Getting intimate underground is something Londoners are used to. The unspoken laws of rush-hour etiquette go something along the lines of: eyes down, elbows in, no talking. Bodies contorted, sweat swapped, a lingering anxiety: even Bear Grylls would have a hard time traversing the Northern Line at 8am without a plan or a water bottle. (And we all know what happens when he gets thirsty.)
Thankfully, Lumia Live Sessions are here to challenge our perception of certain spaces by filling them with live music. Electro-soul trio Years & Years have been invited to colour the grimy hidden depths of Aldwych tube, a long-abandoned underground station in the heart of Westminster. The underground location reflects the offline capabilities of MixRadio, which enables users to create and download playlists, allowing listening even when the WiFi’s in short supply. With said app, music discovery never needs to stop.
Illuminated by lithe strips of neon light, the cold grey stone and cracked tiles take on a dystopian charm. Squeezed into the former ticket hall alongside 75 competition winners and invited guests, Clash stands facing the steps leading to the station’s main entrance. Grilled gates are pulled apart like industrial curtains, a mighty Moog sits cast in dramatic shadow among a web of tangled cables that spider towards various synthesisers, a scene weighted by two silent operators and a just-about-visible drummer.
Instantly there's an air of reverence. Bright bulbs shine on the small space and soon frontman Olly Alexander strides forward. Grinning. Really, grinning. It quickly becomes clear why the band wait for his arrival. The opening note of ‘Foundations’ is whole bodied, bounding through his wiry frame and bending with masterful melisma for the final breath. It’s a defined melodic lead across the growing web of sound, soul-soaked falsetto with more than a hint of Justin Timberlake in his smooth R&B phrasing. Glancing round, we notice Clash-tipped soul-man Kwabs in the crowd, sussing out the competition.
An early cover of Blu Cantrell’s ‘Breathe’ gets limbs loose, its sticky 1990s swagger swept into Disclosure territory thanks to a bubbly house bounce. The blogs-conquering ‘Real’ continues the pace, a squelching Moog bassline propping up a refrain that sees arms stretched high. It’s a set ready for summer, hazy, heady and fully on trend with its clattering 2-step drum machines and dancefloor-smothering synths.
The key to Years & Years’ longevity beyond a festival season surely lies with Olly himself, highlighted in no uncertain terms when he takes to the piano for a solo intro to ‘Eyes Shut’. Woozy and sombre, he performs with such a tangible humility it’s easy to get swept away. Suddenly, being wedged underground with a whole bunch of strangers is no bad thing at all.
Words: Kim Hillyard