San Francisco – Young talent always amazes me. To see an artist as young as the U.K.’s newest wunderkind Holly Fletcher – who operates under the moniker Låpsley (her middle name stylized with an accented “å” for aesthetic reasons, also a nod to her Scandinavian-Scottish lineage) – bloom so quickly and so successfully is both heartening and enviable. The 19-year-old singer/songwriter/producer released an EP last year (entitled Understudy), as well as her debut LP Long Way Home (XL Recordings) at the beginning of last month, and is already making quite a name for herself, worldwide. This week – locally known as “Fauxchella” (the period of time between Coachella’s two weekends when many of the festival’s artists come up to the Bay Area to play) – she sold out The Independent in San Francisco, and she very well might be the youngest person to do so.
The U.K. is known for churning out young and brilliant artists these days, such as Adele (whose debut LP 19 was written and recorded when the singer was nineteen, the same age as Låpsley is now) and James Blake (whose first album came out when he was twenty-two). These two artists seem to be prominent influences for Låpsley’s material, as she embodies the intersection of both talents, as if Adele’s gorgeous vocal stylings met James Blake’s somatic production and minimalist electronic aesthetic.
Låpsley self-produces and records her music, but for her live performance she enlisted the help of three backing musicians: a drummer, a bassist/keyboardist, and a keyboardist/synth operator (whose names I unfortunately did not catch, as she introduced her band while I was in the bathroom between songs). These three men were all dressed in plain black, which was a great contrast to the wooly, pale blue-grey poncho dress that Låpsley wore. The start of her set – B-side “Burn” – introduced the crowd to Låpsley, silhouetted gracefully by a spotlight coming from behind the singer. When the song reached its chorus, the light on the stage came to life, as soft tones of blue and white poured down, and the geometric trapezoid constructed of LED equilateral triangles at the rear of the stage was illuminated, the outlines of the triangles changing color and blinking rhythmically along with the mood of the song.
The majority of her set was devoted to performing songs from the recently released Long Way Home, but a few older tracks made their way into the set. Other than the aforementioned set opener “Burn,” Låpsley played two tracks from the Understudy EP: minimalistic song “Dancing” and the soulful “8896,” which was the only truly solo performance of the evening, as Låpsley was alone on stage, perched on a piano bench as she played the keyboard and sang. She played the piano for herself on one other song, which came right before “8896.” It was the Long Way Home track “Painter” (though she did not play “Painter” solo; her band joined her for that number).
Other highlights from the Long Way Home songs she played included “Cliff,” pensive ballad “Falling Short,” disco-laden “Operator (He Doesn’t Call Me)” (which she remarked was her favorite song to perform), and set closer “Love is Blind.” For several songs she enlisted the aide of a second microphone, digitally fitted with a vocal distortion filter that changed the timbre of her voice to sound almost exactly like James Blake, including “Shaking Me Off,” RnB track “Tell Me The Truth,” and Long Way Home closer “Seven Months.” Perhaps the most captivating song of the evening was her performance of the song “Station” – one of the first tracks she produced/recorded – as she employed the distorted microphone, her own naturally beautiful voice, and the use of a looping machine to capture samples of all her vocal work and layer them delicately over one another, creating a veritable chorus for herself, using only her own singular voice.
Låpsley was keen to the fact that her show occurred on 4/20 and joked about marijuana with basically every opportunity she got, and the people in the front row seemed to be celebrating the “holiday” with persistent delight, as a constant plume of smoke could be seen just to the right of the singer (when she was center stage) throughout most of the set. Just before playing the second (and final) song of her encore, her hit single “Hurt Me,” she proclaimed, in her amazing British accent (she did a few impersonations of an American accent throughout the night, which were hilarious), that it was “a 420 blazer.” Before closing the night out with “Hurt Me,” she serenaded the crowd with her cover of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work,” which she had recorded for International Women’s Day. The cover was gorgeous, featuring just Låpsley on vocals and her bespectacled keyboardist/synth guy (who was the spitting image of Edward Snowden, weirdly enough) on keys. As she sang Bush’s lyrics in her own hauntingly extraordinary voice, the crowd was dead silent… until the end, when the audience erupted in cacophonous applause.
When I was nineteen, I wasn’t doing much. I was trying to get my college career on track and living in a dorm with seven other guys. At nineteen Låpsley already has a wonderful LP under her belt and is playing sold out concerts and appearing at Coachella (she even appeared at Glastonbury in 2014). I can’t help but be a little envious of her proactive mindset and burgeoning success, but that is most certainly outweighed by my respect and admiration for her talent and infectious positivity. Like the young geniuses that have preceded her, the future looks bright for young Låpsley, her path to continued success well-lit by her skill, her humor, and her determination to leave her mark on the world.
Låpsley’s debut album Long Way Home is available via XL Recordings. She is currently on tour in North America through mid-May and has a few dates scheduled in Europe and Australia this summer. She will also be appearing at the second weekend of Coachella and this year’s Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco.
For more information and for tour dates visit Lapsley’s Facebook page.
Photos by Corey Bell for Best New Bands