In 2010, it’s rare that you’ll find an artist that’s four albums in and still described as emerging. But Zola Jesus, born Nika Roza Danilova, isn’t like other artists. In fact, she’s unlike pretty much anything else on the planet at the minute. Walking in on her performance, the first thing you hear is her voice – powerful, controlled and pitch-perfect, the simplest of instrumentation needed for backing, sounding simultaneously hopeful and apocalyptic.
Most remarkable is how breezily she seems able to belt out track after track as she paces from side to side on the stage. Make no mistake, Nika is miniscule, a shot of blonde hair poking out of her all-black outfit, but the anguish and authority in her voice seems to be second nature. In a generation of bands that haven’t really needed to be voc ally cogent, she’s a quirk, a one-off. In a year where the weak-at-best Florence Welch is considered exceptionally gifted, it’s startling to be crammed in small room with such a prodigious talent.
The tracks themselves come largely from the recently released Stridulum II, but the problems of having a sound largely based around gloomy synth and an into-the-void caterwaul mean that much of the setlist is largely indistinguishable. A voice with the depth of Danilova’s deserves a lot more subtle orchestration than two men fiddling knobs behind her, and with time that expansion should certainly occur. Still, it’s a performance that’s nothing short of breathtaking, and the clapping from the audience lasts long after the stage is vacated.
For one night only, thanks to a freak of tour scheduling, Zola Jesus isn’t even top of her own bill, either. In perhaps the best two-for-one offer Manchester will ever see, Canada’s Women take to the stage after a 40 minute interval. The change of style and pace is somewhat jarring, but it’s difficult not to fall for the quartets jaunty lo-fi jams.
Angular, heavily distorted and, at times, purposefully without tune, it’s a noise that harks back to the pre-chillwave days of 2008, where recording your album with a load of fuzz on top was pretty much the most radical thing anyone could imagine. Whilst the hype around many of their contemporaries might’ve died down, Women have always been a cut above most of their supposed peers. Their shoegazey, drone influenced racket is aided, at points by a tent peg, a Nintendo DS and a man on a keyboard playing a single note, and it’s this kind of bizarre improvised brilliance that makes them such an engaging prospect.
‘Eyesore’, the standout tracks from their new album ‘Public Strain’, is a highlight gloriously off-kilter for all of its 6 minutes. Elsewhere, they’re still bustling with ideas, and old favourites mix with newer efforts without much fuss. They’re angular, switched on and a reminder that there is a world beyond the bedroom acts that have come to dominate of late. The room, cramped and packed, heats up almost unbearably throughout the set, and by the time Women finish, there’s the stale smell of t-shirts and sweat to accompany the lingering applause. We’re in 2010, a bit of a crossroads for music. One this is for certain though – Manchester won’t see a gig like this again for a long, long time.
Zola Jesus – Clay Bodies [last.fm]
Women – Eyesore [last.fm]