It’s a quiet night at The Joker, as a mere four gather around the stage at 9.35pm. Skull-shaped disco ball turning awkwardly as the band – of East London’s mesmeric vocalist, Szjerdene – play through their sound check. We hope they turn the distortion down, but the last two performances suggest they probably won’t.
By 10pm, the room starts to fill out a bit, however we have a sneaking suspicion the bar downstairs has been emptied and brought upstairs by the promise of an entry glow stick. Still, there’s buzz; this is the audience we’d expected for the electro-soul soloist’s Brighton debut. And it seems she’d expected the same, bursting onto the stage in her enigmatic, celestial glory no sooner than the venue reaches capacity.
Opening with the stellar first single of her new Paragon EP, Are You Here
wastes no time in showing off the strength of Szjerdene’s impressive vocals through an emotionally-charged track that collides gentle sorrow with heartfelt angst; in contrast, the softer Closure
follows. A purer, pared-down track where Szjerdene weaves faultless vocals through her signature framework, it’s no surprise this songstress has previously caught the attention of both Lapalux and Bonobo
whom she has worked extensively with (a collaboration with the latter, Towers
, is gorgeously performed).
However, we still can’t seem to shake the feeling that the performance is in constant battle with the deafening distortion, which rumbles stubbornly through the stomachs of the crowd. It’s astoundingly heavy – so much so, that the beauty of Szjerdene’s melodies is almost unintelligible over its thumping authority – and seems to dominate everything in sight. And fourth effort Find Me (which was originally written as a freestyle melody over a skeleton beat laid down by Quays) doesn’t help, with pre-recorded backing vocals and the venues blaring disco lights all seeming, well, a bit naff to be honest.
By the time fan-favourite Blue Lullaby and show closer Abode come on, the distortion has reached its peak. Though some melodies can still be heard beneath, they’re difficult to make out; the depth and bliss in the EP versions lost somewhere amongst the white noise. It’s a shame for an artist that clearly takes a lot of pride in her craft, and that’s exactly what it is – a magical culmination of harmonies with each heart-rendering tale of love, loss and self-discovery.
All in all, it’s not a bad shout for the first performance of her second EP. With a little refining, and a more complimentary setting, a return to Brighton may warrant a warmer welcome.