Shedding her former moniker, Throwing Shade, in favour of her real name, Nabihah Iqbal has also traded her earlier bright and airy electronic sound for a lo-fi soundscape complete with grungy guitar and new wave synths.
Her first live ticketed gig, seeing her playing tracks from her debut album Weighing of the Heart, draws a sell-out crowd to Haggerston’s Archspace. The intimate railway arch setting fits well with Iqbal’s shoegaze style vocals and shimmering pop melodies.
Iqbal opens with ‘Eden Piece’, a pared back track with a lilting piano line and barely-there vocals. She gently draws the audience into the album’s dreamy sonic landscape before upping the tempo with the chiming guitar of ‘Something More’, which Iqbal describes as an ode to “dreams and hopes eclipsed”.
Even though the songs on Weighing of the Heart sound like a full band is playing, Iqbal plays alongside just one other musician. This reflects the recording process which saw Iqbal playing all the parts of the album herself- keys, synths, drums, guitar and vocals.
The smell of sandalwood incense that drifts through the room is another nod to the Iqbal’s late night studio sessions, after which she would burn this particular type of Japanese joss stick.
Iqbal introduces the next song ‘Saw U Twice’ as the most guitar heavy track of the night . With its murky guitar line, driving drum machine beat and yearning lyrics such as “Saw you on the train/Will I see you again”, it channels a feeling of mundane melancholia.
Over the next two songs ‘Alone Together’ and ‘Feels So Right’, Iqbal constructs a more delicate latticework of guitar, the former centring on glimmering electronic loops while the latter focuses on ghostly, half-sung lyrics.
Fed through heavy effects, Iqbal’s guitar, which features on nearly every song during her performance, cuts through the hazy aura which permeates her music.
This strong focus on guitar is the product of the music Iqbal was listening to when she wrote the album- she stopped listening to new music and instead reflected on the music of her teenage years including Joy Division, Bauhaus and New Order.
With her tartan suit, zebra doc martens and trademark beret, Iqbal’s aesthetics also seem to hark back to the heyday of post-punk.
When she picks up the pace with ‘In Visions’, these influences are clearly apparent. Opening with robotic handclaps and echoing harmonies and accompanied by woozy lyrics such as “When you are sleeping softly/Your dreams will find you there”, it recalls Bauhaus’ gloomy goth-rock.
The 80s-synths and spoken-word lyrics of ‘Zone 1 to 6000’ also immediately bring to mind Pet Shop Boys ‘West End Girls’, and conjure up the dreariness and despair of struggling through the working week in London: “We wander through each other’s lives/Just like the river’s constant flow”.
Judging from the crowd’s response this is clearly the stand-out track of the gig; but the arresting improv section that comes just before is also a highlight of the show, as melancholy piano melds with liquid gold guitar.
‘Slowly’ is another revelation. Although the minimalistic ballad is one of the less interesting tracks on the album, it takes on a new emotional depth when performed live.
Throughout the gig, Iqbal introduces each song with little tit-bits of information about her various influences. We hear that William Blake’s London was a key inspiration for ‘Zone 1 to 6000’.
Another poet, Matthew Arnold, informs ‘Eternal Passion’, the song reflecting his anguished style with its scutting drumbeats and a sombre bassline.
Most unexpectedly, Iqbal tells us that ‘Untitled Friday’, her housiest song, was inspired by an honour killing in Sheffield.
But this wide range of influences probably shouldn’t come as a surprise given Iqbal’s status as one of the electronic music scene’s most engaging polymaths, who holds a Masters in African history from Cambridge and experience working in human rights law.
She rounds off with ‘New New Eyes’, awash with fuzzy guitars and led by a heavy drum pulse. It’s a breathless end to a mesmerising debut live performance, full of dreamy existentialist electronica with a guitar kick.