“We had this unplaceable sound: glitchy beats with pop songs over them,” Aluna Francis said earlier this year. But the music she makes with George Reid as AlunaGeorge is not unplaceable to their new US label, Interscope. It is the sound of London, or a marketable version of it: multicultural, pan-generic, quirky, catchy.
The model is Disclosure, the Surrey dance-pop duo whose 2013 debut struck gold in the US. But Disclosure’s bland, mainstream-chasing follow-up is a warning to AlunaGeorge. Increased commercial expectations tend to have the perverse effect of ironing out the qualities that made an act interesting in the first place. Will AlunaGeorge’s next album be a case of less glitch and more pop?
The record is not due until September but the question was emphatically answered at the Scala. They opened with “Attracting Flies” from their 2013 debut Body Language, a charming alt-R&B number built around a cute squiggly melody, greeted with the warmth of familiarity by the pair’s hometown audience. But it was made to seem winsome next to the first new song debuted, an elegantly urgent dance number with a twist of dub reggae and synthesised sax, a well-worked mix of repetition and unpredictability.
Francis was out front singing, flanked by a pair of dancers. Reid stood behind her, surrounded by keyboards and synths; the only other musician was a drummer. The hour-long set blended tracks from the forthcoming album, I Remember, with old favourites, including their collaboration with Disclosure, “White Noise”, a UK hit in 2013.
New songs were bigger and more assertive than those from Body Language, but no less agile. Hip-hop beats shaded into dance music peaks and drops; pop sheen was applied to Jamaican dancehall rhythms. A characterless ballad with the emollient name of “Mediator” was the only misstep. More typical was the commanding flow of latest single “I’m in Control”. Francis epitomised its sentiments, a charismatic frontwoman, at once dynamic and at ease. Her singing was high and sweet, but she negotiated even the most bustling passages of music without giving an inch. It was the sound of someone moving to the next level with consummate assurance.