15 February, 2016

[GIG REVIEW] Okay Kaya @ St Pancras Old Church, London, 11th February 2016

In today’s hedonistic world of social media, we are force fed Instagram feeds and twitter spats; where mystique is solely absent. But within this cloud of knowing, we are drawn to searching for that new, rare spark. Okay Kaya is this refreshing project. Without knowing too much about her, she brings an aura of intrigue and subtle darkness. The Norwegian born, but New York based, artist has stepped onto the scene with her ethereal and somewhat dejected music.

After support act James Canty throws us a mixture of acoustic, electric and acapella; Kaya Wilkins steps into the room, taking in the glowing atmosphere that has built up in the small and bare church. St Pancras Old Church stood tall, organ et al, only lit by candles and the odd stage lamp. Being located only 5 minutes away from King’s Cross St Pancras station, the venue seems out of place in a big city, but did not seem out of place to host the spidery love songs of Okay Kaya.

Having concentrated on recording vocals and guitar for the soundtrack of the Manchester ballet ‘Tree of Codes’ (composed by Jamie XX), the 23-year-old hasn’t the biggest back catalogue to choose from. Instead she opts to play a short and sweet set (approx. 30 minutes) in virtuous fashion.
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The fragility of the first song renders the audience silent, as she echoes words of hurt and dismay. The subterranean nature of the songs nestles well into the dark and cold church, where only the odd whisper would break the peace. Going straight into personal favourite ‘Clenched Teeth’, she sticks to the same spot and performs with no backing band or accoutrements to speak of – just her and her guitar. The downbeat, bedroom pop (or incorrectly described ‘adult jazz’) makes a fine parallel to the likes of Tobias Jesso Jr. with similar tones and unobtrusive murmurs. The minimalistic and nervous approach works wonders, as she draws the crowd slowly into her world. Through the wispy and tense song, she seamlessly moves into Norwegian-vocal ditty 'Durer', making the language seem like the most romantic of them all.

Using the church echo, she steps away from the mic and carefully alternates vocals to suit her pitch. Being fairly new to the scene, and still young, Kaya exudes a na├»ve and nervous body language; where she is barely able to open her eyes or look up from the ground – “If I look up, I might freak out”. The innocence of her performance, is only helped by her brief thankyous and introduction to ‘I Die Slow’ – “this song is about how I feel right now”. Continuing her subtle yet trapped wit, she brings with her a stunning and heart-breaking cover (a regular theme of her live shows) – ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’ is nothing like the Leo Sayer original. It’s chilled, unpretentious and would serve anyone well on a long night bus home. New single ‘I’m Stupid (But I Love You)’ is the softest track, where the omittance of the piano-lead core does not impair the overall outcome. It’s only until now that she really grows in confidence and her insecurities evaporate away. The devastating song details a love unrequited over a sparse beat. Every word strikes the core. Making a mockery of bottling-up any emotion.
After taking some time to find the tempo. Okay Kaya’s set closer ‘Damn, Gravity’ is tender, and just all round beautiful. The dark, slow requiem floats away in reverb until it is met by the chimes of 10pm from the church spire. Not letting this overpower her final song, she uses the rather loud chimes in tandem with her sequential chords to close on a powerful and peaceful instance.

Sharing a bench outside after, she is comforted in the knowledge that her show was a success. By trying to hide my inner-fanboy, I was able to be in discussion with Jamie XX and label-pal King Krule, while Kaya admits that she might “find it hard to write a happy song”.

I, for one, do not mind if she never writes a happy song. Why change something that works.

Written by – Richard Maver (@richmaver)

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