LIVE: Nilüfer Yanya @ Electric Brixton, London

The London prodigy has entered the conversation for album of the year in many circles, and her big, bold Brixton performance justified it.
Posted: 18 March 2022 Words: James Kilpin Photos: Cath Dupuy

With the release of her second studio album Painless at the beginning of March, Nilüfer Yanya seems to have already casually entered into the conversation for album of the year in many circles.

It’s no surprise: Painless is a record which excels in its subtlety, inviting listeners in with layered textures and perhaps a more understated assuredness than Yanya has displayed before.It’s part of what makes it such a captivating prospect, and it’s a clear sign of Nilüfer Yanya’s artistic development.

The challenge, and one that is understandably a difficult one, is translating that subtlety to a live setting in a way that remains captivating and exciting. For the most part, at her hometown show at Electric Brixton on Wednesday, Yanya did well to strike that all-important balance.

Throughout the night, the sound was big and bold, rumbling basslines and drums prominent in the mix giving a real punch to proceedings and leaning into the grungier facets of Yanya’s sound. All the while, interjections of saxophone and keys added texture, while Yanya stood front-and-centre, the lower register vocals that dominate the new record feeding nicely into the overall sound of the band.

In truth though, the highlights came in the more infrequent moments when the band’s buzz and bluster was stripped back, and the intricacies of Yanya’s finger-picked guitar, the subtlety of her voice in its higher register, and the meaning of her lyrics were elevated, allowed to shine through without being swallowed up in the mix.

Notably, these moments came more often on tracks from debut album Miss Universeperhaps purely by dint of having played them live many more times, but likely in part due to the nature of their structure and composition. In particular both ‘The Unordained’ and set-closer ‘Heavyweight Champion of the Year’ felt more sharp and dynamic.

Elsewhere, the shuffling percussive intros of ‘the dealer’ and ‘stabilise’, and the crunchy drum pad opening to ‘chase me’ highlighted some of the influences on Painlessperhaps most clearly post-2000 Radiohead. Equally, a cover of the title track from PJ Harvey’s 1993 sophomore record Rid of Me midway through the set served as a nod to another artist who has had a clear influence on Nilüfer Yanya, both sonically and in terms of the attitude, aesthetic, and artistic approach.

Ultimately, while some the subtleties that make her latest work so special were perhaps unavoidably lost when it came to filling every inch of a significantly-sized venue, the obvious assuredness and artistic potential that Nilüfer Yanya possesses were still more than able to shine through, and bigger shows are no doubt sure to follow still.

Painless is out now via ATO Records.

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