Jacob Wyatt reviews the latest London SoKo gig.
Damp and dingy, the walls of London’s 100 Club are still stained with the sweat of it’s punk heyday in the 70s, so it seemed a fitting place for half the crowd to get topless on stage at SoKo’s latest show. It was the final date of the European tour promoting her new album, My Dreams Dictate My Reality: an appropriate title, as the gig seemed far removed from reality.
In 2012, French singer-come-actress SoKo released her first album ‘I Thought I Was An Alien’. It was an album of depression and failed relationships, emotional wanking in musical form. Most of the tracks were produced minimally, focused around stripped-back guitars and SoKo’s cracked vocals. Her live shows went from inviting people on stage to dance like an alien with her, to self-confessed “party pooping” with her more sombre songs.
Earlier this year, after three years of hearing very little from her, the first songs of her latest album started being shared, and a new image of SoKo started forming. In this time, she had moved to LA and her recent sound seems heavily influenced by its psychedelic and surf/garage punk scenes. The depressed, acoustic feeling of the first album has been replaced with 80s synths and delayed guitars. Apart from ‘Keaton’s Song’, which mimics the style of her debut, ‘My Dreams Dictate My Reality’ shows drastic change, a brave move as it risked loosing her fanbase devoted to her heart-wrenching earlier work.
As SoKo comes on stage, sporting a leather jacket and electric blue hair, flying into the title track of the album, she seems to embody her new sound, at odds with the pale, flowing dress wearer when I first saw her live. A few songs in, she makes a reference back to the days of her debut before she plays one of its tracks, ‘Destruction of the Disgusting Ugly Hate’, saying when she wrote it eight years ago, she was very suicidal and it made her happy that she was still alive today to be able to play it. Throwing herself around stage and spitting water into the crowd, her confident demeanor makes that period seem a thing of the past. Even the old sad songs have a certain happiness behind them: the energy of her band married with the joy of the crowd glazes over the depressed lyrics, and it’s hard to imagine that this was written at such a low point in her life.
And then the gig goes from an atmosphere of ethereal happiness to surreal almost too fast. A single cry of “Free the nipple” from somewhere in the crowd quickly leads to the stage being filled with people taking their tops off, joined by SoKo, creating one of the weirdest situations seen at a gig. It was one of those events that you think of later on and question if it ever even happened. Seeing that the marring of the lines between dreams and reality is such a central theme of the album, maybe such an event was the most fitting thing to happen.
After the roadie has a hard time getting everyone to leave the stage and things return to normal (I use the term pretty loosely), the crowd seems even more ecstatic and the show continues with heightened animation. SoKo interrupts a song to crowd surf around the venue and then goes on to mock Ariel Pink, who features heavily on the album, for hitting on her in public, before launching into Lovetrap, written about SoKo and Pink’s relationship (or lack of one)
SoKo ends the night with another song from the first album, ‘We Might Be Dead By Tomorrow’. Despite it being a song about SoKo pleading for her lover to love her back and repeats “‘Cause soon enough we’ll die” until it stops, I can’t think of a happier ending to a gig.