Romy, Electric Brixton, review: A celebration of vulnerability and queer joy

Romy's intensely personal lyrics came alive in the dark, heady, febrile and ultimately jubilant atmosphere

The xx might be on hiatus – there has been no activity to speak of since 2018 – but their members have certainly kept themselves busy. After producer Jamie xx and bassist/vocalist Oliver Sim, the final member of the Mercury Prize-winning London trio to strike out solo is guitarist and singer Romy Madley Croft, whose debut album Mid Air finally dropped in September.

Not that she’s been in any way idle: such has been The xx’s impact on the evolution of pop music since their nigh-on-perfect self-titled 2009 debut – an immaculately crafted distillation of austere, spacious, intimate indie electronica – over recent years Romy has added to her CV songwriting credits for Dua Lipa, Halsey and Mark Ronson.

Mid Air amalgamates The xx-style vulnerability and house, trance and pop with intensely personal lyrics that celebrate the journey to queer love: from the insecurities through to the joy (Romy married her wife, the photographer Vic Lentaigne, in 2021). It is a fine record, but it really came to life in the dark, heady, febrile and ultimately jubilant atmosphere at Electric Brixton.

A 1,700-capacity space more used to club nights than gigs was turned by Romy into a meeting of the two, billed as Club Mid Air – “a place for celebration, salvation and sanctuary on the dancefloor”. Romy’s minimal approach – no visuals, one musician in charge of electronics and three large overhead spotlights – was in contrast to the music’s more maximalist tendencies.

A 1,700-capacity space more used to club nights than gigs was turned by Romy into a meeting of the two (Photo: Sandra Ebert)

Mid Air takes its cue from the sort of dance-pop from the mid-1990s and early 2000s that filled up the gay clubs that liberated Romy as a teenager, and the impact on the show is clear: Romy segues the end of the newly Grammy-nominated Fred again… collaboration “Lights Out”, with Alice Deejay’s club classic “Better Off Alone”, the touch of someone well acquainted with their source material.

After an excellent mood-establishing DJ set from producer I. Jordan, who injected a manic 2am club energy at 7.30pm, Romy picked up the baton, first joining I. Jordan for their set’s end at the DJ booth opposite the stage, then fighting through the crowd as her own set began. “Weightless” was an inviting opener, the hushed melancholy of Romy’s vocals, which occupy a similar tone to Everything But the Girl’s Tracey Thorn, meeting wavy synths that eventually gave way to one of many four-to-the-floor beats. It was the first of several times Romy turned to the table of electronic kit to manipulate the sound into pleasingly odd directions.

With only a handful of solo shows under her belt, it was no surprise to hear Romy admit to nerves – The xx made a virtue of shyness – but after a euphoric take on 2020 debut single “Lifeline” she warmed to the task, commanding the space with increasing ease, though the frenzied reaction – including chants of “Romy! Romy!” after a pounding take on the Ibiza-pop of “She’s on My Mind” – often took her back.

Mid-set, she even got into the crowd for a jump around to the sound of a 90s trance remix of Robyn’s “Dancing on my Own” (which, being as it is the all-time sad banger, was an apt choice). Confetti flew everywhere – which Romy later admitted was a surprise as much to her as everyone else.

In the live environment, it was interesting to see the insecurity of some lyrics – worrying if feelings for a friend are requited on the house-y “Loveher” – become such a communal experience. The two-part title track and “Enjoy Your Life”, with its disco influence brought to the fore, both sample a Beverly Glenn-Copeland: “My mother said to me/ Enjoy your life” was bellowed back in unison like an act of defiance on the most celebratory of nights.

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