Charli XCX and Nite Jewel go back to the future
The last few years have been a bull market for young women with avant-garde interests exploring the outer orbits of synth-driven dance music. Friday in L.A., two of the best young talents make a case that this trend has no signs of slowing.
Over at Club Nokia Friday and the Bootleg Theater Saturday, the 19-year-old English singer-composer Charli XCX makes her proper live debut in the Southland. She's the latest signing to the local indie IAMSOUND, and it's easy to see why. Charli XCX was raised in London's derelict warehouse party scene. Early singles such as "Nuclear Seasons" and "Stay Away" have a dark, ravey fizz, like a glass of cherry Coke stained with black lipstick. As a vocalist, she has an ear for inhabiting songs with a lovelorn distance that might be a sign of our times.
"When the world's in dark times, amazing pop comes out of it," she said over the phone from a West Hollywood hotel where she was holed up as she finished tracks for her debut album a few weeks ago. "There's going to be a lot fewer songs about just being in the club. There's a backlash to all that ultra-sexualness, and darker artists can be beautiful too."
Charli XCX's new EP "You're The One" is out June 12, and she's been recording with the local producer Ariel Rechtshaid for her future full-length (his other recent clients? Justin Bieber and Diplo, which seems an appropriate mix here). Both of her shows this weekend -- tonight she opens for Santigold, tomorrow is her L.A. headline debut at Bootleg -- will be proving grounds for what might be a big new voice in left-of-center pop. Big acts are already noticing -- after this jaunt, she hits the road with Coldplay for the summer.
"Even though I only reached the public eye in April, I've been doing this for five years," she said. "I've made mistakes and learned my craft. I'm actually pretty chilled out about it."
Up the hill in Hollywood at the Ford Amphitheatre on Friday, an extended gang of musicians led by Nite Jewel pays homage to visionaries of the past. "Krautrock Classics" is a brilliantly curated program of bands exploring their debt to '60s and '70s German bands -- such as Kraftwerk, Neu!, Can and Faust -- through a series of covers.
Nite Jewel, whose new album "One Second of Love" is a favorite around these parts, is tackling the whole of Kraftwerk's landmark "Computer World," while other exploratory locals, including E.S.P., Dntel, Sun Araw and Carlos Nino, take on the era's incredibly rich catalog.
It says something that all the German originals sound as ambitious today as they did 40 years ago, and that the best of L.A.'s noise, electronic and new-music artists today lined up to mine their influence for this set. And as "cosmic German music" goes, there really isn't a better venue to the city to hear it than the idyllic outdoor Ford.
Both of these shows suggest the future and the past alike are in some very capable younger hands.
-- August Brown
Photos: Charli XCX, left, and Nite Jewel. Credits: Charli XCX, IAMSOUND; Nite Jewel, Secretly Canadian.