It takes charm and confidence to command the attention of a crowd like Little Boots does at her headline London show at Oslo, Hackney. Dressed in a pink blazer and trousers with colour-matched heels, she was the shortest person on stage yet had the crowd mesmerised by every chorus and twist of her sequencer.
It’s very clear that Victoria Hesketh has been steadily refining her synth-pop craft in recent years. With her latest album Working Girl (“Album three. Feels like I can finally call this work,” she quipped), Hesketh has created a power-woman soundtrack which draws from 80s electro-pop, such as Heaven 17 and The Human League, with undertones of Dolly Parton and The Bangles.
And you only need take one look at the promo shoots for the new record to realise that there’s a knowing wink to it all– a comically serious-looking Hesketh strikes a variety of classic business poses: gazing steamily at a corded telephone, clutching a newspaper, or – on the album cover – tugging the brim of her two-tone business suit as she stares into the middle distance like she’s glimpsed a stock price jackpot. Her own involvement with the world of corporate record labels is what caused her to go independent. So there’s a lot more truth to her recent music than she’s often given credit for.
At Oslo, Hesketh is a wizard, and with each electronic spell she cast the crowd’s energy grew. On rousing dance number, No Pressure, she strutted about the stage, leaning out to the crowd to sing her honeyed verses, before casually gliding over to her stack of consoles every so often to activate the next set of beats on her sequencer. She shot the crowd dazzling smiles in between her chorus of Get Things Done. And she poured her Kylie-pop-princess-side into a sonorous version of New in Town.
The crowd are enthralled, hypnotised, and totally in sync with this synth songstress. Hesketh thanks us all graciously midway through her set because, as large as this audience is, she still feels her music is “quite a niche thing”. A fair observation., but we’d wager more people would be into Hesketh’s sound if they actually heard it.
The most rapturous moments were reserved for left-field material from her second album, Nocturnes, performed with an intricate choreography all of their own. Warming up her analogue synthesizer (“We obviously have the highest technology in our office right now”, she joked, as she fiddled with the temperamental grey box before her), Hesketh unleashed moody, trance-inducing waves with Motorway, an almost operatic song that’s a whirlwind of piano keys, synth clicks and echoing vocals. Soon afterwards, she was performing her own juggling act – between her synthesizer, keyboard and microphone – on the super-energetic Confusion. She twisted and turned, pressed and siphoned, trimmed and adjusted on her synth alone, as well as striking her keyboard and contorting her body back towards the mic in order to keep up with the song’s regular verses.
There’s no shortage of powerful women in music today: Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift. Little Boots may not command legions of fans like those names but, based on her performance at Oslo, she deserves a great deal more respect for her musicianship. Returning for the encore – chatting nonchalantly into an oversized, inflatable mobile phone, which she soon jettisoned into the crowd – she whipped up a frenzy once again with her multitasking performance on sizzling dance anthems Remedy and Shake. She may be small in stature, but Little Boots is big on charm. And watching the pop star-turned-indie singer-songwriter and creative entrepreneur generate her delicate dance music live on stage only makes her wizardry more magical.