Review: Kelly Lee Owens In London
Electronic music is no doubt having a moment, gaining a seasonal amount of new attention from ears of listeners coming from backgrounds as varied as hip-hop to metal. With its recent growth in popularity, waves of new artists have emerged. Either walking in the footsteps of their predecessors within particular genres, or carving out their own niches in the more obscure corners of the underground. Within this moment, it is more difficult to make a unique and defined impact. Kelly Lee Owens is an artist who has managed in the short expanse of her solo career, to harness elements of pop and electronic music, whilst presenting a performance that is singularly her own.
Kelly Lee Owens preformed to a sold out crowd at Oslo last Thursday having established herself over the past two years to be a favourite of critics and fans alike. She originates from Northern Wales, where the area is sparse for clubs, but has a colourful history of music and folklore. Owens found herself in London at the age of twenty, where her own mythology emerged. Collaborations with Daniel Avery and Jenny Hval were precursors to her debut EP ‘Oleic’ with Norwegian label, Smalltown Supersound, last year. Her full-length LP ‘Kelly Lee Owens’ was released in March this year to critical acclaim.
Prior research shows her often labelled as an ambient act, but Owens’ performance tonight was far harder, more structured and cohesively rhythmic. Her sound stretches across branches of alternative pop, house and techno, reminiscent of acts such as The Knife and LCD Soundsystem.
Oslo held only a few timely patrons to see the start of the intelligently placed warm up act.
“This is a gong sound bath. To experience it in full please keep noise to a minimum.”
Sadly the crowd for the most part chattered through it, but after pushing to the front I was able to “bathe” in Healing Sounds immersive performance. The artist, Lani Rocillo, played two gongs about half a metre wide, hanging one above the other to the left of the stage. Her hands worked deftly, moving about the pans creating a depth and variation in noise that was miraculous. In what was a trance like state the sound waxed in intensity and resonance. The textures created a concentrated and ephemeral experience, akin to many talented neo-classical artists working today.
Owens appears after half an hour. Her and Lani cross-hatching sounds through the the first track, ‘8,’ perfectly matching the shimmering of the gongs with Owens’ own airy vocals. She then moves into ‘Keep Walking,’ standing centre stage and marching softly on the spot. The pleasure of performing is clear in the meditative smile she wears. Both tracks nod at the rich lineage of influencers that have brought Owens to the stage today. ‘90s punk, electronica and trip-hop. Even gestures towards the early pop of The Beatles are all intertwined within synths, percussive instruments and vocals.
The tuned percussions and synths layered and built up in ‘S.O’. She breathes out the vocals of ‘Lucid’, insightfully singing “Different from the rest, don’t you see it?” as the song transforms to a club-driven bass-line, and the crowd begins to dance. The minimal techno of the track works well with Owens’ voice, and sets the bar for the remainder of her set. The music is darker and heavier. ‘Anxi’ follows which features Hval’s voice.
Kelly Lee Owens is at her best when she is loud and unrestrained. She reached this point several memorable times in her set, notably in ‘Arthur’ – an ode to the later Arthur Russell – ‘Birds’ and ‘CBM’. Apart from a throbbing bass line and a heavily dancing crowd, the atmosphere was intensified by Owens’ inward focus and concentration as a producer. In these moments, amid the layers of sound she was producing, Owens would lose herself in a way that was fascinating to watch.
Her production and execution is at a seamless level for live performance. She has complete control over not only her own ethereal vocals, but the mechanics of electronica coming from the sound boards and drum kits in front of her. Furthermore, she has the adoration of her crowd. Owens has carved out a rich and varied corner of pop. ‘Throwing Lines’ showcased an artist who was enthralled to be there, an a crowd that was excited to have her.
Part ethereal vocalist, part producer, her talent and creativity ricochet in many directions. Owens’ performance at Oslo showed an already highly capable artist at the beginning of much to come.
Photography courtesy of Mona Cordes.