Loose Lips

A journey through London's thriving Out Of Body Pop scene; Joviale, Nilüfer Yanya, Westerman & more

Event Review

A journey through London's thriving Out Of Body Pop scene; Joviale, Nilüfer Yanya, Westerman & more

This is Will's eighth post-lockdown gig review, as always he did not receive payment or press tickets for this, just went as a punter and felt like there was a story there. You can read his other ones here

Yep, this is one gig review, but it covers five different gigs. Why, I hear you ask? My answer is that I am properly burnt out guys, my day job has been full on in 2022, reaching a fever pitch this last week with me making a bunch of little mistakes and getting stressed out in a big way, reaching out to a therapist and referencing said therapist in an apology note written to my coworkers. But Will, why are you reviewing five gigs at once if you’re burnt out??

WELL my dear reader, I have been privileged to watch the development of a wonderful, interconnected musical scene these past few months, a scene which perfectly maps onto the ‘out of body pop’ genre name that I came up with back in 2016 to describe my radio show. I didn’t plan out this program of gig attendance, I’m just lucky that my closest friend and my partner are both into a lot of the same music as me, and over the last few months we have noticed crossovers, faces appearing in the crowd and then onstage, and the wonderful thing is that all of these gigs have been brilliant in their own way. But before we get to that, what is out of body pop? (skip the next paragraph if you’ve heard me yack on about this before)            

Archetypal out of body pop artists that inspired me back in 2016 include Frank Ocean, FKA Twigs, Thundercat, solo artists who make accessible but experimental music, using a wide variety of resources to make something that sounds very particular to them, to this one person/artist, music that transports you into their head. Pop music is about walking into a room and seeing someone beautiful, it’s about driving down the highway crying thinking about your ex, universal emotions painted in the primary colours of music. Out of body pop is about moments when life is a little less easy to process, moments of simultaneous pleasure and pain, feeling both vulnerable but privileged and alive, odd moments of clarity staring out the bus window. It often feels like it couldn’t have existed in the past, because the sounds it uses and the stories that it tells are crisp and fresh, it doesn’t sound like a recording of a performance in a studio, it sounds like the inside of someone’s head. I used to call it ‘Transcendental Pop’, because it reminded me of transcendental phenomenology; the study of stepping back and analysing human experiences – or ‘phenomena’ – in isolation. You try to make sense of this experience without referencing what we know about the outer world, looking down on it from above.

So yeah here we are, I hope you enjoy this gig extravaganza, here is a spotify playlist with all of the streamable tracks mentioned plus a few out of body pop classics, I've also linked each of the artist's bandcamp pages in their reviews (except for one who doesn't have one), do support the cause / the future of good music, thank you.

Exceptional out of body pop gig number ONE: Damsel Elysium presents ‘Tales of the earth’ @ Doña Bar, 17/02, the gig that tapped into ancient humanity

Right so this one is the most tenuous inclusion, Damsel Elysium’s set up involved no synthesisers or conspicuous laptops, the main instruments on show were a double bass, a violin and a trumpet, plus some spoken word. But I’m letting it in on a technicality, because it didn’t sound like music from the ‘past’, as in the past that we know and recognise, it sounded like something from the depths of history, a time when humans saw the world in a totally different way, a time before metaphors and similes when language was more basic, but the lack of abstraction allowed us to feel our relationship to the world with greater clarity.

I bought a handmade program on the night, whose story opens with the line "On this earth, the sun is always setting. Leaving burnt hues in the air and silhouetted figures. The moon appears only in the sea, the face of a maiden crying tears of joy." It seems that Damsel Elysium hasn’t released any of the music from the show (or anything officially on streaming services), and it feels a bit naughty to describe its plot as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who goes to see it, and for the love of god, do go and see it if you can, it’s amazing. 

What I will say was that the showmanship, the… what’s a nonbinary term for showmanship, the... stagecraft, the atmosphere, the vibes, they were immaculate. Other than a delicious Mezcal cocktail I was totally sober and yet I really felt elevated, like that whole shpiel about original perception from the previous paragraph isn’t just me being pretentious, they did amazing things on that stage. And you know what, since Damsel Elysium hasn’t released anything on bandcamp and this was their first EVER live show, I’m fine with being pretty abstract in my descriptions here. It was an amazing gig, keep an eye out for them, click here for a suitably mysterious video that I filmed whilst sat cross-legged at the front.

Side-note, I had a fucking hilarious experience writing this piece, because I was listening to the haunting, otherworldly soundscapes on Damsel Elysium’s soundcloud, I was sat outside in the twilight and felt in touch with the world, and then the strings gently rolled out of earshot like a receding tide, and a rousing guitar slid in to replace them, followed by a hearty voice, saying ‘if you’re not feeling a hundred percent, we’ve got the food you need to sort you out. Deliveroo, bring it!’ Perfect.

