Just last year, Holly Lapsley Fletcher was studying for her A-Levels in Southport. Unlike many people her age, she knew exactly what she wanted to do – study Geography at Bristol and go onto work for the National Geographic. She still vows that she may do this. However, at just 17, the electronic artist uploaded a song called ‘Station’ to Soundcloud and it soon got the record labels calling. Lapsley concedes that the attention garnered from her music caused her A2 results to dip, but then again she had just signed to the same label as Adele, XL Recordings.

As intriguing as her backstory is, it was perhaps even beyond Lapsley’s imagination that she would soon be playing to a packed Manchester Academy 2, just a day after the release of her major label debut Long Way Home. She even mumbles nervously from the stage, ‘it’s packed in here.’

Opener ‘Burn’ is not the show stopping start many may have expected, but instead a slow burning, clinical song that flickers with intention but never explodes, capturing our attention with its subtle, intimate nature.

‘Tell me the Truth’, the first song to be taken from her debut album, ups the ante slightly with Lapsley incorporating her trademark shifting vocals for the first time this evening; she often creates a duet-like effect in her songs, interplaying her normal vocal with a deep, possessed monotone. Here, the deep vocal is used to great effect when she sings defeatedly “Tell me the truth, it’ll hurt less, I guess” over the now more clubby sound produced by her three bandmates.

‘Cliff’ incorporates similar club-like sounds but with more oomph. It thuds with a shattering bass at the start, before we arrive at an entrancing ending, where sounds we’re so used to hearing from a deck are played out live in front of our eyes. How they re-create it is mesmerising, and Lapsley, feeling completely at home now, starts to really experiment with her voice showing off the full range of her vocal register.

If you thought for a second that she’d reached her peak, the instantly recognisable opening to ‘Falling Short’ soon dismisses such thoughts. The more traditional, piano-led ballad shows off the soul-like quality of Lapsley’s voice, prompting the first sing along of the evening.

The ‘pizza/vagina’ shaped lights, as she describes them, behind her – another sign of her increasing popularity – then turn to a sleazy, nightclub sign red for the more upbeat ‘Dancing.’ Despite its more raucous nature, Lapsley still lays her insecurities bare, singing ‘I’ve always been the understudy, I know you will never love me’ in the song’s most devastating moment. Lapsley’s words, as always, more bleak than hopeful.

She then takes a seat at the piano for the first time, leading us through two wonderfully personal versions of ‘Painter’ and ‘3386’, before playing the motown romp that is ‘Operator’ – the only song tonight that’s not purely of its time, more alive with the giddy jumpsuit vibe of the 70s than the electronic experimentation of 2016.

Lapsley has stated before that ‘Station’ is the song that represents her most as an artist. The duet effect produced by her vocal shifts works most effectively on this song, leaving listeners bewildered as to how this could be the work of one person alone. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that she had drafted Sampha in for the male, monotone parts of the song. Live, it is no less amazing and she manages to effortlessly switch between both voices, capturing everything that’s amazing about Lapsley – the simplistic beauty of her voice, the intimate content of her lyrics and her sheer audacity to try something as inventive as this and pull it off.

From this bold experimentation, we move to her most unapologetic pop song, ‘Love is Blind.’  Providing relief from the sheer emotion of what we’ve seen, this is Lapsley’s most unashamed punt for stardom and it goes down a storm tonight, producing another singalong and an onslaught of camera flashes from a crowd hungry to capture a star. Thriving off this atmosphere, she closes tonight’s set with the popular single ‘Hurt Me.’ It’s a celebratory ending and sends the crowd off sure that we’ve seen something special tonight.

While there is a proliferation of female electronic artists out there at the moment, Lapsley has something that puts her out of sight – a bold, willingness to experiment and the ability to pull it all off live without a single hiccup.  Please, please forget the Geography degree.

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Paddy Kinsella

Hi all, my name is Paddy and I have a love for everything from African music to indie to house (basically anything other than heavy metal). Gigging and listening to albums are genuinely the things I most value and love doing.