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Sarah Meth & Okay Kaya, SET, London

  • Written by  Steven Velentzas


It’s pouring rain outside and so I’m not feeling particularly motivated to leave the flat, not only that but I do not want to be standing around in wet sneakers all night. I’ve gotta write a review for a gig and I’m already hearing my editor's voice in my head, ‘be more critical’, on the plus side I recognize the voice and it’s only one voice, count your blessings where you can gettem. Of course, he’s right. My work comes off fanboyish more often than not. Hard to blame me though when London’s music scene is steeped in talent. Tonight, though, I’m feeling like I’m in the right mindset to be more critical. I’ve had a shitty day with my stomach still in knots, my veins are rife with criticism coursing through them. I arrive at SET soaked having not even listened to the two artists I’m meant to review; the makings of this article will be a spray of friendly fire I think to myself. 

Sarah Meth takes to the stage, 15 minutes late, fury swells inside me. She doesn’t look concerned and this free spirit attitude carries onto her guitar which sounds (is) out of tune. She’s missing stringed notes when she plays and a general unconcerned vibe is in the air. I imagine the set I’ll be watching will come from a child that’s been hugged too often and told by overly encouraging and enthusiastic parents that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. So this, the fruit of their labour, is happening to me. I am, in fact, mistaken.  

Sarah starts off with her set ‘What Does It Mean’ demonstrating her strength as a lyricist;: 

"But the night reveals my body but he can’t handle my mind", followed strongly by a second as yet to be released single ‘Blue’ with equally vivid lyrics:  

"We cry cause the system ain’t right, the sirens don’t sleep tonight."   

Sarah’s voice radiates unwavering. Light and airy at times it floats towards the highs but is equally confident when plunging to the depths of moody and morose bluesy bass. It works, it all works. No drums, no problem, sparse audience, still okay. Much later after her performance on my way home I stream her single which drips production values and instruments not apparent in her stripped-down set but both experiences are equally as absorbing as they are rewarding. Her lyrics are sobering and leave you feeling having lived their story like an implanted memory. With deja-vu comes a strong feeling of empathy engrossing the audience as Sarah sings her final tune solo on stage. The hold on us is strong but is finally shattered when a single coin falls from somewhere coming at us like a freight train screeching through the joint. I snap back to reality only realizing then I haven’t taken a single picture.  

By now I can no longer see the stage from the midpoint in the room it’s gotten so crowded. Relocating to the front of stage I’m greeted by Okay Kaya and her Trumpeter. She’s avoiding eye contact with the audience and fishing around her guitar case for her guitar strap. She’s now facing us recharging her confidence, she removes her jumper in true striptease fashion. The confidence melts away just as soon as it’s appeared as she’s strapping on her guitar and facing the crowd but it’s disarming and endearing. She audibly breathes heavily into her microphone wide eyed as if to joke that this is an intimidating experience for her, but I’m not sure it’s an act. Nervous stream of consciousness is pretty much littered throughout her set and I feel for her. Being on stage or even outgoing true enough are traits often associated with confidence but from my (own personal) experience are easily associated with being nervous as well.  I feel for her, I think she’s courageous. ‘So, these are some nice curtains’ she comments asking what the curtains are like at Hoxton Hall where she’ll be playing in May. Kaya, like Sarah, plays hushed set both vocally and instrumentally and also like Sarah is a strong lyricist. I want to keep hearing her lyrics which are as outrageous as they are transmundane (LOOK THEM UP, or better yet listen to her music many times).  She constructs her song lyrics like the children that wouldn’t use the instructions that came with their Lego, appropriating the pieces to manifest their imagination into physical being. Kaya’s grasp on vocabulary as a second language speaker is intrinsic; a tool repurposing her insides and outsides around her. It’s magical. I wish I could say more but I’ve maxed out my ‘Cerebral Per Diem’ – Kaya 

Moving away from the lyrical structure and focusing just on the sounds firstly, no percussion for either set and no effects, I didn’t miss either. It wasn’t exactly an acoustic set but some genre defiant beast. It was stripped down and raw, it felt real, it felt believable and approachable inclining the audience to experience both. It was, as stated previously, a very intimate performance. Preferring this to large venues there’s no better way to connect with the artist and their work. Everything about the sound was soft. Two amps, two musicians and the most hushed trumpet I’ve ever heard from five feet away. I could hear the strings being plucked instead of the sounds they produced, I heard the keys pressed and the exhales of breath from the trumpeter. The tones were all warm, gooey and soothing more lullaby than a song. This really stood out during Ka Meg a tune she sang in her mother tongue, If you’re unaware, as I was, Kaya is Norwegian. The Norwegian inflection in her voice slaps in songs like Psyche Ward and Ka Meg. Nagging connections between her and Nico really tugged at me, closing my eyes I was hearing echoes of 'Chelsea Girls' especially during 'Ka Meg' 

In the end both artists, their musical style, their lyrics, were a mix of reflexive narrations swaddled quietly in a poetic narrative. I left in a really good mood, much better than the one I’d walked in with. I’ve been listening to a lot of loud psychedelic tunes lately and live shows in particular so it was nice to break and switch it up by being drawn into a performance instead of being pushed back by what was coming off the stage. Both Sarah and Kaya have shows coming up in the next few months, dig a little and get yourself out there. 

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