Tehran – The Secret Party Town, an article published in The Guardian spoke vividly of the transformative nature of nightfall within the Iranian capital. With the flick of a switch, a metamorphosis would occur, as homes become nightclubs, equipped with backlit bars and DJ tables. And upon descending the stairs into the basement of The Courtyard Theatre, invitation in hand with the scent of lemon and jasmine emanating from all corners of the room, one cannot help but think "Am I in London? Or am I at a secret party in an Iranian Household?" For at The Courtyard Theatre a piece of Tehran was well and truly brought to East London as cultures collided to brilliant effect as TĀLĀ realised her work within the live setting for the first time.
This collision of culture was evident from the onset of the performance. As TĀLĀ took to the stage with the repeated refrain of “habibi habibi” exuding from the PA system, it was evident that the concept of heritage and culture were key within the development of the live performance. And as the Middle Eastern pop song faded, punishing bass and crisp snares replaced the Eastern instrumentation, while TĀLĀ continued to sing the refrain “habibi habibi” with a smooth R&B vocal. Rather than a jarring attempt to shoehorn Eastern motifs within her music or performance, TĀLĀ’s hyperactive digital Eastern elements, fully warped and wobbled at times, allowed her to express the significant duality between her heritage, upbringing and influences. And as a whole the live setting highlighted an exquisite unity of influence within TĀLĀ’s compositions that elevate her above numerous other bedroom producers and allows for her idiosyncratic spin on bass music to be so successful.
Surrounding herself with a plethora of electronic drum pads, synthesisers, MIDI controllers and three microphones (one of which was linked to a vocal processor), and navigating them in a manner similar to Claire Boucher (a.k.a Grimes), TĀLĀ brought to life the seven compositions found on The Duchess EP and Alchemy EP. During “The Duchess” for example, TĀLĀ took to keyboards and samplers to playGlass Swords-esque video-game synth lines over frazzled 8-bit beats. “Serbia” also allowed TĀLĀ to showcase her excellent vocal repertoire. Yet TĀLĀ never got “lost” behind the array of machines at her disposable and constantly engaged the audience throughout the set as a performer, by triggering backing tracks and taking centre stage. Drum and bass referencing “Unfinished Business” saw her sweep past the keyboard stands and join those closest to her.
Set highlight “Alchemy”, however was the perfect demonstration of the amount of work TĀLĀ committed herself to throughout the set. Prolonged to six minutes, “Alchemy” saw TĀLĀ showing off her multi-instrumental talents, while dashing about the stage to faithfully recreate a range of vocal modulations. With arpeggios building to a false-climax, the track reached stratosphere as a pounding four-to-the-floor commanded the attention of all those in witness. Although the zenith, which “Alchemy” proudly claimed was never reached in the subsequent 30 minutes, set closer “Everybody’s Free” came remarkably close. It also confirmed that TĀLĀ’s set was not merely a bedroom producer realizing her music within the live setting, but a bedroom producer keen to assault a variety of the audience’s senses. White and gold light rose in time with sweeping synths, hi-hats rolled furiously amongst TĀLĀ’s longing live R&B vocal, all while the olfactory system was persistently aroused by numerous scents.
The positioning of “Alchemy” did prove to be problematic however. With its live coda, it is more akin to a set closer. This in turn hampered the reception to the likes of “Black Scorpio”, “Serbia” and “On My Own in Hua Hin” from an already relatively stagnant crowd (blame the cold). There were also minor issues with vocal levels during the bombastic segments of “Black Scorpio” and “Alchemy”, however these later resolved to provide clarity to her voice. Minor issues aside this was an exciting and promising debut performance from TĀLĀ, which catered to a variety of senses – visual, olfactory and of course, auditory. And in the midst of all the theatrics of hand-made invitations, perfumed concert halls and TĀLĀ inspired cocktails one found true substance. The question is however, how long will this party be kept a secret?