- "I wrote this at a time when I felt really confused. I wasn't sure if I felt strong, or sad, or… I was just all the things at the same time." Smoke coiled across the stage of Berlin's Prince Charles and the lights faded between warm shades. Kelela's DJ pressed play on "Guns & Synths," the opener from her 2013 mixtape Cut 4 Me, and the several hundred people on the dance floor swayed in the close summer heat.
Kelela's music is increasingly about feeling "all the things." Cut 4 Me, a breakup record, had its fair share of thorny club tracks, but last year's Hallucinogen EP fixated on moments of sweet emotional overload. Kelela's set returned several times to the first night spent with someone, as if she were bathing in the wash of memories. Her dreads flew around as she tossed her head in reverie and made slow, sinuous movements across the stage.
Kelela is unlikely to play such a small venue next time she comes to Berlin. She peppered her set with songs from her forthcoming debut album, many of which took Hallucinogen's romantic swoon and amplified it further. Their high-definition R&B embrace was only let down by the strange lack of sub-bass from Prince Charles' Funktion-Ones. One of the songs, whose raddled Prince funk had Jam City written all over it, was extraordinary.
In between, Kelela kept things fresh with some smart set tweaks. She started offstage, vocalising wordlessly over the chords from her hit with Kingdom, "Bankhead." She sang "The High" over Dizzee Rascal's "Wheel" instrumental, looped and low-passed until it was a distant, menacing rumble. Hallucinogen highlight "All The Way Down" got a new beat in its middle section, casting a gloomier light on the song's tale of rollercoaster romance.
These moments were highlights in a brilliantly paced set whose only liability was Kelela herself. Not that she messed anything up, but she often seemed close, her vocal improvisations riding a precarious wave of emotion. The pace increased at the close, and ballroom and grime instrumentals crested into "Bankhead” and "Rewind," Kelela's two biggest hits. In between the two, she spoke to those in the audience yet to realise their ambitions. "I've dreamed about this since I can't remember. Three or four years ago I was telemarketing. Just so you know that this shit does turn around." Later, before running through a couple of encores, her feelings almost got the better of her. "I'm not really good at singing and crying at the same time, so I'm not going to go there."