Exceptional out of body pop gig number TWO: Nilüfer Yanya @ Electric Brixton, 17/03/22, the gig that was a massive moment for the scene and was also very sad

Nilüfer Yanya is to UK out of body pop what Phoebe Bridgers is to US nu-folk, a breakout star who started releasing fully-formed emo-bangers pretty early on in her career, drawing comparisons to various indie rock stars of the past and releasing serious conceptual albums to critical acclaim. I saw her after the release of her debut album, supported by Westerman, it was fucking amazing, I wrote a review of it that solidified my memories of the gig, particularly the way that each act was introduced to me, Westerman with a haunting acapella, and Nilüfer Yanya with an anthemic, cathartic rendition of 'In Your Head', a tune that addresses paranoia like an old, inescapable friend.

In the time since then she has released another pair of massive emo anthems that summed up lockdown better than anything else I’ve heard (‘Same Damn Luck’ was my second most listened-to track of 2021, Crash followed close behind), and a second album that addresses emotions in a much more fractured way, doubling down on the feelings of tiredness that crept into previous vocals. It was a complex gig for me as I was feeling particularly burnt out this day, and the performance really tied into that, renditions of older songs felt slower and more painful, less like catharsis and more like real, sober therapy. ‘Same Damn Luck’ was a particularly interesting example of this, the chorus of the original version contrasts Yanya’s destitute voice with this huge guitar riff, as if she is sat on the floor and the guitar is glowing above her in the clouds like Mufasa’s ghost. When performed live, this guitar was replaced by a restrained, delicate performance from saxophonist, co-writer and producer Jazzi Bobbi, who manages to make her sax sound just as sad as Yanya’s voice. (Side-note; one critic called Jazzi Bobbi a ‘jazz trumpet’ player, lol) 

I attended the gig with my mother, who was into post-punk and Joy Division back when it was still a fresh sound, and unsurprisingly she loved it, Yanya is a totally commanding performer and her music delves into darkness with unflinching sophistication. Go check out Yanya if you haven’t already, she’s amazing. It’s also worth mentioning the support act Léa Sen, a really interesting artist who recently became known to the world through a star turn on the highlight Joy Orbison’s new album ‘better’. That track was her first time visiting another producer’s studio, she’s used to doing things alone, and during her one-woman set you could see the process of had working her sound out, she performed a track that she had just written and programmed whilst on this tour, with a drum machine beat skittering away under her laid back, tripped out guitar lines. In the time since she has released an astonishing single named ‘I Feel Like I’m Blue’, really simple in some ways but super distinct, there are a lot of songs about having the blues out there but this one manages to stand apart, again go check it out and watch this space.

Exceptional out of body pop gig number THREE: Westerman @ EartH Theatre, 31/03, the softly euphoric gig

Shortly after I went to see Nilüfer Yanya I fiiiinally got covid, my first time! The covid itself wasn’t bad, I was staying at my girlfriend’s place so I didn’t get the pure isolation experience, but ten days of semi-isolation was enough to get the emotional wheels turning, of course it was during this time that I committed to get therapy, having somehow thought up until then that it was sensible to delay getting it until I’m less busy, typical male amirite ladies.

Anyway, I finally tested negative the day of the Westerman gig, phewwww! I had missed Koffee during my lockdown, which was super annoying as she’s the best, but I knew that I would be reeeeeally annoyed if I missed Westerman. Aside from his music being a really particular slamdunk for my emotional needs (think ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’-era Coldplay if the band took a break from touring and enrolled at Goldsmiths university), this gig was enormously exciting for me because of the venue, a gorgeous 1930s cinema with the seats removed, it’s like a little art deco in-doors amphitheatre, simultaneously epic and intimate, tbh I wish that all of these gigs happened there.

The gig was supposed to happen two years ago, with Westerman - who is a singular man, not a band - gathering a bunch of the artists involved in making his debut album on stage, flanked by reeds. One of the most central of these musicians was Joviale, which was cute because my buddy who came with me, he hadn't listened to Westerman before, but was/is a massive Joviale fan. It’s also fun to mention that we struck up a lovely conversation with a woman sat infront of us, who revealed herself to be an American dream-pop singer named Honeycraft (like witchcraft but with honey), check out 'Outsider' by her it’s super fun. And no, dream-pop is not the same as out of body pop, dream pop is a guitar-focussed sound popularised in the late 80s/early 90s by bands like the Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star. It’s definitely an influence on out of body pop, with Westerman sounding particularly dreamy and misty-eyed, but out of body pop artists also draw influence from R’n’B, Jazz, Dance music, and - in the case of Westerman, whose album is produced by Bullion - electronica.

