Warpaint at Somerset House: ‘the murky depths of sirensong’

Following a superb headline set at Glastonbury’s Park Stage, Warpaint returned to the UK last night as part of a series of open-air concerts at Somerset House. 

The LA four-piece’s complex, siren-like harmonies and uncanny guitar textures provided a fittingly beguiling accompaniment as a breezy dusk fell on the Strand’s palatial courtyard. This was the third time I’d seen Warpaint live and once again they were hugely impressive. Not only are they extremely tight, they exude chemistry and an effusive joy at sharing a stage with one another.

Unfortunately not all of the crowd felt the same. Guitarist Theresa Wayman may have thanked the London audience midway through the set for being one of the first to ‘embrace’ the band, but many who paid the £30 entry fee bizarrely did so to have a natter and a catch-up, instead of listening to the music. I know saying this casts me in the role of a curmudgeonly ‘purist’ music reviewer, but there is a distinction between sharing the experience and a quiet word with your mates, and shouting obnoxiously loudly about unrelated shit when you are standing right fucking next to them.

Warpaint’s music may be hazy, atmospheric and disinclined to your typical rock crescendo, but it is not background music. Harmonically Warpaint are enchanting but not in the sense of being decorative or ‘pretty’. Their songs are eerie, mysterious and teasingly – even sinisterly – sensual. As they tell us on set-closer and tour de force, ‘Disco//Very’: they have melodies ‘that will kill’.

Plus in Stella Mozgawa they have a hair-swinging beast of a drummer. During the dope hip-hop of ‘Dre’ or the upbeat disco of ‘New Song’, Mozgawa brought a much-needed dynamism and variability to Warpaint’s live show. One particular highlight was the astonishing drop into half-time (the musical equivalent of suddenly playing a film in slow motion) during ‘Elephants’ at the same time as lead singer Emily Kokal chillingly, and aptly, detuned in and out of concordance on the word ‘fall’.

One potential reason for the crowd’s disinterest and general lack of energy was the set’s pacing. New singles ‘Whiteout’ and ‘New Song’ along with ‘Keep It Healthy’ ‘Love is to Die’, and ‘Disco//Very’ were played consistently in the final five songs and perhaps could have been spread out to capture the audience’s attention sooner. That said, the finale was brilliantly executed, submerging those who were listening into the murky depths of Warpaint’s sirensong.


Sam Taylor is an arts journalist who recently graduated with an English degree from UCL. He writes film and music reviews for the Financial Times, conducts interviews for The Cusp and edits London Student’s Review section. He has also been published by Jazzwise and The Independent and plays lead guitar in alt-rock band Where’s John?

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