On Monday night, a mixed crowd of all ages gathered into one of Bristol’s most treasured venues lead by gig-obsessive Big Jeff; a local legend who has seen 7 gigs a week for 13 years. Clearly, we were in the right place. Squished into the hold of the ship, we wait, aptly, below sea level for some of the hottest underground artists to emerge.
A night of discovery begins in the form of 18-year-old Demo Taped (real name Adam Alexander). The Atlanta-bred producer / singer-songwriter instantly captivates with his brand of vibrant rippling funk, which lures the crowd to spontaneously clap along. Despite the vast intricate layers of soul-infused synth-work, his set is an intimate one, with Alexander beaming and connecting throughout. “Let’s make this boat rock”, shouts the quirky teen as we dive into ‘Open Arms’, a track that was penned in LA in just 24 hours (not that you’d know it). With added ethereal vocals from electronic R&B duo RKCB, this silky soulful jam is one of the evening’s highlights. Next up, recent single ‘Game On’ – a song centred around a combination of harsh glitches and dreamy textures – concludes a flawless set.
Seductive electro funk follows with an incredible headline show from NAO. Her sass demands the audience’s fixated gaze and the prowess flaunted by her exceptional live band adds to the vivid atmosphere. Her set starts strong with the beat-driven ‘Inhale Exhale’, followed by ‘Good Girl’ and ‘Adore You’, and the various lighting of black, white and all the colours in-between reflects the amazing range of her voice.
Amongst all the haze, bass lead guitar and staccato beats though, it’s an incredibly emotive ‘It’s You’ that amazes most and serves as an invitation into NAO‘s poetic world. Here we see the East Londoner’s more vulnerable side, with a graceful, honest and pure performance that brings the room to pin-drop silence. The effortless power of her voice is chilling as she questions “Who says what is beautiful?” and starts to shed a tear – a slow-moving rivulet down her cheek that symbolises the beautiful commitment she has to her art. It is followed by smokey jazz-infused ‘Zillionaire’, which blasts around the sturdy ship, before big encore ‘Bad Blood’ proves to be a fitting finale.
After a night of grace, seduction, and skill, we have to remind ourselves that neither of these impeccably striking artists have released an album yet. These soaring performances surely indicate, however, that mainstream success is imminent for both of them.