Anyway, if the Damsel Elysium gig felt like the rituals of some arcane 8th century illuminati, Westerman’s show felt like a group of 28th century farmers sitting in the moonlight, looking up at the stars and imbuing their poetry with celestial matter, using a special binding technique only accessible to people whose ancestors have been totally vegan for at least 10 generations. A lot of Westerman songs have these odd moments or periods of uncertainty and awkwardness, as if something has become twisted and knotted in the heart of the music, before something clicks, and a warm tide of chords wash through the space, as the lyrics become focussed and clear. Beautiful to experience live, particularly at the last song ‘Confirmation’, when the audience stood up and sang along in church-like tones to this wonderful song about struggling to find faith (and, maybe, accepting that this state of uncertainty is here to stay). Grab the album and whack it on next time you see a sunset.

Exceptional out of body pop gig number FOUR: Lyle & Don Sinini @ the Ivy House, 12/05, the gig with pre-apocalyptic hymns and cheeky grooves

Lyle and Don Sinini are a really cool pair of artists. They originally paired up after realising that they had a lot of stuff in common as people, both living in South London and were also making a similar kind of music, music that I’m going to lazily describe as Kelela/Nightslugs-esque, the Nightslugs sound is so hard to pin down, mixing US Vogue-Rap beats with big 1980s pop synths. I’ve probably missed the mark here (what can I say, I didn’t study at Goldsmiths), but yeah, check out their collabs 'Dance Wid Me', 'Tell Me I’m Crazy' and 'Concorde', they’re sick, this music is massive in my life, the kind of stuff that raised my standards for music and made me want to focus on the music of my own generation. I was super excited to catch them at the Ivy House, a Peckham pub that hosts awesome live-band karaoke nights, with a proper stage setup in the back, lovely venue.

Lyle opened the show with a set of songs that sounded nothing like anything I’ve heard from him before, exploring a totally different area of his voice. The gig description made no reference to Lyle’s own music, stating only that he is ‘The Grandson of India's most prolific Elvis impersonator’, and I liked that, these new tracks felt kind of Elvis had been transplanted in 2022, and was looking around him trying to make sense of these strange, slightly demonic times that we live in. My friend commented that 'the enchanting, soulful wisdom of his vocals and lyrics were simultaneously strangely nostalgic and individualistic/novel.’ Really excited to hear how this stuff comes out, the fun thing about these kinds of artists is that the live show is one very distinct part of their experience, they take production values so seriously that the released versions of tracks often feel both heightened and grounded, alien and human.

Don Sinini closed the show with a set of ‘neo-dancehall’ bangers, singing live over the CDJs and generally being an absolute charmer. A lot of Don Sinini’s music is about playfully fronting, putting a cheeky South London twist on the classic Rap tales of haters and girls; when performing the outro of beachside jam Lotus, he announced "Peter Andre lyrics!", before briefly performing the chorus of ‘Mysterious Girl’. But there are also tunes where he flips it, like the crystalline ‘Drullish’ that he performed towards the end of the show, which focusses on unnamed masses who "wan’ get a toke G, I suppose they love slowly" before moving onto an unnamed woman who "really console me, way more than my homies". I love this stuff, it reminds me of Murkage Dave, a DJ-turned-singer whose music exposes the emotional lives of party guys, there are so many interesting tales to be told in the lives of 21st century performers. Again, watch this space!

Exceptional out of body pop gig number FIVE: Joviale @ Venue MOT, 19/05, the gig that deserved to be recorded and released as a live album

So here we are, the final gig, 2,488 words and counting! I saw this gig on the Thursday, and it’s Sunday now, I've cycled down to Shoreditch to grab a pair of big juicy subs from Dom’s Subs (top tip), wolfed one of them down, cleaned all the mess off my hands and got my laptop out. 

I had realised that this review needed to be written whilst watching Joviale perform, this gig was really just exceptional, a proper celebration of human musicianship and future-facing experimentation, one that made me feel desperate for more people hear this music. The show involved a set of musicians standing in a circle, facing inwards, taking Joviale’s music and having a lot of fun with it. There were parts of the set that felt very playful and very serious, with different musicians playing contrasting roles, pushing and kneading the vibe up and up and up into the stratosphere, psychedelic and soulful and futuristic, a lot of awesome stuff packed into one cohesive sound, I imagine that this is how it felt to watch the John Coltrane trio play live. My brain is starting to break down at this point but I want to get this review finished, the show was great, ok! Here are some comments from my friend, the aforementioned Joviale superfan (all tracks mentioned are on bandcamp / streaming services)

‘It started with ‘Blow!’, that was like a dubbed, reggae, slowed down version, sick, so good, I was like wow… ‘Zerocool’ was amazing, it was quite similar to the original but it’s such an emotional track, hearing it live felt better… ‘Glass Peach’ is my favourite track, the live version had this scratchy metallic drumbeat throughout that you might hear in that IDM duo that Sophie was always talking about, Autechre… ‘UW4GM’, that’s their new single, that sounded really good, similar to the recording, really beaut… And then they finished with ‘Dreamboat’, that’s like their hit I guess, you remember everyone cheering when it started, sick track.’

There we have it! The review is over, bed time now. Night night, love you all.