French pop’s artist du moment Clara Luciani brings her perfectly-crafted disco-funk sound to London.
Clara Luciani looks excited, but also a little nervous, as she wraps both her hands around the microphone: “This is the first time I play for an audience who don’t understand my lyrics.”
The last few years have seen the Marseille-born now Paris-based artist go from a backing singer as part of the psych-punk rock band La Femme into the new pearl of French pop. Her 2018 debut album Sainte-Victoire went multi-platinum in France and her follow-up, Cœur (Heart), a disco and funk-fuelled love letter to nightlife written during lockdown was the big winner at this years’ Victoires de La Musique Awards (French equivalent to the GRAMMYs).
France’s artist du moment is wearing a sequinned silver and blue outfit for her debut London show tonight. She opens the show with Cœur, a track practically designed to open a live show. Think atmospheric choirs and groovy bass lines building up to the singers’ entrance.
Undecided about which language to speak (her English is impeccable), she announces she’ll speak franglais. This idea is quickly dropped, and she speaks French for the rest of the night. Not that it matters. Literally everyone here is French. (Side note: getting the tube home is a very surreal experience.)
Giving off the air of someone who has just stepped out of their GCSE foreign language speaking exam, Luciani visibly relaxes.
“Est-ce que vous êtes prêts à faire la fête?!” (trans. “Are you ready to party?!”)
She keeps up the momentum leading everyone in sing-alongs and dance routines for Le Reste. Although at times her voice struggles to compete with the band.
Listening to her music, it’s easy to see where her comparison to a French ABBA comes from; easily singable refrains infused with feel-good disco pop. Plus, the venue plays non-stop ABBA before her set which doesn’t help. But to stop at this conclusion is a mistake.
Between the classic love songs, her lyrics have a pressing urgency against the backdrop of France’s high femicide rates, Cœur and La Grenade touch on themes of domestic violence and female empowerment.
At one point, the lights flash red, and she swings the wire of the microphone in a figure of 8. The guitars grind, cymbals clash, and she raises the microphone above her head, turning her head to the side to show her silhouette and a jawline to cut glass. It’s gritty, perhaps a nod to a future artistic direction, but it’s definitely not ABBA.
She brings out her bassist to duet with her for Sad and Slow in the place of Julien Doré who can’t make it tonight (“il vous embrasse” (trans. “he sends love”), she reassures the crowd.)
For the encore, she sings Je Sais Pas Plaire, a song about self-doubt and insecurities. The minimal instrumentation allow her voice to ring out as she plays plucked electric guitar chords and the accompanying swell and fade of her backing vocalists melt into rich harmonies.
By the end, Luciani is on a roll, doing silly dances with her band as she performs a French-language version of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. She lights up in an orange spotlight and the background turns electric blue, a nod to the colours of the Cœur album cover. Just as her album celebrated nightlife, this too is a moment of release and joy, as the crowd fuel her thrilling return to the stage.