Much as we love rampant, mental moshpits round these parts, sometimes it’s nice to hear a crowd just shut the f*ck up for a few minutes.
This can occasionally be an issue at Ja Ja Ja - Islington’s popular Nordic music showcase and networking night – where old acquaintances sometimes forget that there’s someone performing at all, resulting in the ever-awkward "Shh!"-and-stare standoff. Thankfully Lay Low suffers no such distractions.
“Thank you for being quiet,” grins the London-born, half Sri Lankan Icelander, standing front of stage with just an acoustic guitar for company. Actually she’s armed with a beef-enhancing sample pedal too, which helps, but her ready wit keeps the audience attentive even when she’s just rambling amiably between songs.
The songs? Beautifully-crafted Americana, on the whole, passionately played, plus it’s always good to hear at least one track sung in an act’s native tongue, particularly when it’s this particular nation: Icelandic is such a glorious noise.
A fine opening act, then, even despite her slightly worrying loss of breath late on; turns out she’d wolfed down a burger pre-gig which is now acting like one of those Icelandic geysers. Still, it gets another big laugh, and that’s a useful trait: keep the audience entertained, by any means necessary.
Carmen Villain, on the other hand, looks like she’s never had a burger in her life. Another act who pushes Ja Ja Ja’s Nordic template to new territories, she’s an American-born Mexican/Norwegian model-turned-singer whose stage presence is almost the conscious antithesis of the likeable Lay Low: all haughty, frosty cool.
Signed to the usually splendid Oslo-based label Smalltown Supersound, her band make suitably arch shoegaze that sounds perfectly adequate, but Villain’s painfully Lana Del Ray-like drone soon wears thin, and the attention wanders. She’s probably absolutely captivating if you fetishise the achingly thin female form, but for those of us with slightly healthier appetites there’s little of interest to hear here.
From a former Vogue cover star to a frontwoman wearing a sedate black dress augmented by what looks like a giant snowflake round the neck. Burning Hearts are apparently influenced by experimental pop acts like Broadcast and Stereolab, which perhaps shines through more readily on record.
Live, the Finnish quartet look and sound a bit airy-folksy, in truth, with a worrying hint of whimsical old incense-drenched sixties folk, Pentangle or Steeleye Span (perhaps it’s just the dress). Well, aside from their bass player, who looks and sounds like he’s just moonlighting from his regular gig in a Finnish metal band. He injects some welcome spunk into proceedings, and they finish with a funky flourish.
Spunk and a snowflake, frosty vibes and volcanic fast food: another wilfully varied evening at Ja Ja Ja, then? Yes, yes, y’all.
Words by Si Hawkins
Photo by Sebastien Dehesdin