It was an unusual setting for a gig. Books lining every wall, the only drinks on offer being 50p bottles of water that you had to pick up on your way in, and a small army of tiny children taking up most of the front row. And it certainly wasn’t made any less unusual when the support act, Nimmo, came onto stage and delivered a set that might have been more suitable for a 3 a.m. mash up at a festival after ingesting substances that you almost certainly wouldn’t find in a library. But Nimmo were captivating. And while the intense spoken-word opener, directed above the heads of those previously mentioned children, might have prepared the crowd for a more subdued affair, they were soon banging out their own brand of club hits. Again, the setting made this strange at first – but the chemistry and enthusiasm of the two performers soon cast any such doubts aside. They ended their set with a storming cover of Rui Da Silva’s ‘Touch Me’, finally getting the crowd to forget their surroundings and have a bit of a boogie, but the set overall will be remembered for their own personal and powerful songs. One to watch for sure.
But let’s be honest, most of us were there for the main act. Self Esteem have been building something of a following this year, ever since their impressive debut album Compliments Please hit stores in early March. This was made particularly evident when Rebecca Taylor pointed out the ‘freaks’ in the audience who she keeps seeing at all of her shows. But for those who have not yet been initiated into the cult of Self Esteem, here’s a quick summary; Taylor was previously a member of Slow Club but, feeling restricted artistically, she decided to step away and put out the kind of music she’s always wanted to. Compliments Please is a revelation. It’s indie pop with flashes of folk and it’s also like nothing I’ve ever heard before. It’s confident. It’s honest. It’s strongly feminist. And, while Self Esteem is often seen as Taylor’s solo project, it is also so dependent on the relationship she has with her colleagues and the harmonies they create that I can’t help but call them a band. If you haven’t checked it out yet you should do so immediately.
But, again, with their songs about ‘shagging straight girls’ and taking away people’s wives, and with their general ‘no-fucks’ attitude, it was initially quite difficult to picture how this might work as a 2.30 p.m. gig in a library. I needn’t have worried. Self Esteem are such dynamic and exciting performers that they could probably play in a police station and make it somewhere you desperately want to be. I can’t think of any other band that I’ve ever seen live that make me enjoy choreographed dance moves but the chemistry between these women on stage is just a joy to watch. From ‘Wrestling’ and ‘Rollout’ early in the set, to album highlight and possible song of the year ‘In Time’, they performed with an energy and delight that made you forget that it was the middle of the day and you were in a place where you’d usually get shushed for speaking.
What makes Self Esteem’s live shows even more special, though, is the light and shade. If they were just a lively, dancey, playful band and nothing else their shows would still be a lot of fun. But they wouldn’t have the same emotional weight. ‘She Reigns’ was an absolute highlight in Huddersfield, largely because it stripped away all of those elements and presented an absolutely perfect example of how strong Taylor’s voice and lyrics are and how well her and her bandmates work together. It was truly stunning. And then, as if we weren’t already emotionally drained enough, the band came into the crowd to deliver a beautiful version of ‘I’m Shy’ with only a tiny guitar as accompaniment.
That song finished off the main part of the set, but Taylor had already made it abundantly clear that there would be an encore. That encore finished with the first song I heard by the band, and the one that had me immediately hooked. ‘The Best’ is their strongest message in terms of feminism and strength and fighting back against those who hold you down. It is an absolutely perfect example of what is so good about Self Esteem and was the ideal way for them to finish the set before bouncing off stage, dancing and smiling together and showing just how important their connection is to their success. We may have been in a library on a dull day in Yorkshire, but we left feeling like the sun was shining and we had just left the best party we’d been to in years.
Words by Fran Slater