FKA twigs stalks onto the stage to screams of delight, her arrival preceded by shuddering bass. Vocal loops skitter through the packed Metro Theatre and, with her back arched, she casts an imperious eye over the audience. Her album’s “Preface” serves to introduce the concert as industrial percussion, and a twisted rap loop runs under her delicate vocal layers. The brief opening snaps shut again, and twigs and her band disappear from view.
The artist ‘Formerly Known As twigs’ broke onto the scene in late 2013 with EP2, a triphop like maelstrom of musical influences. In August 2014, she released her debut album, LP1. In it, dense bass, droning synths and claustrophobic beats support her stunningly breathy voice. This distinct sound has found twigs, who recently performed in the Laneway festival, tremendous support in Australia.
The set samples fairly from all three of her releases, and throws in new song “Figure 8”. Songs follow in quick succession, spinning from familiar hip-hop and R&B into the experimental. “Hide”, a track from the early EP1, finishes with a shaker superbly timed to a blown kiss. A rabid response to this is sufficient to bring the lights up, and she thanks the crowd effusively before launching into the autobiographical “Video Girl” with force.
A rigorous and disciplined performer, twigs is nevertheless coy to the point of shyness between songs, toying with her hair and seemingly reluctant to face the crowd. Her almost contradictory lyrics, “so nothing’s gonna get in your way/you’re gonna get yourself broke one day” seem incredibly apt as she dances across the stage like a marionette. The alter ego of FKA twigs can pack out shows on the other side of the world. Tahliah Barnett, however, appears somewhat overawed.
Maybe it is this same shyness which leads to such a tightly controlled set, with so much of the music prerecorded that it tends toward the stale. While the percussion is live, the pads are externally controlled, and lead synths and vocal loops are cued from offstage. This allows twigs to showcase her excellent choreography, but gives the performance a rigid feel. Certainly staging sometimes off-kilter and spaced music can be troubling – even the artist’s own outdoor Laneway set in Sydney suffered from the afternoon sun. Control of lighting at the Metro is however impeccable and twigs begins to disappear at the end of “Video Girl”, her image flickering out.
Single “Two Weeks” is the penultimate track and predictably proves the most popular and danceable. FKA twigs has previously cited punk youth as having a lasting sway over her style, and it shows in her evident relish for a hard atmosphere and uncomfortable sounds. She is the only one dancing, the eager crowd foiled by sharp tempo changes and odd time signatures. She apologises for being “such a debbiedowner” at the prospect of the last song, “How’s That”. An off-tempo metronome clicks and a whining note winding with echo rings into silence, and the stage is emptied to roof rattling cheers.
Twigs has found tremendous support by mixing popular sensibility into a complex and vacant sound. The unassailable image built up means seeing cracks through her mask, may it be a self satisfied smile mid-twirl, that British accent, a fist pump in the darkness between songs – but these cracks only add to the intrigue. Her sound and performance is compelling and, if her loving crowd will follow, the willingness to play with styles means that new releases will be just as interesting.
Photography by Alex Gillis.
CLARIFICATION: FKA twigs has confirmed with Honi Soit that everything in her performance is, in fact, played live. Nothing is triggered from backstage, and a click track is not used throughout the set.