August 22, 2012
Sebright Arms, 31-35 Coate Street, London, E2 9AG
It’s sometimes difficult to explain that rock is much more of an attitude than it is a music style… Well, not anymore. All you need to do to understand the definition of ‘rock’ is go and see a young woman named Charli XCX perform, and it should set everything straight!
With a DJ playing Azealia Banks (always a good start for me), and a stage adorned with plastic roses and black plastic fringing, I suspected I was in for a good night! Although, I have to say, the last song in the world I expected her to make her entrance to was ‘Orinoco Flow’ by Enya! But no sooner had that finished, Charli XCX burst onto the stage, all heavy eye make-up and tight clothing, punching the air and kicking her platform shoes around. Bounding her way through the brilliant ‘Feel My Pain’, before launching into the exquisite electro pop of ‘Lock You Up’, Charli had more energy than most performers I have ever seen. I sung along to the stuttering beauty of ‘How Do I’, and the gorgeous ‘Stay Away’, all the while thinking about what a powerhouse of punk-rock her performance was. A one woman mosh pit, whose dark stuttering electro-pop ranges from being tinged with drum and bass to authentic ’80s electronica via dubstep, Charli makes us all her prisoner, and is one of the most commited and astounding pop performers I have ever seen.
The audience, which ranged from the barely legal to the hardened music fan, were sedate for the first few songs – I think possibly until she did something they knew! Charli is certainly eclectic, throwing in an inventive electroclash cover of ‘Killing Moon’ by Echo And The Bunnymen, she not only owns the stage, but she makes it difficult for anyone to occupy it again! After supporting Coldplay and Santigold this Summer, I wonder if either act felt threatened by her charisma and energy. I certainly wouldn’t want to be forced to follow her.
Her material, scattered from the mixtape and the upcoming album, is beautifully written and Charli’s voice alone would make her an artist to watch – but once you throw her impressive stage presence into play as well, you wonder how anyone on the current UK music scene could equal her.
Before her final song, she sung the brilliant ‘Grins’, one of the many songs featured on her free mixtape Heartbreaks And Earthquakes, and it struck me that once again, the audience was just staring. Watching, taking her performance in, with some adoration in their eyes (especially the emo haired boys to my left, clearly just 18, who blushed and looked at their feet when she sang directly to them). But no one at the front seemed to know the song – or any of the songs from the mixtape. Could it be that the youth of today are only interested in singles, things they can buy on iTunes or overplay on their YouTube or Vevo accounts? When she performed the singles, like ‘Nuclear Season’, you could barely hear her over the din of voices, but I seemed to be one of the few who knew the words to the songs she’d made available for free. Maybe that just makes me cheap, who knows.
There’s something really special about watching Charli perform ‘You’re The One’. Despite being the most commercial song on display here, it’s still hard and heavy, and her proclaimation of, “this is my last song,” (to which she naturally received boos), “and I’m gonna dance like I’ve never danced before” wasn’t false, tearing up the stage, throwing devil horns high in the air and covering every bare inch of the floor.
I’ve been lucky enough this year to discover several artists that are the embodiment of music – and Charli XCX is on that list. She headbangs, she pounds every inch of the stage, and she does it all in vintage platform buffalo trainers (from eBay).
Alexis Knox (who is also Charli’s stylist) threw some great tunes into the mix – ending Charli’s set with the amazing ‘I Fink You Freeky’ by Die Antwoord, she continued my high perfectly! I was gutted by the mass exodus from the sweaty basement venue, as it meant her hour long DJ set was cut short, and I didn’t get to sweat out my gig high dancing to her impeccable collection of music. I wish everyone had stayed longer than just the one song and enjoyed her whole set!
This year, more than any other, pop rules. And it’s dark, exciting pop like that of Charli XCX that is leading the way! There are those that say pop can’t be art, and pop can’t be dark – and Charli holds her middle finger high and proves it can.
Come on, Charli – prove the fuckers wrong. I’m right behind you.