown, OMD’s Andy McCluskey memorably spat, “People ask why I don’t like La Roux and I say it just sounds like a woman warbling, badly, over an old Depeche Mode record.” And lo, in the early 80s synth revival in the late 2000s, as someone who profoundly reveres Depeche Mode, I was predisposed to think La Roux was a bit, well, naff. Chiptune might be more widespread now thanks to the popularity of videogame soundtracks and retrogaming, but to me then, La Roux’s first, eponymous, album was derivative, too trebley, too plinky – and Elly Jackson’s falsetto was just gimmicky.

Five years later, having shed her bandmate Ben Langmaid half way (though he has co written a lot – the best – of the second album, Trouble in Paradise), Elly is in Oxford with a full band. This band give a new depth and emotional dimension to the old stuff – especially in the wonderful harpischordy chord progressions of Tigerlily; I’m Not Your Toy becomes less music-box and more cry-for-help.

The 80s vibe is still evident (Silent Partner would have fitted snugly into the Flashdance soundtrack), and the new stuff is infused (spiritually if not visually) with a more relaxed, Miami Vice-era, seedy – though observant (Sexotheque), not decadent – sensibility. There’s less falsetto; less putting on a persona.

To me it’s clear that Elly’s more content with this Roxy Music-esque fuller sound; it feels like she’s discovered that a SID chip might not be the most satisfactory way to express herself. To borrow and clumsily twist a line from Colourless Colour, 2009 La Roux was like a new build with eighties décor: in vogue but transient. Now she’s more comfortable as a suburban semi with Chic retro influences; less divisive, more content – less distinctive, but ultimately triumphant.


From Nightshift, December 2014


O2 Academy 2, Oxford
28th March 2014

The catalyst for the emotional connection between artist and audience takes many forms. Jillian Banks connects with her music by making her listeners feel unsettled, rendering them uncomfortable, then intrigued – and ultimately hooked.

Tonight she opens with “Before I Ever Met You”, in which her slightly untuned voice drifts over a menacing, Massive Attack-y crunchy trip-hop backing, with cymbals creating dissonance. In “This Is What It Feels Like”, her double-tracked octave vocals take a vacant nasal tone and quiver melismatically over a creaking bass and deep orchestral stabs, which, combined with the back lighting on stage and her aloof demeanour, give an air of spookiness.

She does get more chatty, revealing the dark place and insecurities behind the writing of “Goddess” – a somewhat confrontational plea via the medium of low-rumbling r’n’b for every woman to feel like the goddess they are, she says – and how most of her songs start with just voice and keyboard. A stripped down version of “Warm Water” proves that the darkness is nuanced in her voice, tunes and form as much as in the lyrics and arrangements. In the late-night slinky ballad “Bedroom Wall”, a collaboration with Oxford’s own TEED, delicately emotional and repetitive vocals make desperation and isolation palpable.

The thirteen song set includes two covers. She was so nervous when she played her first festival that she played covers backstage to relax her – and “it felt like butter”, so she replays Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody” tonight. Her first time ever touring was in support of The Weeknd, whose sparse and discordant “What You Need” suits and concludes the night’s mood perfectly.

In terms of lugubrious synthy r’n’b, The XX and London Grammar might have got there before and Lorde might have broken through earlier, but Banks is more sinister than all three; if you’ll let her, she’ll get under your skin ­– and stay there.


From Nightshift, May 2014

Katy B

O2 Academy, Oxford
27th March 2014

Not much is accidental about Katy B’s success, but everything about her demeanour suggests she still struggles to believe it and has no intention of taking anything for granted. The Brit School and Goldsmiths pop music graduate, whose association with London community radio station Rinse FM and its head – her producer and co-manager Geeneus – will no doubt always place her at the “cooler” end of the pop naffness scale, is quick to mention, with genuine gratitude, that tonight’s venue was the location of her first headline gig. Even a collaboration with Guy Chambers – resulting in the exquisite “5am” (her second song tonight – no faffing around here) and “Crying With No Reason”, her performance of which is nuanced and captivating – has slotted in perfectly next to the Route 94 and M.J. Cole productions on her second album, “Little Red”.

The new album’s lyrical matter is naturally more mature and reflective than that of debut album “On a Mission”, but the earlier party-going stuff (such as “Katy On A Mission” and “Lights On”) is musically as self-assured as the later heartbreak stuff. She should be far bigger than, say, Emeli Sandé by now; “Still” would be a far bigger hit for Emeli had she got her mitts on it first, though credit to Katy for not wearing the public out through Emeli-esque ubiquity.

The beauty of Katy’s music is the way that her seemingly delicate, soulful and r’n’b-flavoured voice floats dynamically and majestically over all sorts of dubstep-, grime- and house-rooted arrangements, moulding an electronic dance sound that feels well-established yet is unique to her. Even when it gets a bit grandiose – as in the Kanye-like “All My Lovin'” – you can forgive her.

Tonight Katy B proves proper pop stars needn’t be distant, mystical creatures; sometimes someone you genuinely suspect you could be friends with makes the most effective music.


From Nightshift, May 2014


La Roux – O2 Academy, Oxford – 15th November 2014

Tiger Mendoza and David Griffiths – Along Dangerous Roads EP – November 2014

Amy Simpson – Fairy Tales, Stories & Myths EP – July 2014

Banks – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 28th March 2014

Katy B – O2 Academy, Oxford – 27th March 2014

Foxes – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 28th February 2014


O2 Academy 2, Oxford
28th February 2014

Foxes has spent quite a while getting to a place that feels as if it doesn’t exactly fit her. This very week “Let Go For Tonight” has given Louisa Rose Allen her first solo top ten single, two years after her first release; she’s spent the intervening time floating around the blogosphere, warbling with – among others – Fall Out Boy and collaborators du jour Disclosure, winning a Best Dance Recording Grammy with Zedd for the soaring “Clarity”, explaining her fashion style on Vevo and presumably being groomed to within an inch of her life by Sony.

Tonight the Southampton chanteuse pirouettes around with neither nerves nor arrogance; the rumbling drums and piano of her two musicians remind me of Bastille, and for all I know they might actually be in Bastille, for all that band’s radio-friendly pleasant-indie-by-numbers sterility.

Her better-known songs are the anthemic exhilaration of “Let Go For Tonight” and the advertiser’s dream, “Youth”, but it’s her less showy ones – the isn’t-the-world-a-difficult-place-to-believe-in-yourself winsome electro-pop of stuff like “Beauty Queen” and “Holding Onto Heaven” – that seem to reveal the truer, more contemplative her. Her forthcoming album’s title track, “Glorious”, is, she explains, about not giving up and believing there’s beauty in the world; it could be banal, but she’s not pretending it’s deeper than it is.

The Swaythling songstress is Cath Kidston to Katy Perry’s Topshop, and her “people” need to be unashamed about it. The marketing image gives her a Charli XCX or Sky Ferreira vibe, but it’s stripped her of Marina-style quirk; even if this is the way she’s naturally musically developing, the whole currently somewhat mismatched package feels commercial for commercial’s sake, a last-ditch attempt to thrust a talent into a bloated market. It’s what it’s taken to get her to a wider audience but also might be what leaves her stranded.


From Nightshift, April 2014