The Red Gallery – 24th June
“It looks like my teenage bedroom,” laughs my gig companion, surveying a stage cluttered with kitsch wind chimes and dreamcatchers, vivid scarves and tropical foliage. At least, I think it’s the sparkly yin and yang signs and tie-dye swirls making her nostalgic, and not the mic stand, mini-catwalk and flags of Sweden and Kurdistan. Either way, it’s a suitably maximalist backdrop for Stockholm’s Zhala Rifat, who’s making her UK live debut as part of Konichiwa Records’ ‘Love Is Free’ club night. As Rifat herself sings, midway through the set, “I chose to create a space where I can be me.”
Emerging through a mist of dry ice and freshly-atomised rosewater, Rifat provides an additional colour-pop of neon and glitter, and is flanked by a lanky male dancer in shorts and a t-shirt, stockings and suspenders. At the end of each track, he peels off a layer of clothing to reveal lacy ladies’ negligee (and finally, his genitalia) and together they variously weave, jump and gyrate, whipping up the already-enthusiastic Wednesday night crowd into a frenzy. Not only is tonight’s show the ideal pre-Pride warm-up, it’s the best way to appreciate Rifat’s vibrant culture-clash of Scandi-pop, 90s dance and Kurdish folk.
Already deeply kinetic on record, songs from her self-titled debut album are even more hyperactive live. There’s a ferociously bass-heavy rendition of ‘Slippin Around’, ‘Holy Bubbles’ is accompanied by pelvic thrusts and violent shimmying, and the rave-meets-Middle Eastern pop of ’Aerobic Lambada’ finds Rifat on her knees, illuminated by her dancer’s hand-held strobe light. The show ends with a maniacal sprint through ‘Prophet’, its tempo and key ascending with each verse until its snaking refrain mutates into full-blown happy hardcore. Rifat and her now-naked assistant pogo throughout.
Impressively, for all the LED-lit dance moves, protracted stripteases and gaudy stage decoration, it’s Rifat’s sugary yet powerful vocals which ultimately hold the audience in thrall. Listening to it soar over those brilliantly-oddball melodies, you quickly realise that Rifat is one of very few original voices in a sea of identikit pop stars.
Buy: Zhala – Zhala