Azure light bathes the stage as Sampha’s silhouette emerges from its misty centre. The room is already clammy and warm, providing an apt setting for his opening song: Plastic 100°.
‘Magnetic light in the blue-high haze/ A magnifying glass upon my face’, he begins, swaying with eyes closed. This song is a frantic portrayal of the heat of anxiety, which here was partly caused by a lump in his throat. The young crowd listens with unusual attention.
Although Londoner Sampha Sisay released his first EP back in 2010 and became more well known for his vocals with SBTRKT (also signed to label Young Turks), he has only recently gained the wider recognition his music deserves. He released his debut album, Process, earlier this year, and sang and danced (notably, with a duvet draped across his shoulders) for Solange’s track, ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’. Drake, Frank Ocean and Kanye West have all been snapping him up for their albums, too.
Tonight though, he plays solo, outpouring emotion through songs clotted with nuggets of pain and melancholy. Sampha is no downer, but you don’t necessarily leave his gigs snickering and wanting a tequila shot. His performance is one of contrast, reminiscent of James Blake, whose piano solos are also intermingled with more frenetic tracks which tempt their audiences to sway and groove.
Reverse Faults sees Sampha inviting us into his private arena, strutting across the stage with more confidence than we saw at his last Bristol gig at the Marble Factory. Its bass rises up through our bodies as peony-pink lights oscillate and flicker across our bobbing heads. A tweaked rendition of Too Much follows, the song that wrenched our hearts years ago, and tonight invites heartfelt singing along. Incorporating syncopated drumming, Sampha then plays some dancier tracks, leading to his nightmare number: Blood On Me. In the vision he meets his demons-‘They said there’s somethin’ bleedin’ in me/ Somethin’ screamin’ in me/ Somethin’ buried deep beneath’. Ominous crimson saturates the crowd as we experience his frenzied panic. He tentatively begins No One Knows Me Like the Piano, leaving the words to crystallise and suspend in the air above us, a single bulb illuminating him as he croons. Lack of reliance on mass on-stage production or backing tracks bares Sampha’s hopeful, resilient voice.
The show culminates in an encore which feels very organic, all four of the band drumming together in a circle with a quirky version of Without. It is all too easy to see why Sampha’s album has been so successfully received, with the Guardian predicting him to be a shoo-in for the next Mercury prize. Better still, he is humble and always allows the music to take the spotlight.
Article: Nicole Douglas - Morris