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Review: Billie Marten @ Thekla

Out of context summary of the set: sweaty bums and introverts flirting.

By Lily Turner, Third Year Geography

Billie Marten, also known as Isabelle Tweddle, is touring her fourth album Drop Cherries; an album that sees her return to her folk origins which she precariously departed from in her previous alt-rock record. Dreamy soundscapes moulded by soothing harmonies form the tapestry of her songs. Drawing on her experiences of relationships, the album is inherently romantic but departs from lovesick cliches by being self-reflective. She bathes in the complexity of love rather than romanticising connections.

The audience consisted of girls who do yoga and meditation in the morning and sip pukka teas in the evenings; soft-indie-boys in their 20s wanting to be her boyfriend and retired couples. Thekla felt like a womb this evening, which Marten declared as she walked on stage. Dark, warm, and comforting. It is a slanted cave but remains one of Bristol’s most intimate music venues.

Léa Sen was the warm-up act. She had a premature start as her guitar was silent. The French-Martinican artist awkwardly walked off stage and ‘Be My Baby’ came on to dissipate the chaos. As she re-started her set, Thekla became synth-loaded with R&B inspired beats bouncing around the room. Her tunes sound like Y2K bedroom pop which soundtrack American noughties dramas like 90210 and One Tree Hill.

The London-based artist was excessively fangirling Marten, albeit comedically and relatable. Her interludes were Billie-centric, making it clear she was an original fan. Between songs, she went down memory lane to the start of her music career where she uploaded covers of ‘Milk and Honey’ and ‘Bird’, some of Marten’s oldest songs. Embarrassment of her teenage unpolished vocals won, and she has now deleted them.  

When Marten asked her if she wanted to join her on tour, blushing, she said it was an obvious decision. Léa Sen played ‘Dragonfly’, sharing that it is Billie’s favourite song.  The 23-year-old shared how her songs are not about people or things but feelings which she captures through poetry and beats. She continued to play ‘Luv Him’, appreciating the irony of the name.

Lea Sen @ Thekla | Lily Turner

The first time I saw Marten was five years ago when she was supporting Benjamin Francis Leftwich. You could feel the passing of time through her confidence-fuelled and commanding stage presence. Marten’s Thekla set had a variety of soundscapes, nourished by her four-piece band on keys, double bass, and drums which emboldened her matured vocals.

The Yorkshire-based artist entered her sold-out show with ‘This Is How We Move’. This song felt like an intentional opener to appreciate the present. It’s an ode to humans being humans and everyone coming to the concert to be moved by the same music. Between pop-lullabies, Marten performatively returned 'I love yous' to her wannabe boyfriends. It felt like watching introverts flirt-sarcastic with some nervous side-eye.

Songs which followed were attuned to hatred of Trump, living in an artificial society and nature. Her lyricism translates emotions by drawing on the environment: “the earth was pouring on my brow” and “roots grow slowly but I’d be content with time well spent”. It felt like watching Goldilocks play music in the woods with her golden hair and rich lyricism which converses with nature.

Halfway through the gig, the band left the stage. The 23-year-old was asked for song requests from the audience. She played ‘Toulouse’, ‘Vanilla Baby’ and ‘Mice’ on an acoustic guitar. These felt intimate with her gentle strumming backing her silky vocals. At times the crowd stood in silence, trying to absorb the details of her music.

Marten asked for some alcohol as she felt self-aware causing one of her soft-boy fans to ask her how she was. She responded that she was ok but had a sweaty bum from the heat of the womb. Billie consistently mocks the male gaze and plays sports of men flirting with her.

Her band joined her back on stage, adding volume to her lullabies. As we reached the end of the set, she said there was one more song left and winked at us, making it obvious that there was, regrettably, going to be an encore. They left the stage and came back on seconds later with beers. She said she would be at the merch stall after the set and offered a space to contemplate life together or to just stand in silence.

Billie Marten @ Thekla | Lily Turner

‘Liquid Love’ was the penultimate tune. Marten split the audience into two backing-vocal teams: A side and B side. She told A side to try harder as their sound was quiet and lacking enthusiasm. Her half-hearted bluntness was well received but B side still won and got a nod of approval.

The set ended with ‘I Can’t Get My Head Around You’, a self-declared melodic driving song, which has thoughtful lovesick lyricism: “I’m born with ideas to run from the heat… I won’t forget the taste of my morning sun”.

Billie makes a room of introverts feel comfortable. Her music is fierce and tender, designed to nurture you through all emotions and nourish your lungs with air.

Featured Image: Katie Sylvester / ChuffMedia

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