First Night: Camille, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

A unique voice which ranges from the feline to the childlike to feline
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The left-field French pop singer Camille first made waves over here in England as a part of Nouvelle Vague, a group that specialised in hip reworkings of New Wave classics - think Dead Kennedys Too Drunk to Fuck and its ilk - in the style of Bossanova.

Last year, she released Le Fil in France, which won her the French equivalent of the Mercury prize, and gained sales of close to half a million. EMI released a UK edition of the album earlier this year, and word of its unique qualities spread. Her appearance on BBC2's Later - scrawling the name of her album in marker pen across her face while she sang - stole the show.

Since then, Camille has been strengthening the Anglo-French musical accord with sporadic sell-out gigs at the Jazz Cafe in Camden, the Scala in King's Cross and now the Shepherd's Bush Empire in west London.

Le Fil [the thread] is sustained throughout by a single musical note - a B, as it happens - and in previous live appearances, that thread has been strung across the front of the stage. Maybe it's one of those catch-all physical metaphors, a piece of musical conceptualism that can mean what you want it to mean.

Over and around that thread she wields her remarkable vocal prowess which encompasses high, pure child-like vocals with a more classic chanson purr, and all manner of tics and yelps, belches, mouth-farts and throat noises. It's a sonic playground out there on Camille's stage, the songs set up like a vocalist's climbing bars. And that thread, the B note, running through it.

On stage, the multi-layering is set off by Camille opening her concert alone and setting off a live loop of abstract vocals before heading into a brief acapella in front of a monochrome backdrop of inky abstract drawings.

This is her biggest British gig so far and a full house applauds and whoops in appreciation. "Clap without shouting,'' she tells the audience and so they do. "Stamp your feet,'' she says and the standing-only stalls duly stamp, creating an instantaneous live mix, over which she hangs on some more clicks and whelps.

She launches into the opening track from the album I Am a Young Girl prefacing some business with a bridal veil. There's that white thread across the stage, of course, like a finishing line, and that same note still hangs in the air.

For much of the set she's accompanied by a bassist-cum-guitarist and piano player, and digital beeps looped from her own voice. It's a visceral experience, a Camille gig. She has the thread, and knows how to draw you in.

The veil has found itself draped over the heads of the audience, being crowd-surfed slowly towards the front, projecting restless multi-layered shadows on to the screen. She tries to get the bouncers up on to the stage. She hauls audience members to dance.

It's a confrontational charm she has, riven with the chance encounters of any night out. It's down to earth but arty and, with the voice she has, it's a winning combination. She's as good at crowd control as any rapper or riot cop. Audience participation has never been so interesting.