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Review: Etta Marcus @ Rough Trade

Sophia Bartlett talks us through the Etta Marcus gig at Rough Trade.

By Sophia Bartlett, Second Year Music

At 22 years old, Etta Marcus is making her mark in the up-and-coming scene, with her formidable song writing skills and entrancingly husky tone. Fresh from the release of her second EP, Heart Shaped Bruise, her impressively rapid career trajectory now has her embarking on her first ever headline tour. For those of us at Rough Trade on Wednesday night, we were lucky enough to bear witness to a masterclass in the art of storytelling.

First up was Wil Owen, a local young singer-songwriter, whose incredibly earnest lyricism, combined with a proficient capability for fingerstyle guitar, had the room mesmerised. Also sharing the stage with Marcus was London based singer-songwriter Hohnen Ford, performing a selection of songs from her debut EP, Infinity. Accompanied by herself on the piano, Hohnen Ford’s sound is timeless, her vocals delicate yet beautifully masterful. Both Owen and Hohnen Ford most definitely excelled at setting the scene for an evening of compelling vulnerability.

At around 9.30, it was time for Etta to take to the stage, opening with her debut single, ‘Hide and Seek’, the song that catapulted her name into the spotlight. With a taste for the dark and twisted, those less familiar with her work would be able to grasp that she is not here to be comfortable, instead choosing to push the boundaries of the so-called ‘Sad Girl’ music genre, which she has outwardly tried to distance herself from. Following with ‘Smile for the Camera’, there was a shift in the room’s energy, the deceivingly upbeat nature of the track, undeniably fitting for the soundtrack of an indie teen flick, pulled everyone in with a genuine momentum.

There is something refreshingly different about Etta Marcus, something that is hard to categorise. Her brooding, guitar driven pop feels tantalisingly new and enticingly introspective, unafraid to share her own perceived flaws and misfortunes. Despite her confidence as a frontwoman, Etta herself seems quiet and quite elusive, not extensively talkative between songs, yet still with an innate ability to silence a room and a humble charm about her. In such an intimate venue, songs such as ‘Confessional’ and ‘Heart Shaped Bruise’ felt particularly personal and special, and showcased her rare ability to share a profound moment with complete strangers.

Etta took a moment to introduce us to the band, with Jack on the guitar, Jonah on the bass and Charlie on the drums. All the performers on stage had a certain unspoken bond it seemed, with the performance being effortlessly tight, an interesting juxtaposition between the clean-cut sound and the darker subject matter.

Time stood still for a few minutes when Etta invited fellow London jazz school alumni Hohnen Ford back to the stage for a special rendition of ‘Parting Song’, from her new EP. With us all coming together on International Women’s Day, watching these two powerhouses come together in a moment of utter beauty was a particular highlight, as was the solo opening to ‘Salt Lake City’ that ensued. Written with her friend Matt Maltese and telling of delusion and broken relationships, I am certain many other twenty-somethings in the room felt the same resonation as myself, fuelled by Etta’s soulful storytelling.

Wrapping up the night, we heard both ‘Crown’, a powerfully vengeful track and the perfect dose of feminine rage, with an encore of ‘Nosebleed’. It felt quite monumental to witness this singer-songwriter at such an early stage of her career, a moment which she referred to as “very special for the first tour”. Although the vulnerable nature of her music felt fitting for a smaller venue, I have no doubt that she would equally be able to hold a much larger audience encapsulated, and equally have no doubt that she this is where her career is heading.

Featured image: Sophia Bartlett

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