When I arrive at 7 for doors, eager not to miss out on what is doubtless a heavily over-subscribed free entry show, the queue outside Oxford Street’s historic 100 Club already stretches around the block. Tonight’s gig is part of Converse Rubber Tracks London, a series of events happening over the weekend. The venue has only just recovered from being razed to the ground by Run The Jewels the previous evening. Kelela brings the heat to a fierce simmer.
The first act I catch is London singer and multi-instrumentalist Georgia. Having come up playing drums for Kate Tempest and Micachu, her self-titled debut album is now cropping up in a bunch of year end lists. Backed by her band, Georgia mixes big Electro Pop hooks with Hip-Hop inflections and a decidedly Punk attitude. She’s a natural performer, using the full width of the stage and easily getting the crowd on side. I’m a convert.
After Moxie’s excellent crowd-pleasing DJ set, Kelela takes to the stage, wearing an incredibly cool black plastic tracksuit. The Warp/Fade To Mind artist is riding high after the long-awaited release of her ‘Hallucinogen’ EP, which we hear four songs from tonight. The anticipation in the crowd is immense, especially as most attendees will only have found out they’d won a ticket earlier this afternoon.
The NGUZUNGUZU-produced ‘Enemy’ is an early highlight, one of her most combative and club-ready tracks. ‘A Message’ is Kelela at her slow burn best, while the warmly received ‘All The Way Down’ surely deserves to get a big push from Warp in the coming months.
The DJ is great, subtly working tracks into one another and allowing Kelela to improvise during the transitions. These moments of unrehearsed spontaneity, riffing on familiar melody lines, help to further separate the live experience from just hearing the records out in a club.
It also reminds me of just how good a singer Kelela is. Honestly, if I didn’t know any better, I could have sworn she was lip syncing at points. The way her voice twists around a spiralling chorus of her own recorded backing vocals is truly something to behold. Her stage presence is beguiling, and I’m sure every single person in the room has a moment when they lock eyes and believe that she’s singing to them and them alone.
There’s not a whole lot of movement in the crowd, though certainly not through lack of enjoyment. Maybe a disconnect between intention and expectation? I don’t know how usual this is, not having witnessed one of Kelela’s proper headline shows before, but perhaps there’s still some way to go before a wider audience accepts the melding of R&B with experimental club beats.
Kelela ends the show with an incredible one-two of her finest tracks to date. ‘Bank Head’ seems to be operating on a completely different plane, while ‘Rewind’ brings us back down to earth for one of the most purely fun moments I’ve had at a gig this year. It’s the biggest indication yet that Kelela could be destined for some pretty big stages in the not-too-distant-future, and I’d love to hear her go full on Dance-Pop if it produces results as thrilling as this.
No encore – the venue is far too small for such artifice – as Kelela sweeps through the crowd and into a backroom. It’s a short set, but that’s the furthest thing from my mind walking out into the cold December night. I’ve just been privileged to see one of the most exciting artists around, for free, in an intimate setting. You don’t get much better than that. On the top deck of the 55, ‘Rewind’ continues to play in my head all the way home.
Words: Cosmo Godfree