Katy B, Academy, Manchester
Death From Above 1979, Forum, London
Wondering who's going to emerge as the voice of 2011? Look no further than the Peckham Princess
Sunday 08 May 2011
It probably isn't meant as a Dadaist prank, but it works as one.
There's a moment during the biggest night of Katy B's first headlining tour when the Peckham princess gets 2,000 Mancunians to raise one open-palmed hand, and chant the words "Something, something, something" over and over in unison.
Katy B's got Manchester, and most of Britain, in her own palm. With the minimum of fuss, the Titian-haired 22-year-old has outflanked all the hype-monkeys to become the coolest crossover star of 2011. If her debut Katy on a Mission isn't the best pop album of the year, it's gonna take something incredible to beat it.
You could make a fool of yourself trying to describe Katy B's sound, especially if you're not switched on to the micro-divisions of British urban music. But purists can argue all night about whether she's technically a dubstep artist or a UK garage one, or whether she's "sold out" by going mainstream with it. The one certain thing is that Katy B is doing something with all that stuff that hasn't been done since Mike Skinner on Original Pirate Material, namely, using it to communicate the life-experience of the people who, overwhelmingly, buy that music – young, white, working-class – back to them.
Not that she's anyone's Vicky Pollard. The "Peckham" thing is a smokescreen: Kathleen Brien studied at Haberdashers' Aske's before enrolling at the Brit School, and completed a degree in Popular Music at Goldsmiths. The romantic in me wants to deny that being good at pop is something you can study or coach, but there's no denying that Katy B knows exactly what she's doing.
Everything about Ms B is under-stated. As the song "Disappear" suggests, she's not wholly there. Her persona is one of cool, La Gioconda-like enigma. Visually, she's the anti-Gaga: bounding around the stage in a zipped-up long-sleeved sweat top and jeans.
Pleasingly, while she owns one hell of a voice, she always sings within herself, resisting the temptation to go all Xtina-at-the-Superbowl. There's a certain jazzy inflection in songs like "Why You Always Here" which suggests that, were she around in 1944, she'd have been the "canary" in front of a big band with monogrammed music stands, probably led by someone called Tommy or Benny.
The sound she's created, with the help of Rinse FM main man Geeneus, contains a heavy helping of the classier Nineties rave: Electribe 101, Nightcrawlers, Inner City, Baby D. It's all about subtlety, suspended and diminished chords, and nocturnal atmospherics. One suspects that Katy B is the female pop star for whom 2011 will be remembered. Hold your hand up and admit it: she's got something, something, something.
As time's ever-decreasing spiral speeds to a dizzying whirr, we're at the point where the reformation of a band who split up five years ago is cause for near-hysteria. Canadian noiseniks Death From Above 1979 perform tonight in front of a backdrop featuring a painted tombstone with the inscription "DFA 1979: 2001-2006". The duo of bassist-keyboardist Jesse Keeler and drummer-singer Sebastien Grainger have been absent for the kind of interval which might have you wondering: "Hmm, what's keeping them?" There are items in my fridge that have been there longer than 2006.
But, playing London, they've sold out two nights at the Forum in 20 minutes. Without a break, they'd probably be playing Dingwall's. Skinny-jeaned legs apart, pulling rock-god poses, Keeler knocks out irresistible scuzz-riffs, while singing drummer Grainger pummels impatient 2/2 rhythms atop his riser like a Grand National winner whipping his steed home. It's very metal – think early Eightes Maiden, and late Seventies Sabbath – albeit a gateway drug for indie kids. It's also, strangely, incredibly well-attuned to the dancefloor. And London can't get enough of it. In years to come, Death From Above 1979 will be cited as a textbook example of demand-management: if you want people to miss you, go away ... but not for too long.
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