Hackney is awfully quiet on this particular Wednesday night, with nothing but the sound of a looping bus siren filling its streets. The bus is suspiciously empty as the alarm cries out that someone calls 999 because it is under attack. No one takes much notice; it is Hackney, after all. Inside, however, is a much different story. The venue is intimate and packed, sold-out and dominated by the sounds of raucous laughter and pints of Red Stripe. It’s been almost 90 minutes since doors have opened and without the support of an opening act, everyone waits eagerly for the show to begin. And so enters Tei Shi and, like a moth drawn to a flame, the crowd excitedly gathers; their loud, amicable chattering suddenly reduced to nothing more than delicate, hushed tones. Two of her three favourite gigs have been played in London, she declares, and hopes tonight’s can join them. The challenge is set, accepted with jovial cheers and whistles.
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Tei Shi’s intimate-bedroom aesthetic doesn’t necessarily warrant a live band. With a selection of tracks underpinned by electronic grooves, she could have easily gone for a simpler set-up, with nothing more than pre-recorded beats and her voluptuous voice to carry the show. But with the addition of a three-piece live band, Tei Shi adds a different dimension to the tracks. Their polished and precise boundaries find themselves blunted by fuzzy electric guitars. The drum beats too are less punchy, giving way to a sound that is warm and hazy like an endless summer’s night. It’s an interesting dynamic, one that manages to project her songs into a whole new light, adding a sense of soulful sophistication that retains the very core of Tei Shi’s electro-pop musicality.
After an atmospheric opening, Lead single ‘Keep Running’ kicks the set into high gear. The track is surprisingly loud, mutating the delicate sensibilities of the single’s production into a sonic body that is raw and tinged with sadness. “If you want my loving than you better start running”, she begs to her lover, every syllable cutting deep into flesh. Fan-favourite ‘See Me’ gets the biggest cheer of the night only a few seconds in. The sparseness that encompasses its produced counterpart evaporates into thin air as the track is brought to new heights with its bouncy use of sandy guitar and distorted bass lines. The trip-hop influenced drum beats are also diffused in favour of something more tribal, unleashing woody overtones that surround the track in a more fervent and tropical light. It’s hard not to imagine yourself transported to a secluded beach in these moments, basking in the warm glow of the sun just as Tei Shi is by the golden sparkles of MOTH club’s impeccable ceilings.
The new tracks are also hugely enjoyable, and demonstrate a noticeable progression in style. The production is flashier, stepping away from the sparseness of ‘Saudade’ and ‘Verde’ and towards a sound that is strong, poppy and unmistakably confident. ‘Baby’ is utterly heartwarming. Tei Shi carries the tune with her buttery smooth falsetto, intimately cooing to the crowd against a soft and melodious guitar riff. ‘How Far’ shows her sultrier side, featuring a quiet yet harmonious drum beat that carries her vocals alongside jazzed-up guitars. It oozes sex appeal, wearing its R&B influences proudly on its sleeves. Meanwhile, ‘Justify’ projects Tei Shi in an entirely different light. It’s a harsh and grungy take on electro-pop that provides a welcome moment of unexpected change in the middle of the set, with a menacing sense of momentum building sharply to a breathtaking climax. ‘Justify me”, she screams through a cacophony of hurtling drums and distorted guitars. It’s an incredibly cathartic moment for Tei Shi and fractures the very fragility that is so often associated with her music. And cathartic it was too for the audience, who were left inaudible, breathless at the sheer intensity of her vocal power.
She finishes with the infamous ‘Bassically’ and with a drink in hand demands that we dance the song away as a final send-off. With no pre-recorded vocal overlap to fall back on, she manages to carry the song with frightening ease. Her climactic screams are rapturous, equal parts powerful and fragile, lingering on much after the very last syllable has been sung.
Without smoke, mirrors or empty frills, it’s a testament to her musical prowess that’s she’s able to carry such a relentless atmosphere with just her music. With the imminent release of her new album and supporting a leg of pop-punk princess MØ’s US tour, it’s clear that Tei Shi is about to blow up like nobody’s business, and goddamn does she deserve it.