Sweden’s Little Dragon returned to Leeds to play to a packed out Stylus at Leeds University. The last time the band were here they’d just released ‘Machine Dreams’, an album that signalled a transition to a more upbeat version of their soul infused electronica that first gained recognition after the release of their self titled debut in 2007. Indeed, anyone who’d heard first single ‘Twice’ knew that here was a uniquely fresh and exciting prospect, a fusion of jazzy synth riffs with a strong nod to dance music that has found fans across a range of musical circles. It’s hard to pinpoint a specific or defining genre, but the band has a unique signature sound that’s simultaneously uncluttered and spacious.
With the release of third album ‘Ritual Union’ last year their popularity has spiralled, yet it’s always been vocalist Yukimi Nagano who really makes the band so enticing. Appearing on the gorgeous ‘Scale it back’ from DJ Shadow’s latest LP, as well as supplying the vocals for Sbtrkt’s amazing post-dubstep hit ‘Wildfire’, she’d also previously worked with Gorillaz on ‘Plastic Beach’- the duet ‘Empire Ants’ with Damon Albarn providing a highlight of the album. Top this off with the massively overlooked ‘If you return’ from Dave Sitek’s (of TV on the radio fame) star studded side project under the moniker Maximum balloon, and it’s clear to see why she’s helped her own band fill venues like Sheppard’s Bush Empire on this tour. The vocals are compelling, emotive and idiosyncratic; a Little Dragon tune is instantly recognisable and more often than not remarkably memorable, a quality that so many bands and producers can lack amidst the multitude generic sounds out there these days.
Taking to a stage scattered with synths, drum pads and cowbells, it gets off to an exciting yet difficult start tonight. The vocals are barely audible; however this minor glitch soon gives way to what develops into a stunning live spectacle. ‘Ritual Union’ is played within the first few songs, and seems to be what the crowd needs to get going. Yukimi gives a typically lively performance, pushing her hands to the heavens as the futuristic sounds of her band mates get people moving. It’s also given an added energy and urgency by the addition of a second keyboardist who’s been absent in the past, and tonight there’s no trouble keeping the audience entertained throughout. It’s clear that they’ve found their confidence; no time is wasted in proving they’re pumped up- every band member seems to have something to add to the mix, be it the sudden blast of a skewed keyboard riff or a frantic percussive solo.
Highlights include the disco tinged beats of ‘New Step’ and ‘Looking Glass’, as well as the standout couplet of tracks from the new album, the insanely catchy and danceable ‘Shuffle a Dream’ followed by the eerie yet uplifting ‘Please Turn’. Current single ‘Crystalfilm’ is elevated way beyond the studio recording, and Little Dragon’s sound is at its most expansive as the set moves on- we’re treated to an all out techno jam that generates a sound more befitting a DJ at 3am on a Sunday morning. As a venue Stylus undoubtedly helps the gig out here- the strobe lights and clubby atmosphere brilliantly enhances the experience.
The best is saved for last, however. The set is closed with a heartbreaking rendition of ‘Twice’ that leaves the crowd silenced. It’s the best live song I’ve witnessed in a long time, a fitting end to amazing night, and the only regret by the end was that it couldn’t go on for longer. It was a welcome return to Leeds for Little Dragon, and no doubt they’ll be back in the future with even bigger and better things. Source.