With only a couple of EPs available, over 100,000 fans (if Facebook has anything to go by) and all sorts of indie and mainstream hype, it was an easy decision to take the opportunity to see Banks on her first UK headline tour.
Opening for her is soft spoken, Scottish DJ Eclair Fifi who has made her name hosting her own show on BBC Radio One’s In New DJs We Trust, a residency on Rinse FM and according to her bio, was Azalea Banks’ go-to gal for a party she held in London. Her set is an genius blend for vintage House and RnB’s greatest moments, glued together with a generous douse of contemporary EDM. She works the decks like an absolute pro like it was what she was born to do, completely oblivious to the crowd swelling at her feet. The set, in my eyes, was ideal for a the early hours of a saturday morning, in those moments when time slows and the music is all that matters – however for a small venue in Oxford at 8pm I felt it fell slightly on deaf ears.
The bass hits like a jackhammer and the sold out venue is finally at its limit when Banks glides into centre stage surrounded by the black and white aesthetic that is associated with her music. Opening with Before I Ever Met You, her connection with the crowd is instantaneous. Bathed in shadow, she owns the stage with every note and every hand gesture, you find yourself completely hypnotised; you believe absolutely every single word and can empathise with every line, it’s no small feat to spellbound an audience right from the get go. This Is What It Feels Like hums with sex appeal, urging the audience to feel sexy alongside her, to bring it down and feel it as the track suggests and shy glances from behind long, black hair make you (and everyone else) feel like the subject of her affections in effortlessly sensual Warm Water.
‘Cause everything’s a game/Always try to calculate/Tryin’ to look smart but not too smart to threaten anything they say’ is the most seminal moments off Shlohmo‘s masterly produced Brain; the drop, combined with with torrent of emotional frustration in the lyrics make for one hell of rousing performance. From beginning to end her vocals nothing if not perfect, just track after track of husky, vulnerable RnB tones which reverberate in perfect harmony with the nocturnal electronic beats, drawing you ever deeper into Banks’ mind.
What’s so intriguing about Banks is that nothing is as simple as it seems, despite her sound, and aesthetic, being typically minimalist. It comes through clearly in the music, the candid delicacy of her lyrics and the producers she chooses to work with (SOHN, Shlohmo) but it is also equally wrapped up in her persona. Her first name was a mystery for a while, and instead if engaging in social media she would rather you give her a call on (323) 362-2658. This is all I knew about Jillian Banks before the show. However the moments when she engages us are utterly genuine, she looks overwhelmed to be there and for all the support she’s received. She dedicates Goddess to all the women in the room and doesn’t have any time for the sexist imbeciles throwing slurs her way (sigh.)
Her two-man band are exquisite, but fade into the background by the time the setlist winds down with her acoustic cover of Aaliyah‘s Are You That Somebody and the final destructive bass line of Waiting Game which tears the room apart one final time. In her hour or so on stage she was able to carry every track, seduce the entire sold out crowd and leave one hell of a lasting impression. I felt myself not wanting her to leave the stage, I wasn’t ready for it to be over, and I get the same impression she is nowhere near over either. If her current body of work is anything to go by, what’s to come is going to be an intense sonic experience. I should give her a ring, after all I have her number.