FKA Twigs, Live in Bristol
In October 2014, I watched FKA Twigs perform in Bristol’s Trinity Centre. I wrote a review of it to go with a couple of photos I took on the night, but at that point my perfectionism was spiralling out of control, and I couldn’t face publishing it. I feel insentivised to share it now – with a few small edits – as her performance remains to this day the most powerful I have ever seen.
Making music about sex isn’t easy.
Sexual music is everywhere. It has developed its tried and tested paradigms, tricks of the trade which guarantee success if applied correctly. Singers like Rihanna and Justin Timberlake know how to use the occasional sly side glance at their listeners’ collective crotch to best effect; lyrics like I like the way you touch me there and Why don’t you sit down on top of me prick up the ears of anyone who can’t help but think about sex from time to time (ie: everyone). However, if you look closely you’ll notice most overtly sexual pop songs are actually about the person you happen to want to have sex with, the club night during which you miraculously decided that sex isn’t such a bad idea, or something along those lines. Most of the lines in songs like Rude Boy or What’s My Name sound more like drunken flirts alluding to sex than actual descriptions of the act, in both their lyrics and their sonic texture. Rihanna’s S&M, the most sexually explicit chart hit of recent years, may describe sexual preferences, but it leaves the listener with no sense of what this kind of sex feels like, emotionally or physically. It’s only when the lyricist turns their eyes to the actual bedroom that things get more difficult. Sex is such a provocative subject that it’s easy to seem sleazy, cynical or – worst of all – immature when you document it, with the occasional case-in-point coming along who takes a shot at powerful sexual music and accidentally ticks all three boxes (see: the Weeknd, before he got his shit together).
I’m not going to bother listing the ups and downs of music about sex any further than that; this article isn’t about the rule, it’s about the exception, FKA Twigs. In 2010 I saw Arcade Fire live, and throughout their performance they perfectly communicated the feelings of desperation and confusion that growing up and away from your hometown can inspire in you (hence this blog’s name). I wish I could think of another example of a performance that evoked such a complicated feeling with such clarity, as I usually like to write my examples in threes for dramatic effect, but there just isn’t another one I can think of. So I’ll have to just move onto the second time I experienced it; watching FKA Twigs perform in a converted Church in Bristol in 2014, detailing the various messy, confusing and potent emotions attached to sex. Nothing she did seemed uncomfortable or poised as a deliberate aim to mess with the room’s collective underwear. She didn’t seem like capable of being immature or cynical.
If you’re a fan of the singer and have watched any of her self-directed music videos, you can probably imagine how entrancing her musical performances can be (she is also the most impressive dancer I have ever seen in the flesh). What you may not expect, however, is that it was her powers of speech that turned a room’s last rowdy ‘GIRL YOU FINE’-shouting punters into a hushed congregation appropriate for their hallowed surroundings. She addressed the audience with a meek tone, implying that the supreme being ‘FKA Twigs’ portrayed by her music might be a character, whose oherwordly voodoo existed only when singing or dancing. But it was only after the most direct and personal heckle, ‘FUCK KRISTEN STEWART’, that she revealed the extent of her powers. All the lights went up and she explained that she was going to tell us a story. My glamorous teaching assistant Philip Seymour Hoffman is here to deliver that story for me:
When the story was over, the entire room was silent, incapable of looking away from a woman who had reminded us of that one primary school teacher who somehow commanded respect from her students without ever raising her voice. She then launched into Video Girl, a song whose lyrics give voice to all those who criticise and gossip about people like Twigs.