Jai Paul has long been one of the Internet age’s most enigmatic pop figures, a testament to the MP3 era.
Since 2011’s high-impact breakthrough ‘BTSTU’, releases have been few and far between. Live shows, quite simply put, have been non-existent. Across the past decade, the whereabouts of the artist have remained a mystery, one that fans have had little but no choice to accept. The case of Jai Paul is one that feels ever so time-sensitive. A trajectory equipped with sparkly, new tools to self-release music online, striking early enough to avoid today’s overhaul of social media platforms, yet victim to the early phenomena of music leaks.
From the get go: Jai Paul has written his own rule-book, and has stuck by it with all but a few demos. Astronomically influential ones, at that.
So it’s for this exact reason that Jai Paul’s first run of live shows, over a decade after his debut, are a big deal. Yet, beyond the hype and unanswered questions, the artist meets this endeavour as a newcomer, carried by an endearing, familiar quality that his dedicated fans are well acquainted with. Ahead of his first ever Coachella performance, the artist took to Reddit: “Yoo it’s Jai. This weekend I’m gonna be playing my first ever live show and I’m not gonna lie I am absolutely shitting it.” He is human, after all.
It’s this nervous, buzzing energy that fills Tottenham Court Road’s brand new music hot spot, HERE at Outernet. The mass appeal of Coachella is certainly impressive but, let’s be honest, completely separate from a hometown performance. The artist draws a crowd from all walks of life – all ages and aesthetics are in the building. Exclusive vinyls are neatly slotted under the arms of those who made it for early doors, whilst the rest weave their way closer to the front, careful not to step over anyone’s toes. As high as anticipation may be, tonight’s crowd feels surprisingly relaxed and observant – somewhat shy yet comfortable.
Fellow band member and Paul Institute signee Fabiana Palladino goes above and beyond as a support act, sharing a crystal-clear, synth-heavy performance of mainly new material. Tracks like ‘Dream Anymore’ have an elevating sheen, whereas ‘I Care’ takes pride in its deeper, hypnotic tempos that turns the room warm and welcoming. Departing the stage to later hop behind the keys for Jai Paul, the crowds start to thicken.
The sound of stark drums hush the audience, a straight-to-the-point entrance into ‘Higher Res,’ Jai Paul’s opening track. Allowing for his band (brother and producer A.K. Paul, Isaac Kizito, Rocco and Palladino) to fully savour their harmonies, the star shortly emerges from the shadows.
Sporting a bright, neon jumper and sci-fi sunglasses, the artist is leisurely and assured in his steps, piercing the room with his vocals. Diving straight into the menacing build-up of ‘He’, the artist loses himself to the track’s glorious groove, hitting his head to the beat and breaking into effortlessly cool air-guitar. Spreading his arms into the air, there’s an element of grandeur and surrealism that exudes his every movement, marking a return to his long-awaited legacy as if he’d never left. We can all agree that not many people can make air guitar look cool, but Jai Paul is hands down one of them.
Little room is left between tracks for interaction, at most a line or a whisper masked by plenty of reverb. Instead, the artist marches through his setlist, offering a feast of Jai Paul hits that flaunt versatility and extend the demos further. Take ‘Zion Wolf Theme – Unfinished,’ a performance that tones down its lunging synths for a bouncier spring to its drums, leaning into its originally subdued, dub influence. On the other hand, the disorientating ‘100,000’ forms a tag-team between Paul’s production and Actual Object’s visuals, launching the crowd into what looks like an eternal, swirling cave. An unexpected rendition of Gary Numan’s ‘Cars’ even manages to whittle its way through.
Situated at the heart of the performance is ‘All Night’, a vulnerable ballad that spotlights Paul’s vocal range. Looking across his cheering supporters, it’s a heart-warming, intimate moment shared between the two. The heavily contrasting chaos of ‘Genevieve – Unfinished’ is equally handed its flowers, highlighting the strengths of Paul’s band, who ultimately bring his eclectic production to life.
It’s worth noting Patrick Krauze’s excellent creative direction from start to finish, using the venue’s wide LED screens to heighten each and every track.
Accelerating into the show’s crescendo, Jai Paul hits his crowd with his career’s three, defining records – ‘Jasmine’ followed by ‘BTSTU’ and ‘Str8 Outta Mumbai’, an ode to his Indian heritage. It’s a larger than life conclusion that ties everything together. As Jai Paul walks off the stage, he cracks a smile of approval to his band – he’s pulled it off.
Some will walk away in awe, others will continue to seek answers. The mystery behind Jai Paul remains intact, which will either divide or accumulate new supporters along the way. The evening presents an artist indifferent to the industry’s demands, reserving himself to the degree that he wishes – distant yet never too far off. Whether or not this will be Jai Paul’s final performance, one could never know.
In a life that feels all-too digital and exposed, Jai Paul continues to hold his cards close to his chest, and wins big…
Words: Ana Lamond