Perfume Genius


Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a stunning transformation. Back in 2012, I went to the much cherished and much missed ATP Festival at Camber Sands, the edition that was curated by The National. Early on in the first evening I took my mate to see Perfume Genius, kind of against his will as he had no idea who he was and he wanted to play on the arcades instead. But I dragged him to the Pontins function room, and we watched PG (aka Mike Hadreas) stand pretty much stock still behind a keyboard, hoodie pulled up, barely able to raise his head to acknowledge the audience. We watched him break everyone’s heart in the room with his delicate songs about everything from drug abuse to the abuse of people in a position of authority (a timely reminder of which is given in the encore this evening via ‘Mr. Peterson’ after these awful last few weeks). This was a fragile man, barely older than me, who felt like he’d already lived a lifetime of shit, and was being the bravest person in the world just by getting up on stage and sharing these songs with us. It was astonishingly intimate and although it was hard to look away, you felt like maybe you shouldn’t be watching.

Cut to five years later, and I find myself in the company of Hadreas again, but much has changed in that time. He’s released another two albums that have exploded his gentle piano ballad world into one of soaring, sometimes filthy, fanatic synth pop bangers, keeping those devastating ballads in the mix to even more potent effect. On record, he is stunning. Live, he is on another level altogether. Gone is the lone presence scared to meet the audience’s eyes, and in his place is a fabulous, sashaying, gyrating, strutting frontman who is now so magnetic that he has the sold out crowd at Gorilla in the palm of his hand.

Dressed in a gold combo, he comes on stage with a full band, boyfriend Alan on synths (who has played every single live show ever with Hadreas), a drummer and guitarist, and it all starts off very delicately with opener to his new album (the stunning No Shape) ‘Otherside’, so quiet that they have to turn the massive fans off in the venue to avoid drowning him out. But then. Then it explodes into huge bass and twinkling synths and big stadium lights, and the crowd explode with it, whooping and hollering as Hadreas poses and pouts. It’s a sensational opening, and the pace doesn’t let up for four or five songs, Hadreas running through some of his bangers to warm the crowd up – not that they need it, as despite it being November, without the fans on it’s sweltering in Gorilla’s tin-roofed room.

After a pounding ‘Go Ahead’, Hadreas removes his top to reveal his slight, muscular frame beneath a white vest, and declares he’s going to play a few slow songs. He begins by playing ‘Normal Song’ solo on the guitar, and you can hear a pin drop, the crowd stood open-mouthed at how incredible his voice is in moments like this. It’s one of the most diverse audiences I’ve ever seen at a gig, couples of all sexual preference embracing, kissing, gyrating along with the music, it feels safe and wonderful and inclusive – everything every gig should be, but unfortunately isn’t. When he covers Mary Margaret O’Hara’s ‘Body’s In Trouble’, I write one thing down: ‘sex’. Hadreas is almost at exotic dancer level of moves, dropping to the floor, sticking his bum out, grinding up and down to the stage, it’s a erotic celebration of queerness and it’s magnificent. The set ends with the throbbing, industrial ‘Body’, the sublime ‘Die 4 You’ and an absolutely joyous ‘Slip Away’, the grin plastered all over my face saying it all.

He’s not done yet though, he’s back for some more quiet songs drawn from his debut album. Alan joins him, and they’re both sat together at the front of the stage, facing the audience head on, beaming as they sing and play together for a rapt crowd; it’s the cutest thing I’ve seen all year. After an intense ‘Learning’ and the aforementioned ‘Mr Peterson’, he ends with a raucous, triumphant rendition of ‘Queen’ which sets the crowd alight. Tonight is an extraordinary reminder of the power of performance, the power of being who you are and celebrating it, of facing your demons head on and winning. Hadreas is an incredible person, and his transformation inspiring.

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