12th April | Thekla

Nilüfer Yanya takes to the stage wearing a white Nike top with a beige-brown jacket, long sleeves flowing into the touch of her guitar. Like her hipster wardrobe in her music videos, you are treated to a multitude of changes from her live music.

With her is bassist Lucy Lu, drummer Ellis Duply and saxophonist Jazzi Bobbi. As an accompanying band, they add a strong, distinctive live sound to Miss Universe, her debut 2019 album. At the beginning of the gig you are welcomed into the Nilüfer Yanya world, of her compelling solo presence and her melodic guitar playing with tunes such as ‘Thanks 4 Nothing’ – “I don’t want to make things better, thanks for nothing…” – the lyrical honesty that makes Nilüfer Yanya so strong.

It filters into a quiet stage. Yellow lights come up and she plays ‘Baby Luv’. You can’t help but fall into, and sway from side to side to, her lyrical melancholy: “Do you like pain? Again, again, again, again, again, again.” It merges into more questions on her next tune, ‘Golden Cage’ from the EP Plant Feed: “Was it all a blur? Were you in a golden cage? Were you in a daze?” These lyrics may sound angst-ridden, but come with a happy-funky jazz tune.

Jazzi Bobbi has collaborated frequently with Nilüfer Yanya. Their combination is a treat if you go see her live. I’ve never seen anything quite so relaxed as these two women with strong instruments in saxophone and guitar. They play ‘Hey’, a Pixies cover, taking the mood into a lull of jazz. A lot of musicians with a strong debut album don’t tend to be brave enough to play covers. We benefit from their homage to other artists.

I’m not sure there is a way to define Nilüfer Yanya after seeing her live. I’m not sure if I was listening to pop, indie, electronica or jazz. This sort of multi-genre melting pot can be off-putting for some people who want a safer listening experience. I think though, this is the most appealing part of a Nilüfer Yanya show – you get what you get. This was evident in her performance of songs like ‘Heavyweight Champion Of The Year’, singing to you low-pitched lyrics, “I’m tired from all these dreams, lack of sleep” to the high-pitched, “I’m still wired.”

In some senses she reminds me of a contemporary Joni Mitchell – very in control of her own music making for an artist at a young age. The song writing is so vast in Miss Universe that it’s like a real sexy and serious life-changing slap in the face seeing her live.

See the video for ‘In Your Head’ here: