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UD Low Down: Shygirl @ CHALK, Brighton

Ever at odds with her bashful alias, Shygirl brought a self-assured sensuality to Brighton’s CHALK, Elsa Monteith reports from the crowd…

If you aren’t already familiar, Shygirl has a remarkably fresh sound, with her hit 2022 album Nymph and 2023 Nymph_o touching on the ethereal hyper pop of the club whilst wrangling with what has previously been described as “deconstructed” grime and genre-bending industrial pop. Her tracks have done the rounds, with the “just do it” mantra of ‘Nike’ hitting the hallowed halls of COLORS early on in her career, followed by a catalogue of moody, experimental music videos tempting a glittering fate; a hotly anticipated world tour supported by coveted DJ Angelita.

True to her celestial pseudonym, Angelita brought a little heaven to the support slot, starting her set by mixing K-Pop anthems with that perfect kind of David Guetta nostalgia; she heralded a pearly reminiscence of club days gone by, playing the obligatory Ice Spice edit and ABBA laced in bass. A rowdy crowd adorned in baby T’s and low rise cargo jeans were delighted by the selection; two hands around their plastic cups big enough for two warm pints, discreetly puffing on a strawberry vape that smells suspiciously like some kind of addictive, rancid yoghurt. 

“I was rapping before I was singing”, Shygirl shares early on in her set, a testament to her light spoken vocal punctuated by slick sung riffs. She’s enchanting, a self-professed “tease” framed by the honey hue of stage lights, strident in her violet splendour. Gigs like these are always a joy to attend alone – watching groups mingle shyly before dipping out for a cigarette, the excitement building for the song everyone knows, even when it’s almost always the encore. Sometimes the best part of a gig is just this; dancing in a dark room with loud music blaring, shoulder to shoulder with strangers who know the words just as well as you do. 

The nature of live performance has shifted and changed over the last decade. We’ve become accustomed to rappers in particular leaning on vocal backing tracks to catch the dropped breaths and missed bars lost in the heady buzz of a live show. There’s something altogether more honest about a raw, unsupported voice over instrumentals – the errors buffing out the polish of the final perfect take we’re all trying to imitate. The plastic-y finish of radio edits aren’t destined for sticky club venues that sell single gin and tonics for £6 (without a lime). I want artists to run the risk of the rough mix, to colour their performance with one of one adlibs and original mistakes that stay forever locked in the tacit exclusivity of the close friends story. In the words of Shygirl, I wanted those sweet, sweet moments to last, and for the rest to descend into simple, blissful, erroneous “debauchery”. 

And so it did, with the echoes of ‘Shlut’ ringing in my ears, we ticked off a significant number of Shygirl’s discography, with the lightness of ‘Coochie (a bedtime story)’ and dreaminess of ‘Heaven’ (featuring Tinashe) sitting in a peaceful parallel to the driving dance beat of ‘thicc’ and the grimey undertones of ‘BB’. Shygirl demonstrated the breadth of her work and depth of her voice, a lyrical dance between patient, well-paced rap and raunchy vocal riffs. Shygirl was a true main character, performing to an audience of supporting roles, ready and waiting for their moviestar to make her next move.

Words: Elsa Monteith, a Brighton based writer and broadcaster working in and around the arts and on the radio waves. Subscribe to Elsa’s Discontented newsletter.

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